Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Isn't the Devil's Cleverest Trick Convincing People He Doesn't Exist?


Andrew Delbanco, author of The Death of Satan: How Americans Lost the Sense of Evil, defines evil as "the absence of the imaginative sympathy for other human beings, or the the inability to see your victims as human beings. To think of them as instruments or cogs or elements or statistics but not as human beings."

Yet, as the 8th anniversary of 9/11 passes, and we emerge from the most brutal century in human history, ironically, our sense of evil is at an all time low. Religion's grip on society in general, has loosened over the last few centuries, and consequently, so has our certainty of the existence of evil. Many even assert that religion is "the evil". However, if that is true, and religion is evil, why do we have more blood on our hands, the further we stray from religion, and the idea of evil? After all, isn't the devil's cleverest trick convincing people that he does not exist?

In the midst of chaos - corruption, greed, ongoing wars, crimes against humanity, famine, global warming, and in general, the tremendous suffering of innocents around the world - all within the context of a variety of cultures, religions and governments, is it any wonder we find it difficult to conceptualize evil? To sort it all out is overwhelming because it seems as if everything is evil, and if that's the case, than nothing is evil. So, it's easier to think of evil as an abstraction far beyond our comprehension, that may or may not exist, because to acknowledge the existence of evil, means we should do something about it.

Organized religion is certainly not a panacea, nevertheless, it often provides the framework for how we think about good and evil; for good or for evil. Be that as it may, if we are not accountable to something above ourselves, therefore, making ourselves "gods" and granting ourselves the right to freely choose whatever course of action that feels good or does us good, justifying it within the confines of our own "conscience", we are creating the fertile ground evil needs to flourish.

So, why isn't justifying our decisions within our own conscience good enough to stop evil from flourishing?

Because people define "truth" for themselves and will rationalize away anything that doesn't support that "truth".

Because in almost all cases, people act in ways that they can justify as right, as good; rarely, do human beings act with conscious evil intent.

Because people do not understand the power that their own, often narrow frame of reference has in skewing his or her judgment. They don't understand that much of what we perceive is an illusion.

Because reality is not as important as perception? In other words, what is true is not as important as what people believe to be true.

Charles Kimball, in “When Religion Becomes Evil” posts five warning signs of the human corruption of religion. "When one finds one or more of these dynamics at work, history suggests that serious trouble lurks just ahead.”

These are Kimball’s five warning signs:
1. Making absolute truth claims – “While truth claims are the essential ingredients of religion, they are also the points at which divergent interpretations arise. When particular understandings become rigidly fixed and uncritically appropriated as absolute truths, well-meaning people can and often do paint themselves into a corner from which they must assume a defensive or even offensive posture.” (p. 46) "Rigid truth claims,particularly in times of conflict, are the basis for demonizing and dehumanizing those who differ.” (p. 51-52)

2. Demanding blind obedience – “Religion that requires adherents to disconnect their brain is often a big part of the problem.” (p. 29) “Authentic religion engages the intellect as people wrestle with the mystery of existence and the challenges of living in an imperfect world. Conversely, blind obedience is a sure sign of corrupt religion... When individual believers abdicate personal responsibility and yield to the authority of a charismatic leader or become enslaved to particular ideas or teachings, religion can easily become the framework for violence and destruction.” (p. 72) “The likelihood of religion becoming evil is greatly diminished when there is freedom for individual thinking and when honest inquiry is encouraged.” (p. 99)

3. Establishing an “ideal” time – “Those who narrowly define ideal temporal structures of the state and determine they are God’s agents to establish a theocracy are dangerous. Beware of people and groups whose political blueprint is based on a mandate from heaven that depends on human beings to implement.” (p. 125)

4. Letting the end justify any means – “Concern for the well-being of one’s religious community is normal. This positive impulse can turn violently negative, [however],when group identity is defined in ways that dehumanize people outside the community; the other is seen not as a person but as an object posing a threat. Once this dynamic is in place, otherwise unthinkable behavior can be justified as a means to the end of reinforcing and protecting group identity.” (p. 134) “When people are called upon to do violence to their neighbor in the service of a righteous cause, they should know that something is dreadfully wrong. In the end, human beings remain responsible for their actions.” (p. 133)

5. Declaration of holy war “Declaring war ‘holy’ is a sure sign of corruption."
Then, there are those who believe in evil, however, they only search for evil outside of themselves, outside of their country, outside of their race, religion, class, etc. with the assumption that the greatest evil exists in the other religion, the other government, the other person. These are the people who are often chosen to host the "invisible worm".

4 comments:

Abe,  13:29  

You should read Ray Gaita's book Good & Evil An Absolute Conception.

At the beginning of there is this passage from Chaim Kaplan's Warsaw Diary:

"A rabbi in Lodz was forced to spit on a Torah scroll that was in the Holy Ark. In fear of his life he complied and desecrated that which is holy to him and his people. After a short time he had no more saliva, his mouth was dry. To the Nazi's question, why did he stop spitting, the rabbi replied that his mouth was dry. Then the son of the `superior race' began to spit into the rabbi's mouth and the rabbi continued to spit on the Torah."

Do absolute values exist? Is morality relative? Most normal people feel revulsion after reading this passage. Where does that revulsion come from?

Roth's stepchild 22:01  

Sounds very interesting. I'll check it out. Thank you!

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