Taking Evil Seriously

Perhaps – and I say this after having glanced at more alarming newspaper headlines – we do not need any more impetus to think about evil right now. But here is part of this Sunday’s “Credo” column from the Times, written by Monsignor Roderick Strange, Rector of the Pontifical Beda College in Rome. Comments are always welcome, especially in times like these.

We recognise that human evil has many causes. Sometimes it may be caused by sickness, mental imbalance or delusion, and sometimes by conditioning, rejection and insecurity. The evil that is done may be carried out by individuals or by groups, by nations or an alliance of nations. We strive to understand in order to prevent such evil happening again. We say that to understand is to forgive, and that too is important. Without forgiveness, without reconciliation, while grudges are still being harboured, evil can grow again. What we call the Second World War is more commonly acknowledged today to be rather the second part of the war that began in 1914.

Such reflection is invaluable, but we must beware of making a false turn. Just as our bewilderment in the face of natural disaster may mislead us into denying the existence of God, so our accounting for human evil may tame it. The mitigating factors may explain it by explaining it away. But we need to take evil seriously. Evil is not merely a name for bad human behaviour which, once explained, can be excused. There are devils to be exorcised.

Evil is more than something negative, the absence of the good. There is a phrase made trite by overuse. We talk of “Man’s inhumanity to Man”, and perhaps we speak more truly than we know. Confronted by grave evil, we are not denying our own responsibility, but acknowledging something which cannot be accounted for within the orbit of human behaviour alone, a dark force which exists on its own terms.

There is no need to lapse into dualism. Good and evil are not equal powers. God is supreme. But there is still another power to be reckoned with. We need only consult our own experience. When conscience brings us to the point of decision and we find we choose deliberately the darker way, what is influencing us? What malign spirit is supplying excuses and pampering our limitations?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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