Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Spirituality and Evil

Here are some old questions which have been given different answers at different times but which we should look at again because they are as important now as they have ever been. They are also less likely to be answered correctly today, given the fact that we have closed our minds to so much of reality.

Is evil real? If it is real, is it supernatural in origin? If it is supernatural in origin, what is its purpose? If it has a purpose how can we, mere mortals, respond to that purpose?

We should begin by pointing out that any spiritual approach must include a proper understanding of evil if it is to encompass the whole of life and not simply represent a retreat from unpleasant parts of it.

Next, I'd like to quote the Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev who wrote the following. "Is evil only a natural defect, an imperfection disappearing of itself with the growth of good, or is it a real power, possessing our world by means off temptations, so that for fighting it successfully, assistance must be found in another sphere of being?".

 I quote Soloviev because framing the question in this way gives what I regard as the right answer. Yes, evil is real. It is not just an absence of good as darkness is an absence of light. Or rather it is that but it is not only that. There is something deliberate about evil which takes it beyond simple negativity. It is not merely a defect of mind (using Soloviev's word), it is also the product of a warped will.

And this means that evil is a real thing that must be fought against.

If it is real then where does it come from? Some would say it is the consequence of free will and so human in origin, the result of egotism and selfishness. There is nothing we can really call evil in the animal world though some behaviour comes pretty close. But really where there is no proper sense of self, there can be no good or evil. So evil is human. But is the human will the sole ground of evil or is there something further back, deeper in the fabric of life? And, if so, is evil just a kind of growth mechanism in the moral universe that brings out positive good by showing and enabling us to experience its opposite? Or is it the result of a rebellion against the natural order that actively aims to corrupt and lead astray?

A rationalistic philosopher might conclude the first of these two options. Evil is there to help us know good. It serves to awaken self-consciousness and then maybe even take us beyond that. By this criterion, the devil is a kind of dark twin to Jesus and, ultimately, they play for the same side. But this also means there is no such thing as evil really. It's not much more than a trick.

I see the persuasive power of such a theory but I reject it. Because although evil might be used by God to bring certain things about, it did not form part of his original plan for creation. Given the fact of evil, God can incorporate it, to some extent, into his scheme for evolving consciousness but only to bring some good out of an already existing evil. It has nothing good about it in itself and was not envisaged for a specific, spiritual purpose.

I believe the Christian idea of evil to be closer to the truth. The one reality is good but God gave his creatures free will in order that they might participate in creation themselves and help to create it from the inside. Not to mention, to allow for the possibility of real love between self-conscious beings. But as a result of this freedom certain spirits high in the order of being rebelled, pride and the desire to be equal to God being behind this rebellion. These spirits now have an agenda which is to mar creation and turn it against its creator. We are the intermediaries in this battle.

And it is a battle. The purpose of supernatural evil is to destroy spiritual good, and one of the principal places they seek to do this is the human heart. Human beings are the children of God, made in his image, and intended to grow to full awareness of that through experience in the world where they can, so to speak, make themselves from the raw material God has given them, that being their individual souls. This is why we do not have access to spiritual reality now. We must gain that ourselves by right decisions, right thinking and right actions. It could not be ours if we did not win it for ourselves. We cannot just be given it. But the evil forces seek to prevent that for reasons we can only guess at but probably because it is the tendency of corrupted souls to want to corrupt others, perhaps to try to prove themselves in some way right, perhaps out of simple resentment and malevolence.

Evil in our day seeks to disguise itself as good. That is because the purpose of evil is not to destroy minds or bodies but to destroy souls and souls can only be destroyed when they give themselves up to evil of their own volition. But who will do that knowing that it is evil? Very few. But if you can convince the soul that evil is good and good evil then you are well on the way to corrupting it spiritually. Of course, you can only convince those whose inner orientation to truth and real good is weak and in whom egotism is stronger than love of God, and this is the great test of our time. Will we seek the false good which ultimately serves the human ego or the true good which demands we give that up but in love not for some kind of self-advantage?

Jesus famously said "Resist not evil", and he allowed himself to be tried and executed without protest. Does that mean we should not fight evil? This is where wisdom and spiritual discernment are required. For resist not evil does not mean we should allow evil to pass unchallenged. It means don't fight it inwardly by reacting to it according to its own mode. Resist it outwardly but remain detached within, without giving way to hatred and anger (though there may well be such a thing as righteous anger). If evil is not identified and, yes, resisted, it will triumph. But when you, as you should, resist evil in thought, word and deed, do not resist it by fighting it with its own weapons. Keep your heart unaffected by the fight and let your motive be purely and simply love of God. After all, Jesus did not follow his own advice all the time (if that advice is interpreted purely passively). So, don't fight evil with its own weapons but fight it with all your might.

How do we do this? The first thing to do is to identify it for what it is. That is not always easy in modern times when evil, in many cases successfully, seeks to disguise itself as good. But it can be done if we focus on the underlying spiritual reality of being and realise life is a struggle between truth and falsehood. This is where Christianity has the advantage over a religion such as Buddhism or any religion that does not grant a full, albeit contingent, reality to creation. Christ taught the fact of evil and that it must be countered whereas for the Buddha, it is more the product of ignorance, dispelled by enlightenment which takes one beyond the dualistic world of good and evil. Consequently, there is a tendency for the Buddhist to ignore evil. He doesn't acknowledge its cosmic roots, not fully anyway, and so is less able to deal with it in the world even if he can within himself. I would go so far as to say that Buddhism in the modern world is largely ineffectual against evil. How can you fight something that you don't regard as real?

When we have identified it then we must proclaim the good. For evil is perhaps best fought by shining the light of God onto it. Then the spuriously attractive coverings it surrounds itself with are shown to be tawdry rags, and the darkness at its heart is revealed. And what is the good? Surely it is the light of the risen Christ. This is the one thing against which evil has no defence.

Today we live during a time of ever increasing spiritual and cultural evil. This evil is subtler than in the past with the result that most people don't see it and go along with it, even seeing it as good since good it might appear to be according to a twisted metaphysics that denies the transcendent and the natural and spiritual orders of being that are rooted in that. But those who do see it must fight it or they will find that it will conquer them. If you don't stand against evil then you will eventually succumb to it. This is a law. So stand against it and fight it with the word of God.


Bruce Charlton said...

"This evil is subtler than in the past with the result that most people don't see it and go along with it, even seeing it as good since good it might appear to be according to a twisted metaphysics that denies the transcendent and the natural and spiritual orders of being that are rooted in that."

In this resepct I have found *some* (as always!) of Steiner's analysis of Ahrimanic evil to be very valuable.

For example: It is interesting that everybody 'feels' the evil of materialist bureaucracy, managerialism, reductionism ('nothing but-ism', the accountancy culture) as it is applied applied to the workplace, the family, marriage etc. We feel it when in the presence of recent architecture and design; or when filling in forms.

We all feel this, yet fail to recognise its intrinsic evil to the extent that a large majority of people support it by their votes, their arguments, ideology - and their docile compliance.

Thus, the mass and major evil of our time is not merely unnoticed, but actively implemented - despite that we feel it in our hearts: its cold, crushing anti-humanity.

William Wildblood said...

Yes we may not like it but we put up with it because we have been led to believe it is necessary. But the more we put up with it the more it becomes all pervasive and so many people's livelihoods depend on it that they become absorbed into the system and end up fully part of it. Unless you consciously stand against these things you become part of them In the end.