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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Casting Dark Shadows: Evil Exists in the Hearts of All Humans

Allow me to preface this blog entry by saying I am not a minister, a psychologist, or a philosopher, and I don't profess to have the quick-and-easy answers to important questions. I am merely a writer who reserves the right of expression concerning my own beliefs.

Opium poppies, opium, heroin, syringes, money -- none of these things are inherently evil. They are all benign creations, both natural and man-made, that exist in our world. On the other hand, all people possess free will and a sinful nature.

Within us, we harbor tendencies toward expediency, selfishness, ignorance, lust, pride, greed, neglect and many other negative and even deadly behaviors. In other words, we are creatures who struggle with our own God-given, antagonistic duality -- we constantly must decide whether to do good or to do evil.

I think that when we go against the will of God, that action, thought or attitude becomes "evil." And, I strongly believe evil is real, alive, and destructive through its strong hold on human beings.

What is evil? Many, many definitions, philosophies, and religions tell of the nature of its existence. Without an exposition of book length, I would like to relay my own understandings of evil in an effort to put something largely debatable into words that others may comprehend.

The root meaning of evil is rather obscure; however almost all the known etymology for the word defines evil as akin to the basic idea of  "transgressing" or "committing a sin, a crime, or an offense against a social norm."

Carl Jung, famous psychiatrist founder of analytical psychology, depicted evil as "the dark side of the Devil." He believed it is dark because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger, or rage. Jung considered transgression against God as evil and sinful. Here is a quote affirming his beliefs:

"I find that all my thoughts circle around God like the planets around the sun, and are as irresistibly attracted by Him. I would feel it to be the grossest sin if I were to oppose any resistance to this force."

Jung differentiated between the personal shadow and the impersonal or archetypal shadow, which acknowledges transpersonal, pure or radical evil (symbolized by the Devil and demons) and collective evil, exemplified by the horror of the Nazi holocaust. Literary and historical figures like Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, and Darth Vader personify the shadow embodied in its most negative archetypal human form.

Jung said people tend to believe that evil is something external to them because they project what might be called "their own shadow" onto others. He interpreted the life of Jesus as an account of God facing His own shadow.

(Stephen A. Diamond, PhD. "Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy:
What is the 'Shadow'?" Psychology Today. April 20, 2012)  

I agree with Jung in that we human beings can choose the dark "shadow" side of our character, and we do possess the ability to determine how to ignore or use all the material things we encounter; thus, we can employ objects and substances to abuse ourselves and others. In doing so, evil is manifested in its human hosts and also set loose to cause irreparable harm to others.

I believe far too many humans choose evil by free will. These decisions feed their greedy desires for pleasure, wealth, and power. The dark, but tempting shadow of evil causes people to develop insatiable appetites, and despite the potential for harm, these people make many risky decisions they perceive will facilitate the acquisition of their own unhealthy needs. Through their evil thoughts and actions, these hedonists spread their shadows to influence others to become members of an evil "Shadow Army."

Evil, indeed, casts a spell on its victims and prevents them from seeing who they really are. Hannah Arendt, German-American political theorist, once said,  "The sad truth  is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil." Even one or two personal bad decisions that evoke overpowering evil that, once beckoned, serves to master the mind and body in which it exists.

I have seen evil devour souls and lives without as much as a single care.

As we read about the temptation of Christ as detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we understand that Jesus revealed himself as God's Servant, one person capable of being totally obedient to the Divine will while defeating the most powerful of evil forces. Jesus refused all temptations as the lamb of God. This is proof that Christ expects us to fight with all our strength to vanquish the Tempter -- the evil -- be it a personal shadow or an archetypal shadow.

How are we simple humans supposed to face evil and prevent it from overtaking out lives? Phil Zimbardo, lead scientist of the “Stanford Prison Study” provides a comprehensive definition of the composition of evil in his book The Lucifer Effect:

“Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others – or using one’s authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf. In short, it is ‘knowing better but doing worse.’”

Notice the words "intentionally behaving." I don’t believe that Hitler, perhaps the most evil man in history, was possessed by the Devil. He did evil in the shadows of his wicked intentions. The idea of spiritual oppression existing in all of humans makes more sense to me than demonic possession in that it seems that everyone is imperfect, incomplete, insecure, inadequate, and likely tempted to do harmful things on occasion.

So, is there some kind of genetic predisposition toward evil or good? Does an evil environment promote generations of further evil? I would say "yes" to both of these propositions, but, to me, free will and conscious choices that evoke evil are to blame for nearly all sins against God and humanity.

In addition, I do strongly believe in the eventual triumph of good over evil. This is the hope of mankind based on religious faith. To me, a person without faith is dead to this world and nonexistent in the next. No one can be a warrior against evil without faith.

For now, we must ignore temptations like heroin and greed that would seem to promise pleasurable physical and mental releases as promising avenues to "the good life." In his book Evil, author and social psychologist Roy Baumeister provides an exhaustive review of the actions that promote evil. The factors that Baumeister most emphasizes include the following:

(1) The use of evil as a means toward some end (such as material acquisitions, sex, status, or power),
(2) Threats to a fragile and overly inflated ego,
(3) Idealistic fanaticism, and
(4) Conformity or obedience to others engaged in evil actions.

("The Psychology of Evil." The Quest for a Good Life. Wordpress. August 7, 2010)

We are all sinners, yet life presents us with a Heavenly challenge of avoiding evil each time it rears its ugly head. Playing with certain things readily found in our environment can be totally destructive and lead to living in permanent shadows, dark places that consume the soul of the abuser and the sanctity of others. It is human evil that ignites the insatiable appetite of sin and causes people to employ ordinary tools of destruction to perpetrate these horrible transgressions.

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as
he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without
protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

 --Martin Luther King, Jr.
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