Friday, July 11, 2008
Faces of Evil…
I was watching the news today reporting on the 300+ mass funeral held in Sarajevo for more bodies found going back to the 1995 genocide of Muslims in that recent historic conflict. They then showed the photos of the then Serbian President and his “General”, who are both wanted and missing men with the Hague international courts. In just seeing the videos of these two men, I shuddered at a sense of their “smiles of evil”. I also had to ask myself what motivates men to do these heinous crimes and massacres?
As a student of history, I have seen this inhumane approach time and time again…from the times of the crusades, the “Inquisitions”, the origins of slavery, the massacre of the American Indians, the Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany, African genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Kenya, the Congo and Apartheid of South Africa. It is hard to fathom that in such modern, “enlightened” times our general world population would allow these atrocities to continue against common people. Regimes and regime leaders run amok without restraint, perpetuating their agendas on huge populations while most first world countries sit mostly on the sidelines. Mess with our oil or threaten our economy…we’ll be right there. Kill off whole cultures within your own domain…it’s none of our business.
Sure, many organizations and private funds are striving to help in many of these continuing situations, but it seems to be a losing battle to keep “Statist” forces in check from killing off the minorities…or even majorities in some cases…of their own people.
To look philosophically at “evil”, it becomes quite a mixed bag. Most religions simply equate evil to the forces unseen between God and “the Devil”…or in some cases simply forces of “good and bad” or “right and wrong”. In Western philosophy, evil is usually limited to an object or creature to which harm has been done. Most cultures accept a form of this duality of “good versus evil” in which one can’t exist without the other. This is carried to the level where “man” cannot be only good or evil. There exists the potential for both in one person…and our life struggle is to overcome evil with good…even within ourselves.
The mind sciences of Psychology and Psychiatry continually struggle with the origins of behaviors, cause and effect, and defining moral dilemmas based on how our minds work…or don’t. Philosophy more questions the source of our thinking…are we good or evil based on our learned traditions?...good people breed good people and bad people bad? Is it a chemistry thing? Are we born good and turn bad…or vice versa…born bad and learn “good” behaviors? What are the origins of evil?
Biblical tradition would have us believe that Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden produced knowledge of evil that they were previous oblivious to. Does this suggest that knowledge leads to evil? That God somehow meant for us to be in the dark relating to "Satan" and evil? Interesting question.
Many books have and will continue to be written searching these age old questions. There are certain acts that are almost universally considered evil. Rape and murder for example. Yet…killing for a cause or in self defense is NOT considered evil by many and some of us relish thoughts of taking revenge against someone that has wronged us. Some people think war and killing is NEVER justifiable, always evil…others make it a “way of life”. Some people believe in turning the other cheek from a religious point of view while others believe in “an eye for an eye”. If you want to be pessimistic, it would seem historically that most advanced cultures were wiped out by barbarians...the Incas, Aztecs, Babylonian Empires were all advanced cultures that were wiped out by warrior nations.
It seems more and more in our world we live by the phrase “the end justifies the means”. In other words, all that is important is reaching OUR goals, wants and needs no matter what that means for the next guy. Consumerism is "King" and most people in the world will take what they want from anywhere they can get it. Fewer people are willing to individually stand up to injustice or outright violence to his neighbor. Most of the world is a spectator in the stands watching the battle between good and evil. Some of us root for the good…some for the evil.
In some religions, it is OK to kill the “unbeliever”, but a terrible offense to kill one of your own. It’s OK to rape your enemy’s wife or daughter but not someone from your own race or country. We have seen this carried out in the founding of many countries including our own US of A. Acts of war are judged differently than acts of domestic conflict. Morality and definition of good and evil is a very subjective thing in these modern times.
So, where does this conversation of the mind lead or leave us? One could say that each of us battles good and evil every day and we each make judgments or decisions that help determine the outcome of what wins…good or evil. For some of us, we sense a battle beyond our physical senses and we think all this is a spiritual or moral dilemma. Others of us believe in “survival of the fittest” and that there is a universal, Darwinian methodology in place that will determine the outcome of what we evolve into.
As usual, my perception is a pretty mixed bag of tricks. I believe there is a spiritual aspect to life that does invisibly affect and to some extent controls us. And…there can be spirits of good and evil. At the same time, I believe man has been given a mind powerful enough to have control and dominion over the evils that face us. We can CHOOSE to a great extent what kind of life we want and person we will be...or how we will react to evil. This is a great freedom…and a freedom to run from evil.
Yet, there comes a time for many of us when we have to stand up AGAINST evil. We have to be willing to sacrifice personal comfort and perhaps even our lives to pursue building that which is good for the rest of humanity. This needs to be done on an individual level more than a “governmental” one to be effective in the long run. Converts to "good" need to be won with ideas and actions, not facing the end of a gun barrel. We need to bring hope to the hopeless, water to the thirsty, love to the loveless…if we want to be successful in the battle between good and evil. We also need to stand up to evil leaders and regimes…the faces of evil that show up so often on our TV and computer screens. And, probably most importantly, we must stand up to the evil within US that tells us “it doesn’t matter”, “I can’t do anything about it”, “I’m helpless and hopeless”, “I am just a victim in this mess”. Let’s fight the face of evil, even if it is the one looking back at us in the mirror.