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A Better Human Story # 9-- Understanding Evil

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[You can find the earlier entries in this series here.]

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Understanding Evil

The effort to understand evil has a long history in our civilization.

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At a minimum, people have felt a need to be able to answer the question, "Why is there so much brokenness -- wrong-doing, trauma, suffering -- in the world?" Or, to put the question in terms of "evil," as many have done: Why is there evil? Where does it come from?

When people have also sensed that this "evil" is something bigger than just the brokenness that characterizes one thing or another, that it should be seen as an actual "force" operating in the world, there have also been the questions: What is the nature of evil? And how does evil operate in the world?

These are important questions for understanding the human story, and for understanding what has gone wrong in America in our times.

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But they are not questions that are widely asked in Liberal America in our times. Not asked for a couple of reasons.

The op/ed piece I quoted here earlier, "Liberal America's Great Sin," began with my brother saying, "Well, Liberal America can finally see evil, they can see it in Trump." In that piece, I offered a reason why most of Liberal America failed for so long to see the "evil force" -- until it was personified in such a grotesque person as Trump -- that was gathering in our nation.

Liberal America [I wrote] lacks the habit of putting the pieces together to see things whole. So something diffused into the body politic -- in the hypocrisies of the once-respectable Republican Party, in the deceptive messaging of the right-wing media, in the degradation of the consciousness of the Republican electorate -- can escape notice.

In that op/ed, for reasons of length, I restrained myself from identifying another major reason for Liberal America's blindness to the rising force of evil: many simply do not believe that the idea of "evil" refers to anything real in our world.

I would suggest that those two aspects of much of contemporary (secular) liberal thought -- not seeing how the pieces fit together into something bigger than the pieces, and not believing there's any such thing as "evil" -- are different aspects of the same thing.

That is, they are connected because, as I will be trying to show here, the force worth calling "evil" becomes visible to us only if we step back from the concrete pieces and witness something coherent operating in the world through time.

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The Problem of Evil

I've been looking into the problem of evil, off and on, my whole adult life. If there are very illuminating or satisfactory answer out there from secular thinkers, I am unaware of them.

But the only answer I'll discuss (among those I find unsatisfactory) is the major answer provided by religious thinkers in the Western (mostly Christian) tradition.

These thinkers faced a real problem--given the image of God they felt a need to protect.

They could not help but recognize that the world is broken -- i.e. that there is evil in the world. But the challenge was to reconcile that unescapable reality with their image of God as both all-good and all-powerful. How could the world created by such a God contain so much evil? (Theirs is the problem called, historically, "theodicy.")

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 

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