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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Beyond Evil

We count as evils: terrorism (state sponsored and revolutionary); brutality and dehumanization (e.g. child slavery, racism, oppression of women) ; destroying the conditions for life (pollution, poverty); suppression of human drives to life, meaning, and respect. We are daily reminded of evil by the beheadings of ISIS and the reaction of drones, the 372 mass killings in 2015 (more than one a day), the senseless melting of the polar ice with resulting weather disasters, the refugees from Syria and Libya, the mass incarcerations and drug wars, the stultification of children by inadequate education, the fear and hate that dominate current politics.

Evil is a problem and a mystery. A problem to be solved. A mystery we cannot explain.  I prefer to treat evil not as a Manachean principle or a supernatural entity because it mitigates our own responsibility. Though I resonate with poets, myth makers, and religionists who use the metaphors of Original Sin, Satan, the Devil, and even the Negative to explore its mystery. I can connect with the language of possession by evil spirits when I confront racism as I have in Chicago, the denial of worker rights in California, colonialism in Hawaii, the war in Vietnam and Iraq, the mindless destruction of the earth by consumerism, and the fascism that is now rising in the US as it did in Nazi Germany.

"The devil made me do it," said the comedian who turned out to be quite a devil himself using his celebrity to exploit and abuse women. What possessed him, we ask. And Cheney, and Bush, and Oliver North, and Osama bin Laden, and Eichmann, and Clinton, and Cruz, and me? What possesses us? What makes our angels better or worse?

I read and watch stories, often mysteries, which deal with the good and evil in humans. Novels do so much better than theological treatises, or sermons, or blogs like mine. The most stark dealing with the mystery of evil I find in Cormac McCarthy's works. But then there is Tolstoy and Dostoyevski, Melville and Poe, Rushdie and Morrison.

Is there a Dark Side of the Force? An Evil Higher Power? A Fallen Angel, Satan?

I have written a book of essays arguing that evil entered the world when humans began to think. And so good did as well. Morality arrives with the ability to foresee alternative modes of behavior. Only a being with a sense of time can discern, critique, and choose. Thinking is the pivot from reacting to responding.

I argue that evil is thinking turning against itself by neglect and by denial, by the refusal to think. By nature (genetic evolution) we acquired the ability to think and the ability to kill thinking. Human nature does not provide the reason to choose good over evil. The moral code is not written in our nature. Nature just is. And the ought does not come from the is (as David Hume said long ago).

I conjecture that good and evil are not natural--but neither are they supernatural. Good and evil belong not to human nature, but to human existence. Yes, Nature, the Universe, Evolution, the Force (if you want) gave us the power, the ability to humanely exist. Our genetic endowment includes the ability to think and act for good or for evil. And it is our existence--our tension to the world and each other--where we can discern good and evil. There is the seat of our better angels, and worse.

Together we create the world we want.  What we want we call good; what we don't want we call evil. But there is a standard we can use to discern the difference--should we choose. The standard comes from Nature, Evolution, the Force. But it is not nature; it is existence. The ability to think. But do we want it?

We cannot think in isolation but only in relation to others. We cannot think by ourselves but only with others. We inherit the products of the thinking of our ancestors. We refine, revise, renew, and render these products for our descendants. And above all we pass on the ability to think--to inquire, to wonder, to author--in collaboration with others. Or we inhibit that capacity by stirring up their fears and hates instead of their dreams and love.

Aren't we always at a crisis point? A point of choosing whether to exist or not exist. When I choose to act thoughtlessly, that is uncritically, unmindfully, and without compassion, confident in my righteousness, unquestioning my stance in absolute truth, am I not choosing to be a non-relational being in a world with torn relations. Am I not giving up the search and destroying its meaning? Am I not setting myself apart, cutting the connection that I am with others, the world, and myself.
Am I not making the Nature, Evolution, the Creator, an Evil Force? Hate. At least from the point of view of those of us who would choose to think critically and mindfully with all its uncertainty, ambiguity, tension, compassion, and responsibility and so make of Nature, Evolution, and the Creator a Good Force: Love.  

"God is Love" said the Johannine Christian community (Ca 90AD). "We who abide in love, abide in God, and God in us."

There are many definitions and levels of love. But, in general, love is relationship. We could use the four levels of consciousness that Michio Kaku teaches: 1) the loopback to light and temperature as in a plant's attention to the sun, 2) the loopback in space as in a reptile's sense of proximity to prey, 3) the loopback to others as in a mammal's recognition of relatives and helpers, and 4) the loopback of time as in a human's incorporation of memories and intentions. Each of these internal senses are integrated in human consciousness. Each can be extended indefinitely. Energy to omnipotence; space to infinity; otherness to universality; time to eternity. And so, as long as we keep thinking, we are tending to omnipotent, infinite, universal, eternal love.

One idea that I like is that the whole Universe or Multiverse is relational--nothing but relationships. Things like planets, black holes, molecules, and organisms are relationships of or within relationships. When we name something or apply a formula or theory to it, we are pointing out a relationship. When we think, we explore our relationships with each other, with things in the world, with what we and the universe have become and where we are going together. We affirm those relationships and our relationships towards omnipotence, infinity, universality, and eternity. We, the whole of humanity in connection, past, present, and future, are we not then in relation to our higher power?

Hate tears the fabric and breaks the bonds of relationships which constitute our universe, our world, our community, us. Love reweaves the fabric and mends the bonds of relationships. With each other, our world, and our selves. What do we want? Which is evil, which is good? Do we spread fear and hate of "the other" or do we encourage trust and love?  It is our collective decision that we are making right now and here at this time in this space with those with whom we are in contact.

If we choose to abide in love and see ourselves as even now abiding in love, we turn ourselves and our universe towards love over fear and hate.

"God is Love. We who abide in love, abide in God, and God in us."

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