The Problem of Evil

About fifteen years ago I was browsing in my local public library when I picked up a book whose subject was the problem of evil. I thought it was a magnificent find as I imagined the book was going to deal with the monkey wrench that the existence of evil throws into the philosophical concept of an omnipotent and omniscient god being the creator of the universe. Upon examining the book, however, it became clear that this book instead was written from a Christian perspective talking about confronting and overcoming evil in the modern world. The book was clearly useless to me because I was looking for something that cut through the apparent moral relativity that makes both sides of a conflict often view the other side as evil. My question was, subjective viewpoints aside, does evil really exist and if so, what would be a good working definition of it?

Followers of any of the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) would be quick to chime in at this point that evil is whatever God opposes. This actually creates more problems than it solves because, even if everyone could agree as to which of these religions is correct, the god represented by these ancient worldviews tends to be misogynistic, irrational, superstitious, angry, and a bully to top it all off. Worse yet, to say that evil is whatever God opposes is tantamount to basing the declaration of what is evil on whim. In this view, evil cannot be deduced by what is harmful or even what violates rights or even human nature, evil is whatever god declares. Today homosexuality is a sin but tomorrow it could be a changed to virtue and heterosexuality could become sin if only god declares it.

Anybody who would protest that the Book of Ecclesiastes or any other such book declares that God is eternal and unchanging, just try arguing that with god when he manifests himself in all his glory and commands you to get yourself a mouth full of tube steak. Oh but god wouldn’t do that. Why not? Because he’s good. Well I have news for you idiot, good is WHATEVER GOD SAYS IT IS! SO SHUT UP AND GO GET YOUR FUCKING SHINE BOX!!!

I digress. The question is, theistic nonsense aside, does evil in fact exist or is this simply a reification that human beings invented and believe in simply because it’s useful? One person might say it’s evil to commit adultery, someone else might regard that type of behavior as simply gauche or tacky without rising to the level of evil. Is it evil to draw a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad? There are views on both sides and they can’t both be right. Was hurricane Katrina evil or was it simply entertaining?

For my part, I would limit the concept of evil as being the product of human beings (or other sentient creatures if they exist) and would define evil as intentionally violating someones rights or acting against another person or person’s interests using them as a means to an end without their consent. By that standard, if I’m afraid an electrical outlet may be faulty and I ask you to plug something in it and I don’t warn you there might be a problem with it, that act is in fact evil. If I warn you before hand however and you agree to check it anyway, that act is not evil because you have consented to exposing yourself to possible danger.

How does this definition apply to events in the real world? Simple. If somebody gets angry and shouts “JESUS ASS-FUCKING CHRIST!!!” to the shock and horror or others present, the person who shouted can be accused of being distasteful, tactless, rude, and funny, but that person is not in fact evil because in a free society, nobody has the right to not be offended (workplace or school is a special exception, not the rule). If, in an attempt to dissuade others from acting in that manner, an offended person punches the blasphemer in the mouth, that would be using the blasphemer as a means to an end without his consent and the offended person could then be said to have done evil.

So my worldview, far from doing away with the concept of evil, would actually simplify it and make it more objective. Most of the things we now consider evil would still be considered so, including robbery, murder, torture, rape (yes even funny rape), and all other manner of bad acting. Moreover, since intent is part of my definition, people who are genuinely delusional cannot be said to be truly evil if they are mistaken as to the very nature of their acts, such as Andrea Yates who drowned her children because she thought god commanded it. In her defense, I would say that her theistic dogma taught that Abraham was pretty much willing to do the same thing and nobody in the church is even alarmed about that story but whatever.

I’m bored. I shall continue this tomorrow, God willing.

5 Responses to “The Problem of Evil”

  1. Ayn Rand says:

    Sacrificing myself to God is evil even if I think it is good because I think it is the will of God.

    Evil exists only in the context of living beings. Matter may neither be created nor destroyed. It merely changes form. Life, on the other hand, is faced with a constant alternative: Life or Death, existence or non-existence.

    Human life is the only form of life that can act against its nature and work for its own destruction. The morality by which a human works toward its own destruction is evil.

  2. mexi says:

    Holy shit it’s my superego!!!

  3. R says:

    Is it less, equal, or more evil to punch someone in the face as a result of them punching your face first?

  4. mexi says:

    Punching the person in response to them punching you is not evil at all due to the standards of proportionality and reciprocity.

  5. […] attempted to address this issue before in a limited sense. I will revisit this theme with the intention of providing a fuller, more […]

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