“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”-Ephesians 6:12
Of all questions asked by Man throughout the ages, central among them is likely the question of evil. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do we suffer? Why is the world full of pain and heartbreak, love lost and families broken, predators preying on victims and the innocence of our birth being consumed by the dark realities of this culture? We’ve been offered a number of answers throughout history, both from religion and from philosophy, ranging from the existence of some malevolent deity that formed the world to torture us or our metaphysically binding attachments and expectations, to the delusional positions that evil is an illusion (clearly from the sort that has lived a sheltered life) or that everything that we encounter is a test for some sort of afterlife.
The central issue here is technically a theological one, because the notion that there shouldn’t be any evil implies that there’s a deity involved to begin with. Most of the attempts at solving it are really attempts to rationalize why a pseudo-anthropomorphic deity would let bad things happen to his children. Generally, I don’t get into actual theology, but this may be the singular exception to that rule. In that vein, we’re going deep- from the origin of the word Satan and the nature of ignorance to the question of where responsibility lies for the world we live in and what our place is in the grand scheme of things.
Let us begin.
Quid est malus- what is evil? I’ve touched on the notion before as revolving around ignorance, but today we’re going to go further into understanding the extent to which ignorance and our response to it leads to evil in the world.
As we are all aware, we are born in a state of ignorance, often described as innocence. Innocence comes from the Latin word nocere, meaning harming, thus innocere is not harming. One of the examples I used in the past to show how, in a state of ignorance, we’re still capable of causing harm is the poignant image of a toddler with a loaded handgun. While the kid doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s very capable of harming himself or others despite being ignorant of what he does- a la “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Now, if we take a modern notion of culpability, we’d have to square the notion of the innocence of children with the fact of the harm caused by the weapon (assuming the toddler fires it here). Our legal system is built chiefly around the notion that everyone is responsible for their actions, and why wouldn’t it be? We’re volitional beings, we dictate our actions and pay the price for them if they go south, right? For a kid to get a pistol, however, someone else must have left the weapon unsecured, and therefore acted irresponsibly. If it’s your kid and your gun, it’s your fault- we all intuitively understand this part as well.
Here’s where it gets complicated.
We tend to draw our legal line for innocence somewhere around the age of majority (whatever time people begin treating you as an adult), but that’s sort of a bad system. If someone has a mental developmental disorder or a significantly lower than average IQ, they’re not going to be capable of the same level of culpability and ethical thought as an average, healthy person. (This is more disturbing in a backwards sort of way when you realize the lack of complexity in the ethical thought an average, healthy person, but that’s beside the point.)
It’s abundantly evident that people do not develop at the same rate or to the same eventual level- while I personally detest Kant, he obviously operated at a much higher level of ethical thought than 99.99% of people who ever lived. Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg postulated six levels of potential moral development, although most people never make it past stage four, which is based around law and obedience to social order. This means that most people never actually question the morality provided by their society, which is reserved for levels five and six. (I personally think there’s a seventh, but that’s neither here nor there.)
If that’s true, we can draw a few conclusions from it.
First, the moral (or otherwise) actions of the majority of level four or lower people are inevitably going to be largely a result of the cultural morality enshrined by the level five and six progenitors that lead to their current social system… but wait? I thought everyone was responsible for their own actions? Evidently, not as much as we thought.
This is one of the most exceedingly difficult (seemingly paradoxical) things to understand with any degree of nuance. Is a toddler directing their own action as they march around the room, picking things up and putting them in their mouths? Yes. Is the number of objects available to do so with within the control of the toddler? No.
Here’s a more difficult example-
Is a person responsible for what they sign their name on? Yes. Is it their fault when someone gives them a loan contract to sign that they cannot reasonably expect to be able to afford?
If it were a man in court being tried for the death of his child from a self-inflicted firearm wound, there’s almost no doubt he’d be convicted for some sort of negligence. However, basically none of the people that enabled the second example to happen and caused the financial crisis were held responsible- we obviously have very little legal support for the idea that assisting (plausibly) ignorant people in destroying their lives financially is morally wrong at all. However, unless you’re some kind of imbecile or someone who has no issue with taking advantage of your fellow man, you understand intuitively that it’s wrong to make bad deals with people, especially people who aren’t capable of understanding the implications of the deals they’re making.
What I’m trying to illustrate here is that you can’t look at the nature of ignorance without understanding that ignorance, like a person, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It would be a very different discussion if there suddenly sprung into existence a universe that consisted only of a toddler and a handgun- we’d have to assume that either it’s some bizarre, horrific chaos or the product of a sick deity.
We don’t live in a hypothetical- everything that happens is the consequence of another event, and more likely many other events in a massive chain of causality stretching back to the beginning of time. Because we don’t understand what the first event was, or more realistically, what the first 99% of events were, we’re doomed to some degree of ignorance forever- imagine coming into Game of Thrones towards the end of the 6th season and trying to figure out all the prior events just from inference. You probably can’t.
Just like that, we’re born into a world where neither we nor any other person has (or can even obtain) perfect knowledge of causality– cause and effect. We’re all ignorant, so we’re always going to act in ways that do not account for the many consequences of our actions. However, this does not mean we’re incapable of learning, and it’s this deceptively simple fact that both offers a solution and is also the origin of what I consider evil.
From whence does evil come, then?
I argue that evil emerges from willful ignorance– the denial of the true nature of reality, or to pretend that something you know is true is not for whatever reason. A banker that doesn’t know that his client can’t afford a loan may be a bad banker, but he’s not acting maliciously, just incompetently. A banker that authorizes a loan that he knows the applicant cannot possibly afford? That’s evil- just like a person who leaves a loaded gun out in a room with a toddler.
This is where things get dark.
Almost a year ago, I had a debate with Steafan Fox (that doesn’t seem to be on YouTube anymore, unfortunately) on the nature of evil that changed my life. Much of the debate centered around a story that was circulating in the news about two female backpackers who had their heads sawn off with knives by a group of Moroccan Muslims who had sworn allegiance to ISIS on film a week prior. We had been discussing the nature of Christian morality and the notion that one should “turn the other cheek” rather than fight back. I offered the example of those grisly murders- imagine if you were walking through the woods and you heard screams, and as you came into a clearing you saw this assault taking place. In this scenario, you’re armed and trained well enough to stop the men committing the act.
My argument was twofold: first, that the notion of turning the other cheek here is fundamentally heinous, and second, that if you choose to refrain from stopping the men, then you’re responsible for having allowed it to happen. It is for this reason specifically that I cannot call myself a Christian, as I do not think that nonviolence is inherently moral. Steafan made the argument that if there were an afterlife, the morality would work, but I fundamentally reject the notion of an afterlife as a justification for ethics simply because it allows for us to stop taking responsibility for the way the world is.
Quid est malus?
Evil is what we let happen when we know something is wrong and do nothing about it. It’s less often that there are truly evil people as actors and more common that ignorant and bad things are allowed to happen because we do not wish to take responsibility for them.
Here’s where things go really off the rails.
I’ve written before about the parts of the brain and how each of them more or less follows different rules- today we’re going to look at what those rules look like extrapolated. The prefrontal cortex is represented by the Logos of Christianity, Christ, while the paleomammalian brain is represented by the Old Testament God, and, as I was informed by my friend Roman McClay, author of the phenomenal book Sanction, the basal ganglia (reptile brain) is represented by the warring pagan gods.
The old gods warred, the OT God unified a number of tribes, and from that, the Logos emerged to tame the beast of man. I wrote in Dreamtime and the Lotus on the River that there’s an old Buddhist metaphor that represents some of this, but I’ll retell it here in a different context:
The lotus flower has roots in the mud of the river, and it grows upward through dirty water, finally breaching the surface and blooming with clean petals.
This represents the three parts of the brain- the muck where the roots take hold are the various pagan religions and deities that conquered or were conquered to produce the notion of a singular God. This is the God who then created the rules of society and represented a unified system of dominance- one stem from several roots. From that, we have the flower, coming directly from the stem but with none of the muck or filthy water- the Logos, or man’s capacity for reason, and the part of us that is born innocent and ignorant.
Christian ethics are fundamentally based on the idea that if we submit to the will of an external authority completely, we will get the result that we want- I’ve covered this notion extensively in my articles on the value Love (as Christianity embodies Love as the highest virtue, a la “God is Love”). Love, without protection, will be either dominated, enslaved, or martyred, as Jesus was.
Part of the issue is that we have two distinct modes of operation in the brain- the Order and Chaos minds. One of these is designed around the principle of Love, and the other around the principle of Will. Christianity then becomes a half-solution to the mind, because when it comes to Love, it gets everything right. It simply fails to account for the fact that not everyone is going to act out of love and that denying half of the self doesn’t make it go away, and doesn’t mean it lacks utility.
We, as a culture, have more or less denied any utility to violence, at least in spirit. Because only a small percentage of Americans are in the armed forces, many go their entire lives without knowing military members, and we take for granted the supremely uncommon level of safety present in the country. By any account of history, this is neither normal nor likely to last. Even the safety we do have is provided by men willing to commit violent acts in defense of our rights, and we thank them by spitting on them and deciding their actions are immoral from a position of supremely ignorant cowardice.
We operate under the nigh universal delusion that because we’re law abiding citizens, the rest of the world (or even our country) must also be that way. This is because we overestimate our own morality due to never questioning it (most people are level four, remember?) and because we think we’re inherently good people because we’re incapable of violence. Peterson covers this at length so it will suffice to quote him here, “if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.”
Remember that most of the people in Nazi Germany weren’t true believers, they were just regular people too weak and cowardly to do anything. If someone kidnaps your kid in front of you because you can’t stop them, you are the problem as much as them.
Evil exists not because the universe is flawed, but because you allow it to– because you will not or cannot stop it due to weakness or cowardice, or both. (As always, this is as much me writing to myself here as it is for whoever ends up reading this, mind you.)
Christianity, because it does not account for the need to be capable of violent to defend the weak and innocent, thus leaves a void open. If “God is Love,” why does he let innocent Swedish girls get their heads cut off with knives while they’re still alive? If you get nothing else from this article, know that that is the most important question you will have to answer.
Because a system that maintains that only Love is real is fundamentally incomplete, we see it react by forming a concept- the adversary. (Much of what I detail here is going to be a simplification of the premise of the great book by Gnostic scholar Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics.)
Our modern concept of “the Devil” is actually a combination of misunderstandings coupled with John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante Aligheri’s Inferno, with a dash of political demonization. This is not unlike how in modern times anyone who disagrees with the progressive agenda is “like, literally a Nazi.” I include this in the event some conservative reads this looking for justification as to why they’re going to declare their enemies evil, because you and the progressives are all the same- demonizing your enemies to avoid looking at yourselves.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word satan (which is distinctly not a proper noun, meaning it’s a descriptor and not an embodied being like Satan) mean accuser or adversary. In the OT, those described as satan are adversaries sent by God himself to challenge and test the faithful. In the Book of Job, the satan is even considered one of the Sons of God (although I suggest you read up on that because the concept is misleading at face value). At any rate, the original word satan obviously did not mean what modern Christianity takes it to mean.
Where’s the utility in this?
Our concept of Satan now is the force that tempts one to actively do bad things, as Jesus was tempted in the desert. However, we’d have much more use with a conception of our adversary as: the part of us that fears doing the right thing and so thus remains complicit with evil by doing nothing.
The adversary is us.
We want to believe that we live in a fantasy world where if we just don’t do anything bad that nothing bad will happen. In reality, it seems pretty obvious that our notions of morality are effectively just justifications for why we don’t do anything. Lots of people believe in conspiracies and are vehement advocates that they’re true, but basically none of those people are doing anything about them. Most of what we call ethics is a post-hoc rationalization for how we acted, just so we can feel better about ourselves.
As I said in Inertia’s Razor:
“Any philosophy/ideology/belief system that leads to inaction is a fancy way of making excuses, and is, thus, bullshit.
Or, more simply:
If you have to explain why you’re doing nothing, it’s an excuse.”
The world is this way because we let it get this way. Every decision you make to not stand up and object to the progression of things into insanity is a vote of consensus.
German Pastor Martin Niemöller, a concentration camp survivor, wrote this:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Every time you cheer for one of your political enemies getting deplatformed, or doxxed, or SWATted, or otherwise falling victim to some other abuse of power, you are supporting the rise of tyranny.
You and your inaction are the adversary.
There may yet be a way forward- but it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better.
When we enshrine weakness as an ethic, and when we say that strength is no virtue, then the only strong men left will be unethical, and all the good men will be weak. With our childish view of morality, we’ve left the throne unguarded for horribly unethical politicians, businessmen, lawyers, law enforcement, cartels, drug dealers, human traffickers, terrorists, religious extremists, and basically every other form of disgusting, wretched scum to rule things because the good men were afraid to lift their voices and get their goddamn hands dirty.
When men value some imagined paradise for their soul after earth more than the world in front of them, he lets himself die the thousand deaths of the coward and by the end has nothing that resembles the soul of a man left.
If Christianity taught us to be civil, then we’ve seen enough civility. I think the time has come for not the religion of the Son, but of the Father– no longer can we claim innocence and submit to the horrors perpetrated on the world as if we were better for doing so.
No, we must stand up.
We can no longer remain ignorant.
We must face first the adversary within, the adversary which calls us to cower and stay inert, to reject the responsibility that our knowledge of the best in man, of what the world could and should be, calls us to do. When we go each day watching human rights and dignity be trampled on and sold off, when we keep our mouths shut as the weakest among us, the greatest of fools, preach their filthy fucking disdain and hatred for life, and health, and being itself, we pay the fare to ride Charon’s boat to Hell willingly.
The Kingdom of Heaven is here on Earth, the Kingdom of God is within you. It’s not some magical fucking concept, you’re not a goddamn child, wake the fuck up to reality. The Dream of the Beautiful World only becomes real when you build it- the law of attraction and all your affirmations won’t help you when the fascists and communists come kicking your door down for whatever arbitrary bullshit you said to draw their ire.
Wake the fuck up.
We have a world to save.