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Evil and the Problem Thereof

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The refrain of a Black Eyed Peas’ song goes

People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love (Love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love
The love, the love

This Black-Eyed Peas refrain gives a graphic presentation of evil as the absence of love. Evil, in fact, is not a positive reality. It is an absence, a lack of what should be there. Medieval philosophers had a terse saying on evil and its opposite, good: Bonum ex integra causa; malum ex quocumque defectu. Good is from wholeness; evil comes from any defect.

This preliminary observation regarding evil should make us think about certain assumptions we make about our reality. In the past, there existed ways of thinking that posited two opposing forces in our world — Good and Evil — as if these were both co-equal realities. The fact is, Good exists, but Evil does not. Let me give an example:

Let us suppose that A, out of the goodness of his heart gives B, who didn’t have money, 56.00 Php (the Philippine peso equivalent of a US dollar, more or less). So B goes on his way and after some time gets hungry. He knows that a certain fast food chain offers value meals (a burger, some fries and a softdrink for a cheap price). When he gets to this fast food store, B finds out to his dismay that the cheapest value meal is 60.00 Php. What is evil here? Certainly, not the 56.00 Php in B’s pocket, but the 4.00 Php that B didn’t have before A gave him the 56.00 Php!

Evil is the absence of something good that should be there. Walls have no ears — we don’t consider that bad. But if everyone learns that I lack one ear, then some of them would perhaps even pity me. After all, a person with just one ear is incapacitated. The geranium I am taking care of doesn’t have legs. “So what”, you’d say. The geranium is a plant and is not meant to have a leg. But the dog owned by our cook has lost one hind leg in a car accident. Now that is pitiful. That is bad, we say.

Moral Evil

A bad pen can be thrown into the waste can and replaced by a better one — one that works. Bad weather can drive us into the shelter of our homes; but it won’t make us desperate enough to commit suicide. A bad hair day is just one of those days. These “evils” are “evils” that we endure precisely because they form part of what we call existence. To be numbered among these are the pains of growing old (arthritis, ugh!), the common flu and the diseases that beset us.

Another kind of evil — and this touches us to the core because of the untold sufferings it causes — is moral evil. Moral evil is a “lack”, an “absence” of a good that should be there. It is a deficiency in the way human beings should live. No dog, or cat can be accused of a moral evil. But when human beings begin to act like cats and dogs, then moral evil is involved.

What sets human beings apart from the animal world is their capacity to know the truth and to choose what is good. Moral evil is found where this capacity for truth and good is deficient in a person who has the power to choose them but would not. That person is like a basketball player who, when given a pass under the basket, chooses not to dunk the ball even if he could, and instead throws the ball up from between his legs.

All the sufferings that people cause on each other derive from the deficiency we call “moral evil.” And it is an evil that we human beings cannot — by ourselves — cure. Man has to be remade, but how? The despair of the existentialist is due to the experience of this “fallenness,” of being thrust into the dark well of existence and the knowledge that he cannot crawl out of it. “We are condemned to existence.” “There is no exit.”

It is sad that more and more people seem to choose the option of an existentialism that is deeply entrenched in despair. “Live and let live,” they say, “don’t mind the garbage.” But I can’t. Can you?

Originally posted 2008-01-29 20:21:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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