Friday 6 December 2019

Evil is Not Good

I regard it as a major error to see evil as a tool wielded by God to bring about greater understanding and development. This is a fairly common trope, whether as a Christian heresy, a variation on Eastern monism or an example of the sort of Western occultism that seeks to present itself as more 'advanced' than religion for the unenlightened masses. But it is wrong.

Roughly speaking, the theory goes that without darkness you could not know light so certain angels act on behalf of God as forces of darkness and contraction. They do what we, in our short-sightedness, call evil but they are working for the spread of good. Lucifer, of course, means Light Bearer and, according to this idea, that is what he still is. He is the force that brings about individuality and breaks down spiritual inertia so that new growth may arise. He is sometimes even thought of as Christ's dark twin, the two working in tandem to bring about spiritual evolution as the One splits into the Many before recombining as the One.

I think this is pernicious nonsense. Tolkien (as usual) had it right. In his creation myth, the One God teaches the archangels who are the children of his thought to sing creation into being which they proceed to do along the harmonious guidelines laid down by God. But they have a certain amount of freedom too and one archangel brings in discordant elements, the product of his incipient egotism. Several times God corrects this by introducing new themes that balance it out but it seems that the end product, Earth, is still somewhat corrupted. Evil has come through the pride of the rebellious archangel and though God can use that evil to bring about some new good, the evil is certainly not the source of the good or the necessary means for it. It's more a matter of making a virtue out of necessity. Evil here is not a form of good but a perversion of it.

It is important to see this correctly or you can fall into the trap of justifying evil and not standing against it as the enemy of good rather than its accomplice. And that means you will become an apologist for evil or even an enabler of it. This is the philosophy of people who eschew divine simplicity in favour of over-elaborate cosmologies that appeal to the intellect. It can be dispelled by a proper understanding of Christ who leaves us in doubt that evil is not good. It is evil.


ted said...

It's the difference between pantheism (God is in all things equally, including evil) verses panentheism (God is in all things, but to different degrees). I suppose God has a spark even in Lucifer, but his resistance becomes overwhelmingly autonomous to impose evil.

William Wildblood said...

I see what you mean but pantheism ignores transcendence. God is immanent only. So that's not really what I am saying. In the scenario I outline here God is still the transcendent creator but evil is one of the tools in his kit box. It's that I am disputing.

Satan certainly must have a spark of the divine or he could not be. But he has distorted the divine in him by trying to bend it exclusively to his own will. I would say one of his little tricks is to try to convince people that he's on the side of good really, just a poor misunderstood spirit working for God in his own way. That's a lie.

Moonsphere said...

This is a worthy topic of discussion.

Yes, the idea exists that effectively says - the lower you fall - the higher you can "bounce" back up! One can imagine just what horrors would result if that was used as a guide for life. Perhaps there is truth in the utility of hitting "rock bottom" before the impulse for an ascent can be gained. But that would normally apply to self-abuse, rather than evil towards others.

But clearly Evil is something of a mystery. The account of the Fall does lead us to a deep question - put somewhat superficially - was God surprised by the Fall?

I am rather drawn to the idea that God did not know evil and has been introduced to it only by the actions of created beings. Likewise, God did not know Death - until Christ himself went through the gate of death. An example of this divine "innocence" has been noted in the account of the Temptations of Christ. In the rebuttals by Christ we find the words - "it is written...". Such an appeal to a terrestrial source - a book - suggests that at that tender stage of Incarnation - Christ only recently submerged in a human body - was at the very beginning of his confrontation with evil as it manifests on Earth.

If God was not "suprised" by the Fall - then we must accept that the divine plan took into account the inevitability of Evil. Human freedom was paid for at the high cost of evil.

As you have rightly said God can transmute Evil into Good - and yes - the greatest sin/folly would be to take it upon oneself to provide God with the raw material.

William Wildblood said...

It surely was created beings that brought about evil but God must presumably have known of its possibility because he gave his creation freedom and individuality thereby renouncing some of his power so that there might be love. Perhaps evil is the shadow of love. In order to have one you risk the other.

Moonsphere said...

I suppose what makes me uncomfortable about a completely omniscient God (within the sphere of creation) is the implied impact on freedom itself. Can we really be free if God already knows the outcome of our incarnations?

But yes, love is the ultimate goal and suffering would appear to be the currency by which that sublime state is achieved.

From this truth - much evil could be wrought.

For me that is part of why Christianity is so compelling. It is a path beset by dangers. And yet to refuse that path leads to a far greater peril. Christianity leaves absolutely no room for apathy or complacency which are the plagues of the modern world!

Adil said...

I agree, but I still view the 'dualistic' psychology of every-day Christianity as problematic. I think we have a situation in the church (and the public) in general where the dark side of human nature is being suppressed, and conflated with evil. As a result, Christianity becomes toothless and actual Evil gains the upper hand, because Christians want to avoid (?) evil instead of facing it, effectively shutting-out the 'shadow' part of human nature. I think this is why many Christians see heavy metal music as 'evil' for example. But.. Isn't Christianity actually a pretty dark religion? To my mind - violence, darkness and hate are not evil or 'opposites' to peace and love. Hate can be an emotional expression of love, and violence can be used to deter an already violent situation? When you think about it, everything is 'violence' in different degrees, and if you abstain from excercising authority you are submitting to someone elses. There is no room for complacency toward evil.

As the Hermetic teaching goes, reality is like a spectrum of polarity rather than a field of mutually exclusive opposites (which would be the lower principle of electricity). In this sense, evil would simply be what perverts the natural Order of the cosmos for its own end. And this underlying logical Order - God - is wholly Good. I don't see evil having any ultimate persistence in the light of God. That is not to say darkness is our enemy. Nowadays, daylight actually scares me more than the dark in many ways.

William Wildblood said...

Ha! You've got a point. A lot of nasty things come out in the daytime nowadays!

Bruce Charlton said...

Very interesting post and comment thread. I agree with Moonsphere about the - I owuld say - insoluble problem of an omniscient God who is also wholly good.

I would emphasise the power of the simple truth that William has often emphasised (eg in the title of his book Remember the Creator) that God is The Creator. For most modern people (except maybe mathematicians and physicists!) , this is more meaningful than to speak of 'transcendence'. The 'transcendent' deity is The Creator - and the fact we inhabit 'a creation' is what makes-possible meaning, purpose and personal relationships in this life and beyond.

Now, of course, there are more questions to be asked about what creation entails, what it is. For exmaple, the question: was *everything* created by the creator? I would say Not everything, and that evil was already in existence before The Creation - and that is, in fact, the 'solution' to the problem of the origin of evil in a reality created by a wholly-good God... God has to 'deal with' the presence of evil in creation - it cannot be eliminated.

A wholly-good 'place' has been made 'within' creation (i.e. Heaven); and salvation is about what needs to happen to us so that wex may inhabit that place after death; for those who fundamentally want to inhabit it.

(...which does Not include the devil The devil and his demons work to keep people out of Heaven and in the other parts of creation where demons - who reject Heaven - can continue to 'work on them').

This God not only can turn evil to good; he Must do this - because there is no alternative - evil is present in each Man and all things.

There is just-evil in this world, and God makes the best of that situation in his design and administartion of this world; God uses the unavoidable evil (necessarily with our collaboration) to help us towards salvation, spiritual development, and Heaven.

William Wildblood said...

For me the question of the conflict began God's omniscience and his omnipotence is resolved by the fact that he has given up some of the latter by giving us freedom. This he has done to make things more interesting for himself. It's as though he had a railway set which once built just went round and round in predictable circles or whatever. How dull! So he gives his trains the option to go where they will and the drivers the chance to build new track. Much more interesting to see.

And then there's the point I made earlier about love and evil and how if you want one you risk the other. Maybe that's the trade off God had to make bearing in mind that evil can't get into heaven and will eventually vanish when creation has run its course and purified matter is lifted up to spirit.

Moonsphere said...

In a my previous post - I asked whether God was "surprised" by the Fall.

Perhaps another approach is to ask - should we as Christians regret the Fall?

There is a line of thinking that states - if the Fall had not happened - humanity would not have become "trapped" inside a dense physical body - ultimately to become separated from God. But we know that just as a rain drop is individualised through its surface tension - equally - this state of affairs is required so that we may find ourselves as ego-beings.

Had the Fall not taken place - it may be said that humanity would have functioned as divine sensory apparatus. Steiner's analogy of the eye exerting sovereignty over the incoming visual information is in my view - unmatched in its descriptive power of the Fall.

Without the Fall there would have been no suffering, but also no self-consciousness. The Fall deepened the human trajectory and in doing so forced a greater spiritual ambition upon us.

Its difficult to ignore the fact that without the primordial temptation - the Evil in the Garden - yes - we would be more perfect - but at the same time our spiritual evolutionary prospects would also be greatly lessened.

Astraea said...

“The sort of Western occultism that seeks to present itself as more 'advanced' than religion for the unenlightened masses………this is the philosophy of people who eschew divine simplicity in favour of over-elaborate cosmologies that appeal to the intellect.”

Forgive my ignorance William, but could you be more specific about what you are referring to?

Anonymous said...

The foreknowledge of God isn't the same as predetermination.
Evil became a possibilty with, and only with,choice.

Anonymous said...

Astraea, I don't know what he was referring to, but systems such as modern gnosticism (to whatever degree it is or isn't an accurate reflection of the historical ones), theosophy, anthroposophy, syncretic systems with pseudo-eastern bases, esoteric masonic systems, all would fit the description in some way or other.
They vary in their individual overall positive or negative inclination (some see evil as necessary to stimulate the free will to good, some see good and evil as relative and subservient to personal or cosmic evolution.)

William Wildblood said...

Anonymous has said more or less what I was going to. It's been a while since I studied such things but I seem to recall certain gnostic flavoured esoteric cosmologies which took that line, and Crowleyian derived occultism tends in that direction too.

He or she also makes the important point that God's foreknowledge of something does not cause it. This has to do with different concepts of time, being in it as we are or in some sense outside it as I would say God is.

Then there is the question of whether the Fall was a necessary thing for evolving consciousness. I can see the logic of this but I would still say that a fall of some sort might have been necessary,a kind of constriction of consciousness so that self could develop but not the fall into sin and death as actually took place. The Fall is called a felix culpa but that is because it brought Christ to Earth not that it was a good thing in itself.

Having said all these things it can't be denied that the roots of evil are a mystery and that they may go back very far and be more deeply embedded than just a simple abuse of free will would suggest. Evil is not just being naughty! This is one of those things that we only see through a glass darkly in this world. I think we can explain it sufficiently to make sense of it in a universe of overall goodness and love and see that it does not conflict with the reality of God but the fact is that it is not completely explicable in the sense of evil as opposed to simple badness.

Moonsphere said...

@William - I agree that a lesser Fall was part of what we might we call God's Plan A. We were to have interacted with the physical world as the wind does - feeling its way across the surface - but not the full immersion that has taken place.

But given that a greater Fall did occur - which brought the evil, suffering and death that God would not have wished for us - it would seem that our ultimate ascent will necessarily reach greater heights than it would have done otherwise.

Bruce Charlton said...

A difficulty for the omni-God metaphysics, is that there is only a need for us to know about evil, if evil is a *necessary* fact of reality. Otherwise, an omni-God could have made a world without evil.

What of the idea that: "The foreknowledge of God isn't the same as predetermination."

- Well, it is the same *unless* we introduce the Platonic idea that God is outside of time and we are inside time; but that isn't really an explanation because it doesn't make sense to normal people - and it conflicts with the basic Christian reality of Jesus incarnating at a certain point in time, in history.

It was an awakening for me when I realised that these philosophical problems are not in the gospels (especially not the Fourth Gospel), but were apparently only introduced to Christianity afterwards.

William Wildblood said...

I know that's your view, Bruce, and I can see why you take it. However, I would see God as being both outside and within time. As the creator of time he is not bound by it. That's my current view anyway. I look forward to a fuller understanding on the other side!

William Wildblood said...

It occurred to me this morning that the remark by Jesus in John 8:58 has a bearing on whether God can stand outside time. "Before Abraham was, I am"

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - "Before Abraham was, I am"

One of my favourite parts of any gospel - hair raising! At that moment, with those words - deliberately spoken, the die was cast - and the Jewish authorities were determined to kill Jesus.

I understand it differently from you, but as usual all answers lead onto further questions, and there must be an end to questions. For Christians, Jesus 'just-is' unique - and this was so before he was incarnated as well as after. I don't think this uniqueness has an 'explanation' beyond that he was (in some multiple sense) the 'first' of God's children; but it is probably best regarded as a fact of existence.

Moonsphere said...

From previous comments I know that both yourself and Bruce are not particularly drawn towards all things anthroposophical! But I'm also aware that you do appreciate certain aspects of the Steiner worldview.

For myself, the distinction made between Jesus the Man (however unusually constituted) and Christ the Divine Being seems to thrown light on this particular question of time. I would appreciate your views - but to me it would seem odd that Christ - the Divine Being - would only be 2,000 years old?

If Christ and Jesus are indeed separable - then Christ existing before Abraham (as the "I Am" of humanity), would seem to fit the Biblical narrative.

William Wildblood said...

I'm reluctant to speculate, Moonsphere, because it would just be speculation. I know the Theosophists differentiated between Jesus and Christ, seeing the former as a very evolved initiate and the latter as, well, I'm not sure if they know what! But anyway Christ overshadowed Jesus in their view. Maybe. I really couldn't say. How can anyone know such a thing other than by revelation?

The point, though is that Christ was the eternal Logos and whether he manifested directly or through Jesus is almost irrelevant to his mission and our reception of it. Personally I don't find it helpful to separate Jesus and Christ and that's as much as I can say.

Moonsphere said...

If memory serves - the Theosophists didn't really differentiate between Christ and Jesus - but as you say - they regarded Jesus Christ as (at best) just another avatar or high initiate. As for Christ - well yes - as you say - they had little notion. Barring a few later offshoots - they were a fairly anti-Christian movement!

I won't labour the point - but the idea that the Incarnation of Christ was a long time in the making - requiring an earthly vessel of such purity that a precisely ordered and controlled lineage was required - does make sense (to me at least!). There is also the anthroposophical idea the Jesus the Man was himself constituted of two parts - one - the earthly lineage - and two - the sister soul of Adam - that was held back from incarnations at the Fall and so had no prior Earthly karma.

Astraea said...

Thanks to Anonymous and William for clarification.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moon - I have studied the Steiner idea of the two Christ children - one providing the body and the other the spirit etc. - but I feel certain in my heart that it is false; and that Jesus was the man, and the Christ was the role he performed through his incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension. I am also completely unconvinced by Steiner's whiole line of thinking about (eg) the blood of Jesus spirtualising the earth; which is part of another major idea about a U-shaped move from spirit to matter to spirit - which I also believe is wrong!

By my interpretation, this was part of Steiner falling into an Ahrimanic abstraction and systemisation of his basic intuitive insights (which were genuine) - probably stimulated by the 'need' to provide large quantities of objective material for lectures and books for the bureaucratically organised Theosophical, then Anthroposophical, Society; culminating in the spiritual inflation and objectification that is the Goetheanum (with, second time, its soulless, crushing modernist concrete architecture)...

In sum, from my POV Steiner was far from immune to both the Luciferic (e.g. excessive and false emphasis on the superiority of the spiritual over the incarnated) and Ahrimanic (system, method, technique, organisation).

And One reason he fell into these errors was that he lacked a full appreciation of the facts of Jesus Christ's single-incarnation and permanent-resurrection. Consequently he hovered on the brink of regarding the Christ as 'just' a midway position between Lucifer and Ahriman.

And this lack of clarity about Jesus, in turn, led Steiner to (almost...) regard the demonic as being good but one-sided tendencies taken to excess, and Jesus as (not much more than) the compromise moderate balance-point of these demons! - which is the error that William was criticising.

(I personally got this appreciation from Mormon theology.)

Kirstie said...

Sometimes you do start speaking like a fanatic, Bruce.

Moonsphere said...


You are perhaps more certain that it is false than I am that is true! And I am far from being unconvinced by Steiner's works!

At this stage of my spiritual journey, I tend to shy away from such absolute condemnations - especially of high calibre individuals.

You mention the Mormons. You may be aware that an individual connected with Brigham Young University has been working extremely hard in creating a "Critical Edition" of Steiner's Collected Works. His brilliance is not doubted and he is doing what the Goetheanum simply did not have the talent or the energy to have done. But the net effect will be a subtle corrosion of Steiner's legacy.

I don't blame this individual - rather the Anthroposophical Society for their neglect.

Kirstie said...

In trying to prove to others the belief that God had to send Jesus for a reason, well, hasn't everybody tried to do this since his Crucifixion?

William Wildblood said...

Kirstie, I don't moderate comments at the moment here but I would rather you did not make personal remarks. Bruce is expressing his opinion and I find many of his insights very illuminating

Moonsphere said...


Just a quick note to explain my remark about "the stage of my spiritual journey". I meant that only in contrast to the years when I was more defensive and I suppose - thin skinned about my personal beliefs.

I make no claim as to that "stage" being in any way advanced or indeed admirable.

Moonsphere said...

Having slept upon this - as a supporter of the aims of this blog - I have the following question.

From where will the awakening come if not from a Western esoteric Christian path?

If not Steiner - then who, or what?

How will Christianity find renewal appropriate to the 21st century?

Hopefully that will be the subject of a future post by William or Bruce!

William Wildblood said...

Good question, Moonsphere. First of all though I would say that awakening has to come from within. But then, to take your point, it does need support to develop. Speaking for myself, I have found support from many places without taking any of them as the one true path. They all have flaws as far as I am concerned, helpful but not to be taken too literally. I must admit I've not read much Steiner because I do find him heavy weather, a bit like someone who focuses too much on the trees and misses the wood. But I certainly don't deny his many insights. He was an extraordinary man.

But the main support is the Gospels and Christ himself. That must be the place to which we always return, renewing it through our own intuition but using it as the basis for real spiritual understanding. As they say, the rest is commentary.

Moonsphere said...

Thanks William, I agree with much of what you say.

For me, Steiner is primarily about "facts" that are unavailable anywhere else.

Let me speak of the downside first. For the inveterately curious - his teachings might sustain (intellectually) a person for decades and yet not have a single impact on his spiritual growth. And woe betide anyone going through a tragedy or a personal crisis who looks to Steiner for support or comfort. He/she will find nothing.

Only Christ and the Gospels can offer the spiritual support and hope that is needed.

But - those "facts" are tremendously powerful. They bring together the whole sweep of cosmic and human history and religion in a breathtaking holistic narrative. Nothing else remotely comes close.

One hears of Christians who have lost their faith, when they find similarities with the Egyptian Osiris myths - or indeed when they are confronted with dual birth narratives in the Gospels! Anthroposophy provides immense comfort in unveiling certain mysteries without which, the modern mind can be de-railed - often leading to a fall into atheism.

Anonymous said...

Lewis & Tolkien both came to an understanding that the mythological instances of Osiris, Baldur & many others prefigured Christ, that the pattern is woven into Creation & therefore would have both 'mythological' and actual antecedents and echoes, but that Incarnation, death & Resurrection of Christ was the central 'true myth'.
It's not entirely dissimilar to Steiner, but I think it can be said without disparaging him (Steiner) that his intuition/perceptions in this regard (the Christ-mythic parallels) were not a unique phenomenon.
Hasn't it been said of The Golden Bough that Frazers attempt to show that the Christian story was merely founded on earlier mythology had the opposite effect - that the multifarious parallels across time & cultures has been felt by many to suggest a deep underlying unity. The idea of archytypes is older than Jung, an event may be dreamt of before it is real. The story of Christ is both brilliant and deeply subtle, it illuminates and fulfils not only our own lives in the present but also the Platonic shadows on the cavern wall that preceded it. The imagery of Christ in artistic renditions of the harrowing of hell seems to have something of this.

As for Steiner, his life and work were entangled at least in their earlier stages with some of the more dubious esoteric movements, he seems to have been conscious of this in some of the lectures. Perhaps the route he took to the spiritual world had impediments in it to a more directly Christian experience - this is just an opinion, if it can be given cordially & with respect to people who have a relationship with Steiner's work - and this in some way pushed away or veiled his insights; Christ is 'the Christ-Being', more the solar god of the pagans, etc; (the 'two Jesus children' may be an inevitable division of both understanding and fact for a clairvoyance that never fully admits the Incarnation), and God is the 'Father God', at times more, at times less a particular tribal instance of the the divine that may be a premonition of God but is to a great degree removed from Him (of course, where is an experience of the 'true' God ? , most are removed so far as to make their relative distances seem tiny).
Again, ideas of evolution for Steiner sometimes eclipse the choice of good over evil, but he was certainly very far from other esoteric movements that pretty much do away with the distinction til they are just dark & light 'chess-squares' to be merely counterbalanced against each other in the achievement of purpose or ambition.
Steiner's writings (& lectures), though, are immmense, much bigger than my attempts to describe or understand them, & more than once disquiet at some aspects may be alleviated by further reading which corrects misapprehensions. So this is just some observations, not meant as disparaging to anyone close to anthroposophy.

Anonymous said...

shd be: '...the difference between their relative distances seem tiny'

Kirstie said...

William, my apologies for making my honest observations known. I'm quite sure Bruce wasn't offended however I do understand why you would want my comments moderated and that is taken as a given and wholly respected.

Kirstie said...

And to play even more into the role of Devil's Advocate, your closing sentence of this post reads, " It can be dispelled by a proper understanding of Christ who leaves us in doubt that evil is not good. It is evil."

William Wildblood said...

Thanks Kirstie

Kirstie said...

I know I will fail.

William Wildblood said...

Not sure what you mean Kirstie. But if you're talking about spiritual failure, we all do. That's why we need Christ as our saviour. We have to renounce self in the sense of ego and turn to God. That's success.