Something Does Not Love Us

THE REALITY OF EVIL

Evil is a word that disturbs most of us. Secular people are put off by its theological overtones; many religious people are rightly concerned with the way it is too frequently used about others, and seldom about ourselves. And this discomfort takes place in a society in which a belief in the reality of evil (seen as something transcendent, something with power) is considered a quaint superstitious remnant, and is equated with, say, the denial of evolution or a belief in fairies.

But then disasters like the recent tsunami happen, and atheists say to believers, “Explain this! If God is good, how can this...terrible thing happen?” They see it as, well, an evil, or anyway something so horrible that it seems to rule out the idea of transcendent or even immanent goodness. Better an ultimately meaningless universe than one with such apparent contradictions.

Or take the discomfort that settles over the language when someone like Hitler or Pol Pot comes up. “Hitler was insane,” it’s said; or “He must have been psychotic.” But the mystery of evil here is that Hitler had followers who were not insane, and there is no real evidence that he was anything other than sane, and so were his followers. The guy who stands ranting on the street corner about how the CIA is reading his thoughts doesn’t usually gather a flock, and is a long way from the man who rallied Germany to mass murder, or from Charles Manson, Jim Jones...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.