And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
- Genesis 3:22
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
- Isaiah 5:20
Blessed is the one who does this—
the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”
- Isaiah 56:2
Like cages full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
they have become rich and powerful
and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not seek justice.
They do not promote the case of the fatherless;
they do not defend the just cause of the poor.
- Jeremiah 5:27-28
“In 1961, the philosopher Hannah Arendt witnessed the trial of Adolph Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust. In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt writes of the apparent ‘everydayness’ of Eichmann. The ﬁgure before her in the dock did not resemble the kind of monster we might imagine. In fact, he would not have looked out of place in a cafe or in the street.
“After witnessing the trial, Arendt came to the conclusion that evil does not come from malevolence or a delight in doing wrong. Instead, she suggests, the reasons people act in such ways is that they fall victim to failures of thinking and judgement. Oppressive political systems are able to take advantage of our tendencies toward such failures, and can make acts that we might usually consider to be ‘unthinkable’ seem normal.
“The idea that evil is banal does not strip evil acts of their horror. Instead, refusing to see people who commit terrible acts as ‘monsters’, brings these acts closer to our everyday lives, challenging us to consider how evil may be something of which we are all capable. We should guard against the failures of our political regimes, says Arendt, and the possible failures in our own thinking and judgement.”
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was a Holocaust survivor, escaping a detention center before the mass shipment of Jews to the east began for those in France. She had every reason to see Eichmann as being the monster that he was, but she saw such an ordinary person that her senses disagreed with what she knew about the man.
With some government or society claiming that these evil actions are for the good of the government or the society, could an ordinary person become the embodiment of evil?
Often in fiction, someone is pictured as being ordinary and then something changes. and this ordinary person becomes something else. Edmund, in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is turned by the White Witch by simply being offered some Turkish Delight. This leads C. S. Lewis to produce the same conclusion as Ms. Arendt, that we are not evil through and through.
But we can see from the Scriptures above that mankind has the capacity for evil. John Wayne Gacy was an ordinary man. He performed as a clown for charity events. Yet, there was evil within him. At least 33 young men were tortured and killed by him.
But when governments establish something evil as being good as the Isaiah 5 quotation suggests, the line of good versus evil can be blurred for the ordinary person. As individuals, we have the capacity to do evil. With government support, we lose some of those inhibitions and our evil side might run amuck.
But with Jesus in our hearts, we have an Advocate in the Holy Spirit who can guide us. We can still do bad things, but we will have this burning desire to do good. When we listen to the Holy Spirit, we will know when something is wrong with what the government or society is telling us.
Yes, the mob mentality can scream loudly, and at times it seems that the Holy Spirit softly whispers. We need to have good habits of prayer, Bible reading, and meeting with other Christians, but with God within us, we can have a growing uneasiness when we are on the wrong path.
Otherwise, without God in our hearts, the most banal among us could be an evil mastermind.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.