Monday, December 09, 2002

Eeeeeviiiillll is best used for special occasions

I suppose it is not very important and a bit out of date…but have you ever wondered: What is Bush & Co.’s theory of evil?

Here’s the basic problem: To find a definition of evil that applies to Iran, N. Korea, etc. but does not apply to the United States (and some of Western Europe on occasion).

(It’s not as if there are no differences—He could have said those places are cuh-razy! They are not like the U.S. in the sense that there is repression of social freedom unlike anything American citizens experience—we get social pressure, cultural oppression and the occasional unfair beating and prison—with only a few accidental deaths; they get torture, prison and lots of very non-accidental executions.*. But he didn’t call them the ‘axis of crazy.’)

Instead it is the axis of evil, the evil-doers, etc. Usually when a person uses a term pejoratively with a very evident contrasting opposite they are implying that said term does not apply to them. And this is where the problem arises. If Bush had said “well, we’re all evil but when I say ‘evil’ I mean ‘more evil than the evil we all are’”

Or if he’d said ‘the axis of extra-special highly intensified evil’ I would be less confused.

E.g., when Bush said that Iran, Korea and Iraq were the ‘axis of evil’ I don’t think he meant to imply that Great Britain, the U.S. and Russia were the ‘allies of evil’ did he? Well, it’s always possible but I think he definitely wanted us to draw the conclusion that the U.S., etc. were actually ‘the axis of good’ or ‘the allies of good.’

Shuyeah OK! What-ever!

(The reason I find that implausible is that it is just so hard to be GOOD. Being good means that you never stand by and watch people suffer, treat all with kindness and love, help all those in need, never use or exploit anyone for your own gain, and so on. At the very best we can be the ‘axis of so-so’ or the ‘allies of weak but occasional good intentions we don’t really act on.’ And that’s being optimistic. Actually, the best would probably be: The Axis of Those Who Do Evil Without Really Meaning To…At Least Most of the Time)

And then there’s ‘evildoers.’ At first I thought: Well, an evil-doer is obviously someone who does evil (uh, no kidding) and by that he must mean someone that intends harm to others through malice, just plain old evil intentions…And gee, that sure applies to those terrorists but a few other people besides. So does the evildoer want to do evil because it’s eeeevvvviiiillll? Well, maybe. To really figure out what he meant we need the B&C theory because as we know, the problem is that most definitions of an ‘evildoer’ start at home…any definition that explains a terrible action through a motive which is evil will be too broad to rule out…well, us.
Come to think of it, since Bush is a Christian, the set of people that ‘evildoers’ should apply to should be everyone. We’re all sinners, we all do evil, original sin and all that. To be more specific, he should have said ‘the really, really bad evildoers.’

So clearly he meant a special kind of evil, a heavy-duty evil-doer, an evil done that doesn’t bear any resemblance to the usual run-of-the-mill evil. While that would narrow it down, I’m not 100% sure it works to rule out the crucial set of: us.

Definition #1: Evil as the privation of good. Oh man…this one is so broad. It won’t work so forget it! When one doesn’t bring about good, one brings about evil? Maybe I just don’t understand this definition. Anyway—includes us.

Definition #2: Evil as the flouting of natural laws. By this definition, sexual activity without the intention of procreation is often thought to be evil. I think that’s mistaken—who’s to say what the purpose of sex is? But surely genetically modified foods flout natural laws? Hence, definition too broad--includes us.

(Problem: View held by Aquinas that when a person desires anything, he desires it under the aspect of good. So what makes someone evil? It’s not intentions—I think it is the sort of end he brings about—he thinks it is good, but it turns out to be bad but he’s still evil because ultimately he had some kind of choice way back to be a better person. I can’t remember exactly how it works—culpable ignorance and all that. In any case, doesn’t this make so much sense? Of course when the ‘evildoers’ are doing evil they always tell themselves they are actually doing good. Does that sound like anyone you know or maybe see on TV fairly often? Nudge-nudge…

Anyway, if this is true no one does evil just because it’s eeeeevvvvviiiilllll.)

Definition #3: It’s God’s fault: According to the Oxford Companion to the Bible “There is no terminological distinction between moral evil and calamity, for the same Hebrew word…is used for both. Evil is anything that is unpleasant, repulsive or distorted. (Gen. 41, 3-4) That one’s way too broad—everything from Jello salad to reality TV falls under that definition. And includes us--the country that invented Jello salad.

…God perceives the world as ‘very good’ even though it also includes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, along with a subtle serpent who encourages the consumption of his fruit (Gen. 2-3)…Although God subdues evil in the cosmos, a number of texts in the Hebrew Bible are not reluctant to identify God as the source of evil (e.g., Isa. 45.7, Jer. 4.6, Amos 3.6, Mic. 2.3, Eccles. 1.13, Job. 2.10). A standard complaint when humans suffer is that God is the one who has brought the calamity on them…It was not that God merely allowed evil to happen, for God directs evil through the mediation of supernatural beings who afflict, deceive, bring harm and do evil in general at God’s command (1 Sam. 16.14-16, 1 Kings 22.19-23; Job 1.12; Ps. 78.49). Both good and evil were in God’s control and he actively employed both to accomplish his ends. Although God is often depicted in conflict with evil there is never really any doubt that God will be victorious…There is however, one place where evil exasperates God: the human heart…that is, a man or woman’s intellectual, emotional and spiritual center…” (p. 208)

Do you think this guy is implying that maybe God was a little too taken with his handywork...God perceives the world as 'very good...even though...' These liberal theologians! But what can you expect from an Oxford companion?

Definition #4: It’s the Devil’s fault: In the NT [evil beings] are more explicitly responsible for a greater share of the evil in the world…Humanity is locked in a struggle with these unseen beings (Eph. 6.12) who seek to crush the righteous…and can manipulate human hearts…” (OCB, p. 209) OK, no definition here—but I guess evil can be defined as what these beings do. That doesn’t solve the problem since we need to know why they are evil beings. It certainly doesn’t help us to identify who counts as evil because we can’t see them. Most likely includes us.

Anyway, I think this term ‘evil’ gets thrown around a bit too much. Damien from Omen and Omen II, he was evil. Hitler was evil. Do we want to start throwing ‘evil’ around and water down the term so much that it becomes meaningless?

Well, in fact, we might have to because the world is just so gosh darn evil.

Even so, I vote let’s just save ‘evil’ for very special occasions—I’m as guilty of this as the next person and have a history of labeling annoying ex-roomates, boyfriends, random investment banker types with ‘the big E’—

Still, I say from now on let’s stick to bad/wrong or very bad/very wrong. When we really get upset we can move to ‘heinous’ ‘odious’ ‘dreadful’ and ‘wicked’ ‘hideous’ ‘atrocious’ ‘appalling’ ‘awful’ ‘ghastly’ and ‘repellent.’ For the very disturbing and horrifying I suggest: ‘monstrous.’

In fact, ‘wicked’ is very under-utilized…outside of the Boston area and in the name of certain upscale beers…. Let’s bring back wicked! “The wicked ones” sounds good. In fact, it sounds like it could be the title of a really cool movie.

*I used to feel more comfortable with the statement ‘we are the axis without torture and much of that yucky stuff’ but I no longer am sure I can assert this with total confidence. Oh, well. I guess let’s just say ‘we are the axis with less torture than some other axes we could mention.’


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