I grew up in Memphis Tennessee and as a young boy followed the Southern Baptist faith of my father and his parents. The Southern Baptist explanation for evil was simple, the devil. As a teenager I became uncomfortable with that faith and searched for a faith where I would feel more at home. I searched far and wide including here under Harry Schofield. Eventually I chose the tradition in which my mother had been raised, Judaism. There the explanation for evil was that God has given humans free will and that the choice of good or evil was a personal choice made by each person. And good and evil was not a choice of opposites but a continuum from minus 100 to plus 99. Only God could be 100. This seemed to be a much better place to start.
I define evil which approaches that minus 100 level to be the wanton destruction and desecration of life, human and otherwise. It is easy to enumerate instances of this level of evil within living memory, Hitler and the Nazis, more recently the atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda and with ISIS, and so the list goes on.
But where does evil come from, what are its sources? I believe that the primary source of evil is that we do not recognize our bonds with one another, and with the rest of the natural world. When we see the world as them and us, or us and it, we hold within us a potential source of evil. Now, I do not believe that a source of evil is necessarily evil in itself, but it does provide the possibility for evil to arise.
And there are other sources, such as greed, selfishness and the desire for adulation or power. Some of these sources can be even more destructive and potentially evil. Because it is from them that arises the desire to control. To do this a person uses or creates a group. To be seen as the voice of the group, they activate a source of evil, fear and hatred of the “other.” It is out of this activation that evil arises. There is a feeling of safety in the group, things a person might never do on their own become normalized, and evil becomes normal. It is the danger of the present moment, all across the planet.
But then I look at myself and I think of those who utter words that make me cringe and how I begin to regard them as “those” people, the “other.” I am brought up short as I remember my grandmother saying, “Honey, they just don’t know any better.” And my grandfather telling me that human failings don’t mean the person isn’t human, just as I am. And while we must always stand firmly against evil and attempt to remove it from our world, we must never regard anyone, even our enemies, as less than human, children of God. So, I am in the process of searching for feelings, hidden even from myself, that separate me from others. Are there those who I unconsciously regard as the other, as separate from me? Am I being selfish as I use the resources available to me? I want to see myself as a good person so it is not a comfortable search, but it is one which I must undertake. For what I don’t know can hurt me, and possibly you, and I cannot change that of which I am unaware. I invite you to join with me in that difficult journey of becoming fully aware.