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If you believe in evil- what does evil mean to you?

(150 Posts)
YoureBeingASillyBilly Thu 19-Dec-13 18:55:55

Inspired by comments about recent news stories.

I am atheist and struggle (in fact get quite pissed off) when people describe people as 'evil' or having committed 'evil acts'.

To me evil doesnt exist. Its is just as made up as 'god' and used to keep 'good' believers in line. Calling someone evil is, to me, just the same as calling someone 'godly' however when evil is used it feels like its is being used to (understandably) declare a 'difference' between the person saying it and the person it is being said about. Of course most of us would never do such horrible things like have been in the news recently and consider ourselves incapable but we are just as human and in reality as capable (in that we have the ability)of such acts. To call them evil seems to me to be implying there is another force at work within that person that does not live within 'us' (the 'good' people). This is what i struggle with. I think it's an unhelpful or unhealthy way to think of them although i cometely understand the need to declare a difference between 'us' and 'them'.

However, on MN previoulsy people have said that they dont share my idea of what evil is so they are not doing what i think they are doing when they call someone evil.

So i would really appreciate if some could explain to me what they mean when they talk of evil. What does it mean to you?


Also, i really intend no offence by my comments but understand it is an emotive topic and accept that others will strongly disagree with my opinion.

HECTheHeraldAngelsSing Fri 20-Dec-13 17:53:43

I believe that evil is any thing that someone chooses to do to another person or an animal that they know will cause them great harm, be that physical, emotional, whatever.

choosing to rape someone is evil. Choosing to torture someone is evil. Etc etc.

gaining pleasure from causing suffering is evil.

I don't believe that by calling it evil you are absolving the person of responsibility. Quite the opposite. By calling it evil, I am callingnit a choice and differentiating it from the actions of someone who either does not intend harm, gets no pleasure from causing harm or lacks the capacity to understand what they are doing, or who acts in a particular way because they are ill.

it is all about choice. We are all capable of acts of great evil whether we accept that or not. Most of us would never make the choice to do evil things. Those who do bear the responsibility for their choices. Evil is a terrible thing done through conscious choice with clear mind and normally for personal satisfaction/gratification.

msmiggins Fri 20-Dec-13 17:55:12

You are being arrogant because you think my non-belief makes me easy prey.

"It suits the devil nicely for people to believe that he doesn't exist."

lottieandmia Fri 20-Dec-13 18:00:30

I think it is much easier for evil things to happen when people don't believe in it, yes. But since you don't believe in the devil then you shouldn't be offended by the views of some faceless stranger on the internet. You can believe what you want and I can believe what I want.

The thread title asked for beliefs about evil and I gave mine - I didn't say 'Msmiggins is easy prey'. If mine make you uncomfortable then I suggest you ignore. You can't force everyone to think like you.

MostlyLovingLurchers Fri 20-Dec-13 18:45:21

But I do not believe Christians created the devil.

Other traditions have tricksters, tempters or bad spirits but the devil is a creation of the Abrahamic faiths. He simply does not exist as a concept beforehand, though he may have some roots in Zoroastrian beliefs.

If you believe in a god who is wholly good then that goodness only has meaning when compared to something that is not wholly good. This is why Christianity needs the devil - without evil as an opposing force god's goodness is meaningless.

BackOnlyBriefly Fri 20-Dec-13 19:43:06

The idea that a devil can tempt you to be evil was always a dangerous one. "it wasn't me! It was the devil".

And of course you have god whispering suggestions in the other ear and no way to tell which is which.

Personal responsibility is better, but has always been less popular.

SinisterSal Fri 20-Dec-13 19:50:12

But surely the devil is only a pre Enlightenmment concept of what we now put down to bad childhoods, neurological conditions like psychopathy or whatever.
It is the same concept - it's something not quite oneself that led you down a prticular path that had you not this addiction, upbringing whatever you would not have chosen.

That's the temptation aspect, when the choice is there to be made. We have all experienced that. What's satisfying (perhaps in some complicated psychological way)for yourself rather than what your conscience tells you is Right.
The devil is only a personification of forces at work in all of us.

mintberry Fri 20-Dec-13 20:29:36

"We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on." - Sirius Black

BillyBanter Fri 20-Dec-13 20:36:21

I agree and I actually find it a very unhelpful word. When we dismiss someone or some thing as being evil we lock ourselves out from learning about what is actually going on and working on prevention or cure. Same with denying people their humanity when they do awful things. They are human. Humans are capable of terrible things.

lottieandmia Fri 20-Dec-13 21:12:33

Humans are capable of terrible things, but evil can be a manifestation of other things like illness IMO. The devil is not a bogeyman for me but a negative force. Responsibility for ones actions cannot be absolved by saying the devil made me do it and there is no basis in Christian theology that would suggest it would.

YoureBeingASillyBilly Fri 20-Dec-13 21:20:26

Billybanter you have explained what i think perfectly.

I think the confusion for me is that different people mean different things when they talk of 'evil'. I was raised catholic in ireland and so the devil was often talked about. This is what i have been assuming people meant when they say evil, that they mean the devil at work making thay person do his evil deeds for him. However if some people see evil as just the horrible things people do then i can see how that isnt absolving them of the responsibility. Not sure if i am explaining well.

lottieandmia Fri 20-Dec-13 21:24:27

From a Christian point of view people would say that we have free will, which means we can choose to do wrong things even though we know they are wrong.

BillyBanter Fri 20-Dec-13 21:38:33

I don't object so much to saying 'she did an evil thing'. I do use the word sometimes. But I still think it is preferable to find another word, if possible.

See also describing people as monsters. Take for instance the people who had jobs in concentration camps. They are 'monsters', and because they are monsters we can strip them of their humanity, and if we strip them of their humanity we can treat them inhumanely ourselves while not seeing ourselves as evil, and which is repeating what they had done to be able to treat the jews inhumanely. It's all right for us to do terrible things to some people because they are evil or subhuman in some regard. They're not real people, not like you and me.

Better to understand how the human mind works, what societal dynamics can lead to such behaviour and work on solutions from knowledge.

At the moment benefit claimants are being stripped of their humanity to some extent. Africans were stripped of their humanity which helped us think slavery was just dandy.

BillyBanter Fri 20-Dec-13 21:40:20

I can't comment really on the religious side of it. I think what you say is correct for some people now or in the past, but no idea if religious people tend to view it that way.

YoureBeingASillyBilly Fri 20-Dec-13 21:44:19

Again, i agree with all of that post billy.

lottieandmia Fri 20-Dec-13 21:50:27

I completely agree BillyBanter. I would never agree with calling someone 'subhuman', no matter what they have done. It does make it easier for people to distance themselves from a terrible crime by saying 'ah well, they are evil and I am not, therefore I am a different 'species' and I would be incapable of that in all circumstances'. It's hard for people to accept that humans can do awful things and still be human and still capable of good.

From my own point of view I would say that people have different life experiences that can sometimes make them choose bad things. Or that can make them susceptible to manipulation.

PoshPaula Fri 20-Dec-13 21:51:44

Yes Billy that is a good post. But if we don't believe evil exists....

Where does Peter Sutcliffe feature in these arguments? the Black Panther? Do you think it's fair to say to say that we could all be capable of those crimes OP? And it is not right to use the word evil? I still believe in right and wrong.
Evil means very wrong. To me.

SinisterSal Fri 20-Dec-13 21:56:13

But there is a difference between getting in a fight and smacking someone in the heat of the moment and someone systematically torturing another person and enjoying their pain.
the first we can all understand, but the other - well, 'they' are separate from 'us' aren't they?

I don't think there is anything at all wrong with using stigmatization and othering as a form of social control. They are evil monsters. Ian Watkins, anyone? Of course, who we direct it at and under what circumstances is another thread BUT keeping people in line is how civilisation keeps going. Concepts of evil and the devil may be mere tools, but we need those tools to build a world we want to live in.

SinisterSal Fri 20-Dec-13 21:57:12

I do think Good and Evil are discrete categories, and not relative.

PoshPaula Fri 20-Dec-13 21:59:34

sinister yes! I agree. We have to have a way of classifying behaviour otherwise anything goes and everything can be explained or justified.

YoureBeingASillyBilly Fri 20-Dec-13 21:59:39

I am not familiar with the black panther or peter sutcliffe's crimes (although his name is familiar) but yes i do think we are all capable of awful crimes in that had we lived a similar path as that person or had the same personality disorder/ mental health issues then we would be closer to doing those things and justifying them to ourselves. I think we are all on a spectrum in that respect. And yes all capable. Applogies if that offends. I am not saying we are all likely to or would but the possibility and ability for it is there. There are if course adults and young people with LD or SNs that just wouldnt have that ability.

PoshPaula Fri 20-Dec-13 22:05:47

So what about the people who commit terrible crimes but who don't
Have a personality disorder (whatever that means?) Jeremy Bamber, for example? Your argument doesn't offend, I just don't think it's valid.

lottieandmia Fri 20-Dec-13 22:08:08

I think you need to be careful about making assumptions that people with mental health issues are more likely to commit crimes. That's quite an offensive approach to the issue. Most people with schizophrenia are no more likely to be violent than someone with anorexia for example, and yet schizophrenia is still one of the most stigmatised illnesses.

YoureBeingASillyBilly Fri 20-Dec-13 22:08:15

Yes what about them? What are you asking?

SinisterSal Fri 20-Dec-13 22:08:48

Yes SillyBilly I don't disagree

I think it's at the moment of choosing. And Sutcliffe chose the 'evil' path. Because whatever way his brain was wired made that the more attractive option for his personal psychology. That's the way we frame it today. But it premodern times the Devil tempting you was a kind of (anthromorphised?) explanation for the same process.

I think...

Like Thor throwing his hammer. today we know thunder is clouds and ions etc (er actually I don't actually know what causes thunder blush) but it's the same prescience type of explanation.

YoureBeingASillyBilly Fri 20-Dec-13 22:11:36

I havent said people with MH issues (i am one myself) are more likely to commit those crimes. I have said if we had taken the same path in life OR had the same personality disorder or MH issue then we would be closer to doing what they have done. What i meant was that if our circumstances were more similar to those people we could find ourselves closer to being like them or more likely to justify their actions.

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