Cuz, always good to see anyone grappling with the notion of the big "E." The historian Jeffrey Burton Russell did a pretty fantastic four-book reading on the principle of evil and its various incarnations in the West over the centuries, if you're into that sort of thing.

A wise fellow once said, and I paraphrase: "How will you tell the bad guys from the good guys? You will know them by their fruits." And that speaks to outcomes--the righteous will do righteous things, and the unrighteous...you get the idea. In such a view, there's not intrinsic evil, but rather there are evil outcomes.

Theodicy is a rough one. To avoid the stark dualism of Calvinism and strains of thought like Manicheanism (the light vs. the dark), that is, to reconcile the goodness of the Divine with the evil outcomes we frequently observe here in the material world, some interpretations regard the Enemy and his legions as instruments of the Divine Will (if we believe in the omnipotence of The One, how could it be otherwise?) Thus, the evils we observe on a daily basis are relative evils related to the exercise of our own (relatively) free will, but they are not indicative of a fundamentally evil Almighty, if you dig. Our views of right and wrong, then, are at the level of humankind, as is appropriate; the larger, 14-billion year cosmic view from above has a different sense of what is Good that does not jibe with our sensibilities (and how could it be otherwise?)

But, I'm rambling...without question, there's bad things out there. I would argue they are bad things that HAPPEN. Those who choose the route of enabling bad things to happen...those are your bad guys.

FWIW, David Lynch's "Lost Highway" still has the scariest screen moments I've ever seen.

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Hey, Jon,

I enjoyed reading this--especially the references to David Lynch. If you've never heard Lynch talk about the incident from his childhood neighborhood that inspired Blue Velvet, it is chilling and revealing in terms of inspiration for the film.

I agree that it is hard to shake the idea of capital-E Evil ingrained in my brain from my upbringing. However, even back then, the idea of a devil whispering in one's ear or a cosmic evil landing on one while bypassing another just did not sit well with me. Evil and Good, Sin and Sanctity seem like loaded terms that (as you said) don't capture the nuance of the human condition. If evil and good exist at all, they are across a broad spectrum--likely based more on the functional (or dysfunctional) wiring of the human brain (I'm thinking of the "Life Line" from Donny Darko https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p20GYzCnfr0). When I say, "There but for the grace of God, go I" I mean I could just as easily have been wired for violence or delusion or bigotry. I could just as easily bypass my empathy circuits in the wrong setting or circumstances (online, under low blood-sugar, under stress, etc). Grace is acknowledging my own fortunate condition both in terms of nature and nurture--a condition that produced a mind at relative ease and in good health. Grace is treating those in less fortunate circumstances with their due measure of understanding and empathy.

Given that, I don't find the labels sinner or saint, evil or good to be productive. I also don't like it when Christians start with "we're all just horrible hopeless sinners." We're not. We are people with varying degrees of biologically healthy dispositions and environmental factors that routinely impact or influence our behavior. The better we can medically treat those dispositions and mitigate the negative environmental influences, with gracious empathy, the better society will be.

Take care, my friend. I enjoy the essays!


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