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The Nature of Evil

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Not surprising that on 9/11 I would think about evil.  It is not pleasant to think about, but think about it we must.  It comes in many forms and guises – some are easy.  As Alfred said to Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”

Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

That is evil in its purest, but also rarest, form.  Pure evil is, relatively speaking, easy to combat – you kill it.

The evil of 9/11 was different.  While the perpetrators could not be, “bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with,” they were deluded and thought they were doing good.  Most evil is done in the somehow misguided pursuit of good.  In the case of 9/11 is was in pursuit of a wrongful ideological good.  That is an evil that can be fought directly.  Ideologies can be combated with competing ideologies.  Yes, religiosity combined with wrongful ideology makes the battle harder, but it also supplies the opposition.  Religiosity is not the problem – the ideology to which it is affixed is.

The evil that is hardest to combat is the evil born of self-interest, often perceived by the perpetrator to be in the pursuit of good.  The evil that results from this motivation is not as instantly sweeping or as immediately devastating as 9/11, but when viewed for what it is we can see that it is a rot that may defeat us far more certainly than any attack possibly could.

I can think of two examples of this last motivation for evil that are worth examining

Consider the Kavanaugh hearings just past.  Some people have attempted to use those hearings for purposes other than what they were designed for – to play for the camera, to position themselves for higher office.  That is definitely self-interest.  To do that one has to think that a) their potential for higher office is better for the country than the truth about Kavanaugh and b) that their candidacy is more vital for national functioning that the constitutionally designed process to appoint a Supreme Court Justice.  Their actions undermine both truth and the Constitution.  That may not be mass-killing, but most certainly when it comes to undermining truth it is evil.

Consider a more personal situation – caring for a loved one suffering from neurological degeneration – dementia or Alzheimer’s.  There are so many factors to balance in a situation like that.  They need lots of help, probably more help than you or I can provide.  It hurts like hell to be with them – you love them with all your soul and yet they can no longer acknowledge your existence.  It is so easy in such circumstances to institutionalize them, marginalize them, and pray for a rapid death “for their mercy.” But as Christians we believe that life is what God intended, not death.  While the death of that loved one will make their, and your, life easier, perhaps better – to hope for it, to pray for it, is to allow a rot into your soul.  Such hope and prayer is placing self-interest in front of God’s desire for mankind.  And think about it, it cheapens their deeply impaired life, and makes much shorter the path to abortion – a life equally impaired.  And having walked that short path, what about others with other types of  impairments? Does the evil in this situation now become apparent?

If you think about it – the “pure evil” we started this piece examining is really just an extreme form of self-interest, it is simply that the perpetrator’s self-interest is so perverted that massive destruction is a pleasure for him.

Today is a day we remember evil.  It is no fun, but it is important.  May I suggest that as you do so you worry less about the evil of others and more about the evil that lurks in your own heart, perhaps disguised as “benign” self-interest.  It is the hardest evil to combat, but unless we combat it, we will never defeat evil.


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