10 Nov Good and Evil
The metaphysical concern for the origin or, reasons for persistence of, and possibilities for eradicating evil is one of the most important discussions to have in relation to human happiness. After all, how can humans thrive and be happy if their efforts are continually sabotaged by evil? Once this question is asked, deductively we come to the even larger issue with the Great Idea of “Good and Evil”—what is “good” and what is “evil” in the first place?
Furthermore, an understanding of “what is evil” and “what is good” becomes metaphysically vastly more important under monotheism. After all, if there is one God and he created all, knows all, allows all, is all powerful and everywhere—and good—then why is there any evil in the universe at all? For the polytheistic and pantheistic worldviews the answers are man—it could be any number of gods, it could be that the god you follow has its own enemies and this is the cause of the evil, it could be one of the natural elements, it could be any number of supernatural entities or natural powers. It is nothing personal.
But when there is one entirely good, perfect, eternal God and there is still sin in the world, there is only one explanation for where this “evil”—whether it is defined as sin (and there is a long list of these), death, bad karma or anything else—the evil, if it is not God’s doing, emanates from another source and God allows it. So now we have to ask why? First, however, to the source of “evil;” are there powerful malevolent entities in the universe?
If so, then this suggests that they are as powerful as God (or that God allows this evil as part of a divine plan or God is doing battle against the forces of evil and the outcome is uncertain). This is distasteful for monotheists as it invalidates the very underlying notions of an all-good, all-present, all-powerful God.
For mainstream monotheism, then, the issue of “Good and Evil” comes down to humans. We, say the heritages of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we are responsible for evil in the universe and God allows this as God wishes for us to freely come to loving Him. In other words, evil exists in the universe because we want it to.
Beyond the question of the origin of Good (God) and evil (the human Fall), these very monotheistic traditions also suggest codes of ethics in sacred texts (The Holy Bible and the Qur’an) of how to mitigate the damage and return to God. This are chiefly the Ten Commandments and the Five Pillars of Islam, but both sacred works contain hundreds of mandates for behavior to rectify the damage we, as Fallen humans, have done to the universe.
Of course there are a myriad of other metaphysical and religious explanations that explain the nature, duration and purpose of Good and Evil in the universe—moral theory, social influence, excess. In classical Greece Socrates suggested that evil was simply ignorance of the Good, the True and The Beautiful. In Eastern religious traditions, whether it be Hinduism or Buddhism or even Confucianism, suggest a “mechanics” of evil in which the evil (sin) you do is revisited on you and your task is to work off all of your evil karma and seek goodness.
The questions are important and the answers are vast, but one thing is certain—we have all experienced something we deem as “evil” and the best hope we seem to have is to learn from it to seek knowledge, virtue and, finally, wisdom.