Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Does evil exist?

Once in awhile I feel I should repeat what should be obvious all the time with this blog-- it's about my opinion.  Regarding this particular issue, I am not a doctor, seminary graduate, or trained professional in the mental health field. I am also very open to others posting opinions that differ. 

Real discussions, when politely done, come out of such open discussions and differences as issues are explored from various angles. I mention this here because the following is one of the issues that can excite passion as it looks at religion as well as human behavior.
Does evil exist? If it does, how can we explain it?

You can find dictionary definitions to evil but they don't really explain the primal feeling that we experience at hearing the word. Maybe we cannot explain and because we cannot, many people want to say evil does not exist. They do not like to hear the word used. Some of that is because of how it has been misused in the past. Religions have jumped on the word as a way to attack anybody who is against their religion. Evil has justified more evil.

The thing is, for me, even knowing some would say I am being judgmental to use the word, there is no other way to explain certain actions. It's not hard to see how early man came up with mythical demons and why religions created a Satanic type figure. If we cannot understand how men can do evil things, then we have to make there be a reason. The Devil cuts it when looking at our fellow man does not.

Evil is there; and if we don't name it that, we call it something else. The thing is what explains it or can we? When something seems so bad, so feckless, so inhuman, so mean, so horrible, the usual words simply don't cut it.

Religions provided what mankind needed-- a personification of evil. Man needed it because frankly evil is out there and can be seen. What we see, we would like to understand and control. Christianity named it Satan and gave control of it to Jesus whose protection man could then utilize through prayer and proper living.

Because of religious misuse of the word evil for witch burnings and wars, many rebel at even hearing it. If something is defined as evil, what comes next?

Most recently we had an example of something I would call evil with the shootings in Colorado. It's not the first time I've seen such a tragic happening and won't be the last no matter what we do (if anything) about this one. Each time it is beyond understanding. Evil describes it, but doesn't fix it or even necessarily help us figure out why it happened as there can be many ingredients.

We see personifications of evil with serial killers also. It's when something is so bad that we simply cannot grasp how anyone could do it. The Holocaust certainly qualified to anyone willing to use the word.

So what happened in Colorado was simply evil in my mind. Plain out evil. But it's not that simple and never has been with evil as I don't think its source is always the same.

I think there is evil done by perfectly sane people. They are those who are sociopaths with no sense or rules nor compassion for others. It is all about what pleases them.

I also think sometimes it comes out of something else especially when it's a horrible act carried out by a young person, who is at the perfect age for the onset of schizophrenia, a little understood disease and one that often is hidden by those with it. Does it being named a disease mean there should be no consequences for the deed? Not in my mind.

If you have had much experience with people who have schizophrenia, you know one thing, most don't want treatment. They hear voices. They see visions. They don't see the reality everybody else does, and as long as possible, they hide their own reality. If they are found out, they hate the medicines that can control it because of their side effects.

Some of them have a god complex and feel those visions (evil or benign) are a sign they are special. For many of the schizophrenics, who are not dangerous, it is difficult for family and friends, but it doesn't endanger anyone except maybe themselves. Those voices, those visions can be benign in a sense, but they can also make a normal life nearly impossible as the disease takes more and more control over their ability to function.

Do we, as a society, have to force them to take the medicines that will allow them to conform to our standards if they hurt nobody else? But what about when they have the potential to do just that? What about the 10% of schizophrenics where it can turn violent?  Is there a way to find the potentially dangerous ones, and then do something about it? When they do turn to bad, there is only one word that I can think of for what comes next-- evil.

We are already hearing from those who want to understand what happened using religious justifications. [Shooting result of ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs]  So no church goer ever has schizophrenia or does something evil? Surely he knows better but he's counting on votes from those who don't, I guess.  We also heard from the ones who say they were protected from the carnage by their god. Guess that means the ones who died were meant to die?

The guy who killed Trayvon Martin has now gone on an interview program to declare it was all god's plan. I am not sure how he meant that other than it would sound good to those who think like the paragraph above. I won't say that shooter in Florida was evil. He was certainly misguided and ruined his own life along with taking that of another's. I also believe serial killers and mass murderers can be not only evil but sane. They aren't all schizophrenic.

And whether the Colorado killer is schizophrenic, only experts can probably identify and with someone who knows a lot about the illness, faking it wouldn't be impossible. To me a dangerous schizophrenic, who has committed such an act, should never be out of prison regardless of the diagnosis. He could have gone to a doctor and been taking medicines to control the symptoms-- if he had chosen to do so.

So mentally ill or not, what do we do about evil? One thing is face up to the word. Another is be more proactive where it comes to mental illness. We don't deal with it. It's not evil to be mentally ill. It's evil what some might do without treatment. Certain religious sects would still call it possession by the devil.

Evil has been in mankind all along. It was feared in cultures like the Native Americans where they often banished or killed someone who was deranged. It is feared for good reason. But when we don't face it, we are not only dooming many innocents to face its wrath with no protection but also the one suffering from it when today there are drugs that can help control it before it goes "postal".

I know there is much fear of over-diagnosing, of looking over everyone's shoulders for some reason to lock them up. That concern has been with good reason too. But we are supposed to be a more advanced society and yet it looks as though we wait for it to strike and then it's too late for the victims.

Most of these mass murderers, not all, have been shown to be worrisome before the slaughter. In the case of this young man, he left his home zone. He kept to himself. He was hiding something because he didn't want to be found out. He was capable of plotting his massacre. Does he not have accountability even if he's proven to have that disease-- especially when he did know what it was.

Ronald Reagan, the prince of the right wing, had a lot to do with how we treat mental illness when he put so many out on the street. Our culture has put rules in place that even families can't react until something violent has happened. Religion also has accountability when it named it possession by the devil. Science has some answers but more could be done if we faced it as we do an illness like diabetes without judgment unless/until it commits an act that goes beyond the pale. When that happens, we lost. That doesn't mean we should quit trying to fix it before disaster strikes.

Before we can do something about a problem, we need to define it, try to understand it, name it. Being willing to call out evil when we see it is a start. If that word doesn't work for you, what does?

Pre-publish update: After I had written this, I came across an excellent piece on mental illness and why don't we do something before the shooting (or bombs or knives or...) starts. That's the question I am asking and frustratedly heard Chris Matthews try to justify not looking at people for this kind of problem as it would infringe on their freedoms. Seriously doesn't he get it that another life was lost that night in the theater and all the other times-- the killer's. We have to get more proactive on this in a positive and effective way.  Will we? I wish I believed we would. It's commonsense but frankly that's in short supply these days.


Rubye Jack said...

I don't think evil exists since I believe we are all a part of Nature. Can you say the lightening that causes a huge fire is evil? It's just part of the whole of life/nature. Our brains run programs that can be soft wired to do what we think of as good but sometimes some brains have very faulty wiring and kind of blow up it seems. Thus, the idea of evil.
The point I'd like to make though is that we can do things as a society to stop a lot of the violence that keeps growing around us.

Like banning all forms of guns or providing more help to the mentally ill. I know that goes over like a lead balloon with many people and I don't understand why there is such a need for people to have guns. This is a great post.

Rain Trueax said...

Well banning guns won't do it because Timothy McVeigh killed with a bomb and this guy could have also. A machete in the hands of a guy with this size, who was trained, it'd kill a lot too before people could jump him. The truth is innocent people will never be prepared instantly to stand against someone who is ruthless and has preplanned the attack. Only those who had seen combat understood instantly what was happening. Most of us would not.

But the speed of killing with assault rifles, the not needing to reload giving someone a chance to jump him, guns that are only meant to kill people fast, that could be changed but right now it's not going to either.

When someone talks banning all guns, they lose even lefties like us because we need guns on the ranch for the livestock protection and potentially our own if the wrong people come through our door some night. It happens and we live a long way from any police help. We even have concealed weapon permits although we'd never carry into a movie theater, never have even thought we should and frankly with his armor, it would not have helped anyway.

You will never get rid of all guns whatever you do-- just those that belong the law-abiding people. We could though have better controls on who can buy one, waiting periods, background checks. Why the NRA doesn't want that is mystifying. Who wants a guy like this one to own guns-- especially rapid firing with extended magazines? It's crazy.

And why we aren't more effective on mental illness, recognizing it for what it is, that is a mystery to me also. It hurts everybody as it stands.

Taradharma said...

Evil surely does exist. It's a man-made construct, for sure, so would not apply to an act of nature such as lightening or hurricane. I don't view those as evil, but as events in the natural environment. No, evil has been and always be out there, whether due to mental illness or human nature. I don't understand it, but I know from first-hand accounts that committing acts of violence brings 'joy' or great satisfaction to some. So yeah, I call it evil because that's the only way I can get my head around it.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

We are a part of nature but we are self-aware making us accountable. Sometimes mental illness causes us to be unaccountable. Sometimes propaganda or a culture's myths of heroes or villains impair our self-awareness and judgement. We do evil acts but I would hardly put a label on any person as being evil.

Ingineer66 said...

Apparently it is not just Muslim men between 17 and 30 years of age that we need to keep an eye on. It is all men that age. There is something about men in their late teens to twenties that sometimes causes them to snap into schizophrenia. I do not know if it is drug caused or just a mental defect. Either that or they flip out because of a woman. No woman is worth killing somebody over.

For women it happens a little later when they start killing their children, but not usually other people.

Ingineer66 said...

Also seldom brought up is that the Columbine killers brought bombs to school. But since they had guns they did not do a very good job at making the bombs. If they would not have had guns and focused just on the bombs and they went off as planned there would have been far more people killed and injured.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

We need to know the definition of evil, when asking the question, " Does evil exist?" The word "evil" is what we define it to be. The definition of any word could be of something that exists or is imaginary. Imaginary words are some times motivated by lazyness. The motivation behind making up an emotional label like "evil" is to catagorize something we do not understand and put it in a box so we need not deal with it any longer. The label like evil releases us from responsibility. Labeled boxes containing words like evil are road blocks to understanding and improving the human condition.

Rain Trueax said...

And I see it exactly the opposite. When we see an evil act, which we just did again, to fear calling it for what it is gets us off the hook for doing anything about it. If we say good and evil are all part of life and we must expect both to be there is to let it be for whatever happens. To recognize evil for what it is means we will want to do what we can to control its effectiveness. If you read dictionary definitions for evil, you see why it matters that we have the courage to deal with it and as was said earlier-- no equate it with natural disasters but with purposeful malevolence. Now if it comes from mental illness, it's going for better solutions for that disease but not denying evil what it is. IF we do that, then good better go along with it.

Rain Trueax said...

And one more thought that yes, our culture will define what is evil if we admit good and evil do exist. That is why it's important we have a culture grounded on strong values that make for good living for its people. Those values will determine how the words good and evil are defined. A culture that can define neither is at the mercy of the worse elements within.

Ingineer66 said...

Well said Rain.

Tabor said...

Regarding evil only I think that is a moving target. Evil is whatever a society says it is and what was evil 100 years ago may not be evil now. If we just discuss murder, sometimes we do not see it as evil if it is revenge which we understand in our gut. We are so complex. Regarding mental illness, if someone is a danger to society determined by experts then we should keep them housed securely. Of course, pedophilia is a huge problem with our society and we do not securely house those with this horrible mental problem.