Posts Tagged ‘good and evil’

Felix Culpa

November 9, 2014

During the week running up to Halloween the humor site Cracked.com ran a series of articles with horror or Halloween themes, one of these being Adam Tod Brown’s 6 Compelling Reasons to Consider Switching to Satan. This was meant to be humorous, of course, but some of the reasons he gave are worth considering. Brown’s observation that some cultures do not consider a “Devil” figure to be bad was what inspired me to write a recent post on Prometheus.

It is the first reason he gives, number six on the list, that I would like to consider now.

#6. Because He’s Why You Know Things and Ask Questions

Hey! You believe the story of Adam and Eve, right? Just joking, but you at least know it, right? God makes a man and a woman, drops them into the middle of the Garden of Eden, and tells them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. A talking serpent shows up and convinces Eve to ignore that one command and, just like that, we’re all born a bunch of filthy sinners because we possess the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, and all that other fun stuff.

Perfectly reasonable! Anyway, whether he was an actual serpent or not is open for debate if you don’t value your free time much, but most people agree that the “serpent” in question represents Satan. Before he came along, we were built to blindly follow God without ever questioning how or why the things around us happen.

I mean, call me whatever you want for saying it, but that doesn’t sound particularly great to me. I’d honestly rather know some things and make some decisions and, to hear the Bible tell it, Satan is the one who made that possible. Is that really such a bad thing? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Well, as a matter of fact, I do believe the story of Adam and Eve though I will not quibble over whether the story of Genesis ought to be taken literally or as a myth or whether Adam and Eve were real, individual human beings or represented the human race generally. It does not take a particularly keen observer to notice that there is something seriously awry with Homo sapiens. The story of Adam and Eve and the Fall is as good an explanation on how and why we have gone bad as any I have ever heard.

The sentiment that Adam Tod Brown expresses here is close to the theological concept of felix culpa or the fortunate fall. The idea is that it was actually a good thing that Adam and Eve sinned and fell since it led to Christ’s redemption of the human race. Several very important Christian thinkers have explored this concept, including Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, generally in the context of God’s ability to bring good out of evil. I do not believe that the act which led to the fall could be described as being good in itself. Good did come of it, since God can always turn evil into good, but it was not the good which God originally intended for humanity. A fire fighter who rescues a child from a burning house has done a good act, but it would have been better if the house had not caught on fire. No one would think to praise an arsonist who started the fire because his act led to the heroism of the fire fighter.

But, Adam Tod Brown makes the more specific statement that thanks to the temptation of the Serpent, Adam and Eve were granted the ability to learn things and ask questions. Surely, that was a great gain for humanity. If we have fallen into sin, at least we have the consolation of gaining wisdom as compensation. Is that true? Perhaps we should look at the third chapter of Genesis for the full story.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the [c]cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LordGod said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall [d]bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
16 To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain [e]in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;

Cursed is the ground because of you;
In [f]toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
19 By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”

20 Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

Painting from Manafi al-Hayawan (The Useful An...

Most depictions of Adma and Eve seem to be White. Here is something different. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Serpent promised Eve that she would be like God, knowing good and evil. She and Adam certainly learned about good and evil, but they were not made wiser or more like God. If anything, they lost the perfect communion with their Creator that they had formerly enjoyed and they had even become foolish enough to believe they could hide from God. The Serpent was lying to Eve.

The reason that we know things and can ask questions is because we have been given the faculty of reason by our Creator. This faculty was corrupted by the Fall as was every other aspect of being human. If it were not for the Fall, we would not be ignorant or simple-minded. Mind, body  and spirit would work in harmony with each other. It is possible that our thinking wouldn’t be subject to the sorts of superstitions or logical fallacies it is apt to fall into now. We would learn and discover new things not out of the necessities of survival, as is the case now, but out of the joy of learning about the good world our Creator gave us and we would have a better relationship with the One who knows all.

This is all speculation,of course. I do not and cannot know if that would really be the case, but I do know that we ought not to give the Devil credit for wisdom and knowledge he does not have, nor should we consider rebellion against our Creator to be in any sense a good act. Switching to Satan would be switching from light to darkness or knowledge to ignorance or being to nonbeing, not a good idea at all.

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Hitler Was Not Evil?

February 26, 2014

One of the related articles that was suggested for my previous post was an article titled Hitler Was Not Evil by an anonymous writer. I chose not to include that article in the list of related articles but I think it might be worthwhile to go over it. The writer is not a Nazi, as you might expect, nor did the article make the argument  that Hitler’s actions were, in fact, virtuous. Anonymous’s problem is deeper than that. He does not believe there is such a thing as evil.

Unlike most of the rest of the world, I do not see Adolf Hitler as the “personification of evil” or the most “evil” person that has ever existed.

Hitler was simply a politician like one of the many politicians today. And just like almost all politicians today, his actions were defined by a core belief, greed, ego and a certain love for the country he ruled.

The more sensitive readers would react now with “whoa! whoa! Hitler and love?! Hitler is EVIL! EVIL!”

Evil does not exist, but is a concept of the human intellect. What do we define as evil? We tend to associate unjust things with evil, or things we do not agree with. Essentially, what we feel or think is evil is simply what we do not agree with.

“Who cares about a technical definition? What Hitler did was EVIL! ”

Aiming to wipe out the Jews, that must be evil, right?

No.

As I just said, no one does anything without a reason. And like I just said, any man’s actions are trigger by his own ego, greed, and his core belief.

Hitler believed that the Jews were harming Germany. Hitler believed that the Treaty of Versailles was unjust. Hitler believed that Austria and the Third Reich should become united.

These all came from his belief.

“His beliefs are EVIL!”

No.

Like I just said, we define something as evil when this something does not agree with our moral standards.

Americans defined Communism as evil during the Cold War because they did not agree with it. Everybody being equal and controlled by the State did not agree with the “freedoms” of America. And because it did not agree with these Freedoms, Communism was defined as “bad” and “evil”.

Now in retrospect, can it really be defined as evil? No.

Of course I am not saying that what Hitler did was right. Of course not. I am saying that Hitler was not evil, but simply a man who did what he believed was right for the German people at that time. Of course, just like any politician today, his actions were also motivated by greed, ego and more greed. But it is important to make the distinction that Hitler was not an exception. He was simply a statesman who didn’t get away with it.

For example, Mao Ze Dong got away with it. Stalin (kind of) got away with it. The leaders of Meiji Japan got away with it.

And as a history major allow me to assure you, when comparing what the Japanese Imperial Army did in the 1930s and 1940s in South East Asia, the gas chambers of Auschwitz can be considered merciful.

“But Hitler brought misery to all of Europe! He is Evil!”

This might be what the more persistent readers will be saying/thinking.

Perhaps why the perception of Hitler being evil is so deeply rooted in so many peoples’ minds is that after WWII, the Allies needed to have a focus. The Meiji leaders of Meiji Japan perhaps are not remembered as completely evil because after WWII, the Western powers sought peace in Asia and Japan was a great trading partner. This left Hitler and Mussolini.

And naturally, Hitler got the Spotlight of Evil in history textbooks.

Yet, Hitler is not an exception even by today’s standards.

America’s War on Terror may be justified by the core belief of 9/11 and that the American Way is right without question. It is ironic that it seems that very few people have ever thought about why there is this hate to begin with.

This is moral idiocy and historical ignorance. America’s War on Terror is usually justified by the fact that Islamic terrorist flew planes into the sides of buildings. I would not say that the American Way is right without question, but a society that values freedom of expression and equality is superior to one that values religious persecution and aggression against the infidel. A government that guarantees basic human rights is superior to one that suppresses all freedoms. Our Way is superior to Islam. It is superior to Communism.

While the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army have not gotten the attention that they should have, perhaps because the victims were Asians, there were war crimes trials in Japan after World War II and several offenders were hanged. By the way, the Meiji period refers to the reign of the Emperor Meiji who reigned from 1868-1912, in which Japan moved from feudalism into a modern society. The leaders of Japan during the war were not the Meiji.

It is true that Mao and Stalin got away with their tyranny, while Hitler did not. So what? If I were to commit the perfect crime and never got caught, it would still be a crime. The fact that Mao and Stalin died peacefully and escaped punishment in this world, does not mean their actions were right, nor does it mean that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were statesmen or typical politicians. They were not.

Anonymous claims to believe that good and evil are simply human constructs and that what we regard as good or evil is simply a matter of personal preference. I wonder if he really believes this. If I were to go to his home and start taking his possessions, would he simply allow me, or would be try to stop me? What if I explained that his objection to my actions is simply because it is against his particular moral standards, but not mine, so that what I am doing isn’t wrong? I think he would go ahead and call the police.

I don’t thing anyone, or at least very few, really believe that there is no such thing as a standard of good and evil. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, people in a quarrel invariably appeal to some higher standard of justice when making their case. Even the worst criminals often try to justify their actions. The bank robber robbed banks because they cheat the poor. The rapist’s victim deserved it because of the way she dressed. The conqueror invades and despoils a country to bring the light of civilization, or the true faith to the hapless natives, or to avenge past wrongs. Even the sociopath, who lacks a conscience, is quick to recognize when an injustice is done to him. The fact that people often try to justify bad actions with pleasant reasoning does not mean that there is no standard of good or evil. I think this fact actually strengthens the case for such a standard.

It is true that people do not always agree on what is good or evil. This doesn’t mean that that good and evil do not really exist, only that people that people can be mistaken. Slavery is almost universally regarded as immoral in the modern world, yet no one objected to slavery in ancient times. This does not mean that the question of slavery is simply a matter of social convention. The ancients also believed that the Sun went around the Earth. We have learned that they were mistaken about the relative positions of the Earth and the Sun. In like manner, we have learned that they were mistaken about the acceptance of slavery. Anonymous concludes:

So, do not brainlessly brand Hitler as pure evil. If you strictly judge, he was simply a man who did what he believed was right, along with greed and ego as motivators (just like any person today). Nothing more, nothing less.

Hitler was not pure evil. Like any human being, he was a mixture of good and evil. His actions were unquestionably evil. He may well have believed that he was doing the right thing. Most people do. That doesn’t change that he was mistaken. We need not adopt a stance of idiot moral relativism.

According to Bullock, Hitler was an opportunis...

Yes, he was evil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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