This chapter offers no simple answers to the problem of evil,
or even a comprehensive definition for the word. But the range of
viewpoints might help to clarify the issue so that we can each make
our own conclusions.
Jump to the following topics:
- What is evil?
evil" and "natural evil."
can consider various viewpoints regarding evil.
What is evil? The definition will be
pursued throughout the chapter, but we will start with a few
concepts. "Evil" can be viewed as anything which inflicts pain or
death, or which obstructs life's freedom, expression, or the
resources needed for its sustenance. Some forms of evil include
murder, war, poverty, famine, terrorism, obstruction of human rights,
rape, racism, sexism, crime, violence, and the many forms of abuse
"Moral evil" and
"natural evil." Moral evil is commonly called the human act of "sin,"
which is reviewed later. Natural evil includes death and illness, and
"acts of nature" such as tornadoes, drought, volcanoes, and floods.
Although Saint Augustine said that natural evil is caused by the
devil, these phenomena might be viewed as simply the innate
activities of the planet, and the normal progression of growth and
decay and cessation, and Darwinian selection via "survival of the
fittest," and the results of the laws of physics -- although we might
imagine a world in which the laws of physics don't precipitate such
destruction. Natural evil might seem to be random and unavoidable,
but some of its resulting human misery can be avoided if, for
example, we assume more responsibility for our physical health, and
we don't build homes in flood planes, and we develop the type of
"sixth sense" or inner guidance which tells animals of impending
earthquakes, and if our "karma" does not require us to be involved in
can consider various viewpoints regarding evil. These viewpoints --
some conflicting with others -- can be reviewed as we formulate our
- Evil is merely the absence of good. The privatio boni
concept denies the existence of evil as an active force in its own
right. From this perspective, evil vanishes when the thing is
restored to its ideal state, in the same way that darkness
"vanishes" when we turn on a lightbulb. The basic concept of
privatio boni is upheld by certain "New Thought" churches
such as Religious Science, but it was rejected by Jung, as
explained in the next section.
- Evil exists only in relation to good. Jung discarded
privatio boni with the logical argument that if "good" is
real, its opposite must also be real, with the same "relative"
reality of any pairs of opposites, such as left and right, or
white and black. Buddhism and Hinduism refer to this fundamental
condition of the universe as "duality"; good does not exist except
in relation to evil, just as the word "up" has no meaning without
the notion of the word "down." Taoism offers the idea that the tao
is a balanced state in which neither good nor evil exist; it is
only when we become aware of "good" that we must also
simultaneously become aware of "evil."
- Evil is a distortion of natural affairs. From this
perspective, evil actions have their basis in normal psychological
drives and "positive intent"; for example, underlying a murder
might be the killer's desire for self-esteem. Obviously, such
explanations sound ludicrous, but they do so only if we retain our
emotional response of horror or disgust; if we strip away that
response, we can discern a positive intent within all evil
actions. (There is a saying, "No one does an evil act believing it
to be evil.") Buddhism approaches this issue with the idea that
evil is actually "unskillful action" resulting from ignorance; in
that example, the killer was unskillful in his or her attempt to
establish self-esteem. (Plato, too, said that evil arises from
ignorance.) Distortions can be detected in many so-called sins;
lust might be considered a distortion of love or interpersonal
attraction, and greed is a distortion of the drive to acquire the
necessary materials for life. The concepts of unskillfulness and
ignorance (rather than sinfulness) grant us an opportunity to try
again without an undue sense of guilt.
- Evil occurrences are the result of our karma. For most people,
this position is difficult to accept, because it states that we
are responsible for every unpleasant situation in our lives.
However, the concept of karma is useful in explaining the
apparently unjust suffering which results from "random violence"
(from nature or from people), and babies born with birth defects.
The other difficulty in agreeing with this theory is that we might
feel that the self-created "victims" are not entitled to
assistance (and some people truly need to be left alone to endure
their own trials); however, service to other people can be rightly
considered an expression of divine love and compassion, and a
natural human impulse to help those people, and a way to create
"good karma" for ourselves -- although, if we interfere in
situations where the people do need to experience the trials, we
literally "take on their karma," and we will be put into a
situation where we must go through the same ordeal which we took
- Evil is the work of the devil. In this scenario, evil is a
religious problem, not one which can be confronted effectively
solved through psychology, social reform, or political action. We
are dealing with a conscious entity which exists outside of the
human realm and is therefore distanced from any human effort to
stop evil at its source.
- Evil is a psychiatric disorder. During medieval times, mental
illness was generally considered to be a form of "demon
possession," to be treated by priests and their exorcisms. With
the development of the secular science of psychology, "the devil"
and "evil" were discarded as relics of an age of superstition.
(However, Jung apparently put the real responsibility back on
religion when he criticized it for failing to solve the problem of
evil and leaving the task to psychology.) In People of the
Lie, M. Scott Peck, M.D., said, "Most psychologists have
dismissed the concept of evil as a metaphysical abstraction,
preferring to work with other abstractions such as the social
concept of violence or the psychological concept of aggression.
Recently, however, some psychologists have begun to think that a
concept akin to the old concept of evil is necessary in order to
describe the phenomena they encounter. Certain personalities are
so completely founded upon lies and self-deception that
traditional sociological and psychological remedies have no
effect." ... He continued, "... the time is right, I believe, for
psychiatry to recognize a distinct new type of personality
disorder to encompass those I have named evil. In addition to the
abrogation of responsibility that characterizes all personality
disorders, this one would be distinguished by: (1) Consistent
destructive, scapegoating behavior. ... (2) Excessive, albeit
usually covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of
narcissistic injury. (3) Pronounced concern with a public image
and self-image of respectability, contributing to a stability of
life-style but also to pretentiousness and denial of hateful
feelings or vengeful motives. (4) Intellectual deviousness, with
an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic disturbance of
thinking at times of stress." (Copyright 1983 by M. Scott Peck,
- Evil is "whatever we don't like." This is a reaction of
feeling; for example, we observe a crime, and we feel that
it is evil. Or we sense an evil quality in a person. Or, when we
discern the difference between what we want and what we have, the
resulting emotion (such as anger or fear) draws us to judge the
condition as evil. These responses are independent of any
intellectual analysis, or any referral to laws (manmade or
- Evil is a matter of perspective in a conflict. This is similar
to the previous viewpoint, except that it can be based on a
rational assessment rather than a feeling. This relativistic view
declares that good and evil are not absolute values but instead
depend upon the relative position of the winner or loser. For
example, (1) In a war, the outcome is judged "good" by the victor
and "bad" by the vanquished; (2) A fisherman has a "good" day if
the fish have a "bad" day; (3) The human mind might discern a loss
while the soul discerns a gain -- a lesson learned, or karma
resolved. Historian William Branden described an incident which
could be considered either an "act of God" or a devilish tragedy
when he wrote about an epidemic that devastated New England's
Native American population just prior to the landing of the
Pilgrims: "The Churchly colonists exulted, with reverence, over
the frightful epidemic of 1616-1619 that had cleared so many
heathen from the path of the Chosen People."
- Evil is a matter of our own thoughts. The previous viewpoint
is determined by the position of the winner or loser; this
viewpoint considers that we make a similar appraisal within our
own minds. As Hamlet said, "There is nothing either good or bad
but thinking makes it so." We can select our perspective regarding
any situation; for example, when we are confronted by a creditor
and forced to pay a debt, we might indulge our anger at having to
spend the money, or we might decide to feel relief in settling the
- Evil and good are a matter of degree. In the last example, we
are more likely to have "mixed feelings" of both anger and relief,
both happiness and sadness. This mixture occurs not only within
ourselves, but also in the social scope of any event; whereas
viewpoint #8 examined good and evil from the individuals'
perspectives (where the distinction was more clear), viewpoint #10
looks at the whole picture and sees both the "good" of the
Pilgrim's fate and the "evil" of the Native Americans' fate.
Everything contains some good and some bad; this truth is depicted
in the yin-yang symbol which contains a spot of white within the
black area, and a spot of black within the white area.
- Evil is whatever violates religious laws. This is the claim of
any religion which attempts to crystallize spiritual principles
and values into religious laws and commandments.
- Evil is an archetype. As such, it is the neutral expression of
an unavoidable facet of life. Just as all archetypes demand
expression, Evil and its inherent urge for destruction bursts into
expression from time to time.
- Evil is a part of the plan for our growth. The growth toward
consciousness is painful, so it must be prodded by the greater
pain of our encounters with frustrations, challenges, and
suffering -- the situations which we might call "evil." When our
environment causes discomfort, we are forced to differentiate
ourselves from that environment (in a process which is analogous
to a child's ego-building process), by defining our own identity,
needs, and desires. To win these struggles, we must also develop
our strength, intellect and knowledge, creativity, awareness and
alertness, will, and independence and interdependence. Seen in a
religious context, evil compels us to build qualities such as
humility (in confrontation with both gods and demons which could
destroy us), love and compassion (as we help others who have been
injured by evil), morality (as we decide how to fight our
battles), a congizance of the presence of God (when we pray for
help against evil), and a realization that our purpose in life
might be to fulfill a transcendent spiritual destiny rather than
to enmesh ourselves with the relentless evils which arise in our
mere attempt to collect material baubles. However, to follow the
analogy of "a fall" as an awakening from childhood, we might
foresee a cultural "midlife" when that which we have called "evil"
(like the shadow at midlife) is re-examined, reconciled,
and brought back into humanity's wholeness.
- Evil is the expression of the Jungian "shadow." The contents
of the shadow might assume a sinister nature. One reason is
because we are directing our anger and fear toward them (in us or
in projections); then, what we are seeing is our own anger and
fear rather than the contents themselves. Some of the apparently
"evil" texture occurs because, as mentioned previously, the
contents are undeveloped; rage seems more evil than simple anger.
(As Jung said, "... the shadow is merely something inferior,
primitive, unadapted, and awkward; not wholly bad.") If our ego
associates itself with the qualities of decent behavior, the
shadow naturally (and somewhat innocently) becomes the repository
of our potential for murder, greed, jealousy, and all other
socially unacceptable potentials. Some people fear the shadow's
elements because they feel that those elements must be acted out
and accepted into the self-image; however, a natural impulse to
punch an abusive person, for example, can be suppressed
(acknowledged but not enacted), and it does not make us a "bad
person." Obviously the shadow itself is not evil; it also contains
our "golden" elements -- and even the ghastly elements have a
functional quality (beneath their grime) which they can add to our
wholeness. The dynamics of our relationship with the shadow can
give us insight into the dynamics of our relationship with evil;
refer to that chapter. (Jung said that evil can be "integrated" by
becoming conscious of it through a "symbolic process which is more
or less identical with the psychological process of
individuation".) If we simply acknowledge the innate human
capacity to do evil in the affronts (big and small) which are
committed by ourselves and others, our shadow is allowed to
"breathe" and it does not fester into an explosive, hellish force.
- Evil is the result of spiritual "ignorance." In this theory,
evil acts would no longer be committed when a person gains a sense
of spiritual oneness (in which a harmful action would be seen as
an action against oneself) and spiritual love (in which we
experience the underlying force of the universe as one which
grants love to all).