Why I am a Christian 3: Evil

It is difficult finding words for ideas. I think most people know this on some level. Have you ever experienced something so intense and profound that you could find no words to convey what was shivering in your core? It happens to me. Often.

I think it’s why we consume art on such an enormous scale. It is why we flock headlong to the telling of stories, saying: “Yes, that’s it. HE got it. That storyteller understands.”

The most foundational aspects of our lives defy easy categorisation and explanation. We are forced to acknowledge this when we stand speechless in the presence of things like birth, death, love, courage, and evil.

In some of my most intense times of doubt I have returned to my experience of darkness and found God waiting there. There may be many refutations that can be levelled at the experience of evil, but irrefutability was never the point of these posts. It is an exploration of the multiplicity of reasons that I feel drawn to Christianity as the greatest explanation of reality. I have spent some time trying to place the experience of evil in the foundations of my faith and I think I may have found part of the answer.

Evil is a lens. It is one of the most basic human experiences, and it forces a response in a way that almost nothing else does. I think that’s one reason why we all shy away from it. There is something in us that rebels against the worst of humanity, calling us to action: even against our wills.

Which is where I often find God. Evil, and our reaction to it, affirms the existence of true goodness in the wrong that goes against it. You could point to my upbringing as the source of my discomfort and I would concede that you might be right. There are no ironclad philosophies (I have written about this previously).
Evil is something that I cannot deny. It is one of the beliefs that are engraved in my bones: so deeply imbedded that to lose it would be to be fundamentally different.

I believe in objective evil: wrongs that would be despicable even if everyone alive believed them to be moral. I also happen to be in good company about this. My best friend is agnostic, and believes this as strongly as I do. Richard Dawkins agrees, along with the pope. Our lines might lie differently, but in the face of true evil, all are united in revulsion and denunciation.

This in turn points to ultimate, objective good; something I believe to be impossible without the existence of God. For morality to be truly objective, one cannot live in a naturalistic world. The only objective law in a world without God is that might makes right. This is an argument I’ve had with a few non-believers, and it seems like it’s something you either apprehend as a logical conclusion or not (And there are many theists and atheists who have argued for both conclusions, which tends to support this observation). For me, it is obvious. The existence of the Good (God) is necessary for the existence of absolute evil.

Evil points even further. In my most despairing experience of the brokenness of humanity, I have seen glimmers of truth in Christian teachings. We can all agree that we’re broken, but I find it illuminating that we’re broken exactly like Jesus envisioned. This is obviously true because the Bible is largely an account of the specifics of our brokenness, but it is also more. It doesn’t fall into the same shortcomings that other philosophies do on the subject of human depravity. It goes deeper and further than Buddha or Marx or Hume’s characterisations. It encompasses the scope and depth of the raw badness boiling in the human heart.

It speaks to my own evil: the beast in my breast that leaves destruction in its wake whenever it stirs. C.S. Lewis famously said that all men fall short, not of the moralities of other, but of their own rules. We are all party in some small way to the brokenness of the world. In that too, I see Christ’s teachings shine.

In the end, evil is something we are intimately familiar with. Those who are able manage to subdue little bits of it every day. I believe in Christ through the very existence of evil, the experience of His teachings (and the teachings He engages) about it, and the hope that one day evil may be beaten. It is a battle I experience every day in myself. It is a war that I see waged all around me.
Sometimes, when I despair of the victory of Good, I realise again why I am a Christian. To lift a world as dark as ours from the slime we have created we will need help from someone. Someone who is clean in ways that we have never known. Someone like Jesus.

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3 thoughts on “Why I am a Christian 3: Evil

  1. I wonder, if Evil is a lens, is Goodness one too? Also, if Good depends on Evil in the same way Evil does on Good, does this allow for a world without one or the other? I’m thinking of your hope that someday evil may be beat.

    I have started to think that perhaps morality is something which evolves over time just like anything else and that there is something very complex and disconcerting about the (in)balance which has developed between the evolution of our intellects and the evolution of our hearts.

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    • I would say definitely. Good is also a lens, the experience of great good also focuses all the assumptions and philosophies we carry with us. I think evil tends to be a sharper lens because it make us so uncomfortable.

      I think right and wrong were always right and wrong. Our understanding of morality has definitely evolved (and still is), but I think this means that we just come closer to what is truly right and wrong.

      I’m intrigued by what you say about the disconnect between the two evolutions. could you elaborate a bit?

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      • So, what is the relationship between evil and wrong? Are they, in your opinion, the same thing? And it seems quite the challenge to try and define what is truly right or wrong. If they are perhaps elements of some objective reality, how shall we gain access to them through our many lenses?

        If we assume that morality is evolving in the same way that the rest of our world is evolving, is there an ultimate ending to it – a place where we arrive perfectly? (Not sure if this conversation can be productive without assuming the existence of heaven and so on… but I’m giving it a shot). It makes me think of that philosophical idea about god/God in Shantaram – that what is good is whatever drives us towards ultimate complexity.

        In terms of the evolution of mind and heart: This idea is largely a bunch of loose associations in my mind (like most things), but if we consider ourselves intellectually quite evolved (and here, of course, we are talking about what we as a species deem intelligent – make fire, make wheel, manufacture artificially intelligent Siri), then I have to ask how far this intelligence has really brought us. I have to ask if some of this intelligence is not the evil you speak of and that in this never-ending battle for numbers and recognition between good and evil, our hearts were left behind. Perhaps this intelligence would not have produced the evils it has if there had been a balance in the evolution of mind and heart. If our compassion and moral awareness could have evolved at the same rate as our cognitive faculties, what would this world have looked like instead?

        I suppose that Psychology can aim at parts of that question. Moral evolution hurts. Cognitive evolution doesn’t. Forgive my splitting between the two here, obviously this is for the sake of a (pseudo)theoretical point. And I think this echo’s a lot of what you wrote about in this post. It hurts to recognise our own ‘evils’. To heal we need to recognise and own the pain that we have created through our cognitive evolution, and that, I think is unbearable for any human heart – ironically because of it’s stunted development. And here is where the shrink in me enters… perhaps this is exactly what drives our cognitive evolution – we, as a species, are intellectualising as a defensive strategy against the incredible pain and the embarrassment of our own evils. I think that we probably learn what is moral through the slow and overwhelming process of recognising our pain and recognising our destruction, questioning its origin, seeing its effects on our collective (un)conscious, asking for forgiveness (from whomever) and trying to do better. I think such a process is courageous and necessary.

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