Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Theories of Evil

I've covered some pretty deep topics in a few of my blogs, and this one is no exception. Where can one start when discussing something as complex and endless as "evil"? There are so many paths to take, so many ways to start. I find myself starting from the required readings in my World Religions class. This week's religion is Judaism. Interestingly enough, it's also Jewish Education week here at Redlands.

I read a passage out of one of my class's required texts, The Great Religions: Essential Questions. The passage discussed the question, "Why does Evil exist?", and was focused mainly one the answers that Judaism provides. Frankly, I disliked the passage. I felt that the writer never really came to a clear point. The writer, Marc-Alain Quaknin, began by discussing the Jewish belief that there was no "original sin" that was passed on over generations. Instead, "It is up to each individual to take up the daily struggle so that their good my triumph over their bad". I'm not sure how this is a valid alternative to original sin, maybe the writer simply phrased it badly or I simply can't see it. But the first belief, that there was no original sin, implies many different things. It means that the wrongs commited in the past have no effect on the present day. It means that humanity isn't in a fallen, depraved state, or if it can be considered such, than it is not due to the "first sin". Meanings aside, this Jewish belief would have been a good concept to explain in Quaknin's passage, but he doesn't. Instead he appears to argue against it. He talks about humanity as a whole choosing evil instead of good; that with free will granted to us "we" went against God's rules. After such a statement as expaining the responsibilities of each individual, speaking of humanity in general at all, let alone speaking of humanity as one unit who chose evil is going against that concept. What's more is that it's not true. Men often do choose evil, this is true, but just as many choose good.

I don't really want to argue against a professional's word, since I've already done that in a previous assignment. Rather, I thought I'd brainstorm out loud the possibility of the "Jewish belief". If it really is all up to the individual in each lifetime, what then does that mean? It's difficult, because some of the concept of "original sin" does serve as an easy explanation. For example it can be thought that many people who grow up evil are that way because of something or someone influencing their lives when they were young. Maybe a tragic event taught them to discredit God and believe that nothing good would happen to them. Maybe they were abused as a child. Maybe they were born into a family of organized crime. The idea of sin being passed on, in this sense, proves valid. But these situations could just as easily come another way. Even after experiencing horrible atrocities, it is still the individual, the victim, to choose what path they take. Many choose evil, but many choose good. Following the same strand, were the effects on the young person in question not brought on by individual choices of the parent or influential person? I take the belief in individual responsibility to mean that the choices and struggles of the individual determine all good and bad for that individual in that lifetime. If they raise a child to be evil because of their choices, that's not exactly good for them, is it?
What are the sources of evil in this day and age? Of course, this question is debatable because of each individuals definition of good and evil. Well, as blasphemous as it sounds, religion certainly is a source of evil. Whether they are devine words from this religion, or simply misinterpretations, evil deeds take place every day in the name of God or religion. Poverty is a source. Poverty can start one of two ways: it can be believed that every poor person is poor because of their choices; others would argue that accidents happen that no one could have any control over, and the "system" or "man" prevents them from regaining their right to success and prosperity. To take one step back from poverty, money itself is a major source of evil. The lack of it can cause evil, but the presence of it can cause just as much or even more evil. Poverty inspires petty crime, theft, and reckless murder. People with money may have recieved it throug evil deeds, but have more resources available for them to do more evil (professional killers, organized crime, bribery, etc).

Can all of these sources be explained by the belief that original sin doesn't exist? The fact that humanity is not in a state of peace and prosperity can itself mean that humanity is, as a whole, depraved. But too much of the world lives for good, dreams of good, and wants the end of all evil. Could the first sin, the "orignal sin" not be the source of evil, but the source of good? Why would the tale of Adam and Eve even be written if not to prove the moral of it to millions of people? Was not the story to show the rest of us what not to do?

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