Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Does Good Always (Eventually) Overcome Evil?

Human Moral Actions


Evil is unspectacular and always human, 
and shares our bed and eats at our own table 
W. H. Auden


First, we have to agree with the idea of evil's existence; if you don't, no need to read further; you will find the rest of the argument unimportant, uninspiring and uninviting. During the last century, good has overcome but not completely defeated the various and many human-imagined and -engineered evils, including those of Nazi Germany, Italian Fascism, Soviet Communism, and the many permutations and formulations of Religionist Authoritarianism.

Yet, many evils lie before us, both major and minor (e,g, indifference and special privilege), which threaten to undermine the values that we have come to hold as dear and important, often without notice or thought. That is, as defined by western liberal values coming out of both the European Enlightenment and the Jewish Haskalah, which for purposes of this simple argument are similar.

Now, if you don't believe in evil, remember there is no need to read further. I am not here referring to any supernatural beings or aliens visiting us for malicious intentions, but ordinary flesh-and-blood humans who go to the extremes of human behavior and commit extreme acts (or not) of gross inhumanity and indecency against other human beings and beasts. That such individuals, for whatever reason of poor childhood, genetic disposition or societal resentments—does it matter really?—decide to act out on their violently aggressive fantasies and give a world a "lesson" they will soon not forget is the chief point here. In some cases, these individuals, who become dictators and authoritarians, are cold-blooded rationalists; in others, highly emotional romantics; and in others, just sociopaths or psychopaths with a unquenchable thirst to inflict harm. In that regard, they succeed.

Whatever their aims are, the end result, however, is the same. Disaster. Death. Famine. Pain. Suffering. Instability. The list is the same, whether in biblical times, medieval times, or modern times. Some things remain the same, despite the good and noble efforts of humanity's best to overcome them.

There are generally two points of view on how to confront such unspectacular evil: one relying on human efforts, the other on supernatural or a deity. Religious individuals of all faiths hold a view, based on their religious texts, that in the end there is a final reckoning, a judgement of all, and that good will overcome evil. The good being, of course, the narrative derived ultimately from the god or deity their particular faith follows, and the evil being all others.

It is important to note that in Judaism, however, its interpretation of the Final Judgement of Man is less restrictive, more lenient, saying that all have a share or a place in Paradise (or Gan Eden); and furthermore, there is no such thing as eternal judgement, even for the most evil. Moreover, Judaism holds as one of its tenets of faith a belief in a Messianic Age, led by a Messianic figure, or Moshiach, an unimpeachable man who will usher in an age of peace and prosperity.

Even so, in the majority of such scenarios good does eventually overcome evil, but it often takes an act of a supreme, supernatural being acting outside of time and space to save humanity from itself. It requires a Supreme Redeemer.

Such is most evident in the Christian narrative, where the final battle ("Armageddon" in the Book of Revelations), in particular, leads to much death and destruction as a requirement to create a new order—one-third of the earth and its inhabitants destroyed—effecting in a cleansing of the earth of all evil-doers, or at least those who are not true believers in the Christian faith. Hardy a happy ending for all, except for those who believe they are on the side of good and God, which by necessity includes all bible-believing Christians, of course. For such Christians, the outcome is good and positive, and of course necessary. Some view the final earthly battle with joy and alacrity.

It takes a particular worldview to see any good in all this death and destruction, one that I cannot hold. Moreover, the Christian narrative accepts the fact that although death and destruction will take place, there is little that man can do, as the fate of humanity has already been written and sealed. It takes a willingness to wait, rather than act even for good and moral reasons, that defies our human nature to do otherwise. This religious scenario, wonderful and encouraging to many, says that it is left to God alone to ultimately overcome evil—a position requiring much patience and faith. What is Man's responsibility? I am not making this point lightly, since this needs airing in light of how many (but not all) religiously minded individuals think.

Although the bible says that God created evil (Isaiah 45:7), I think Man is fully responsible for its unleashing in all forms. Humans have the capacity to either do evil or oppose it. Most humans, however, want good to overcome evil, since most individuals are inherently good, and that serves their purpose. It's a natural desire and inclination coming out of both our human nature and our learned and rational response, at least for most of us. We want to both do good and to be good. That the exceptions make the news is the reason that it's news. That such exceptions can and do cause much harm, anguish and pain is also true. What is also true is that humans also have a moral obligation to both resists and fight evil in our midst. Whatever our views on God, and they vary, we as humans have an important part to play in humanity's betterment.

It is in our best interest to do so.

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Spring (the vernal equinox) officially begins today in the northern hemisphere at 7:02 a.m. Equinox means equal nights in Latin, and thus it describes a time when days and nights are equal in length. It does not describe weather, hence the need for the unofficial "Greenbaum Meteorological Survey," a more accurate indicator of weather phenomena; it says that spring begins on April 15.


2 comments:

  1. Some evil, perhaps most, results from conflict of interest, unrequited love, etc. The worst evil, however, is totally selfless and results from total belief in a cause. Whether the believer is religious (like Torquemada or bin Laden) or atheistic (like Hitler or Pol Pot), the believer has blind faith.
    Then there is nature. Are hurricanes evil? What about bacteria? They have to make a living too.

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