Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Good versus Evil

Originally posted on January 9, 2011

Ah, that it were that simple. Of course “we” are the good guys—or at least that’s how most folks think: “Or at least we are defending “our” superior way of life against “them.” They can be hostile aliens bent on world domination and/or just eating us; terrorists or merely subversives; degenerate people in our own world who are dragging us down to their level; or the immoral, amoral, and those seeking power for nefarious purposes. We therefore, simply to defend our goodness, must fight against them, and if necessary wipe them out. Evil is out there, not in here. We mean well, we love our values. What?? (Shocked voice) What do you mean, from others’ point of view it may well be that “we” are the ones perceived to be the bad guys?” 

We learned as children that there are dragons—evil dragons—who burn whole villages with their fiery breath, and harbor treasure, and kidnap young maidens. Our duty is to if not fight them directly, then find a champion, a hero, who will fight them for us. If we were raised in the USA in the 20th century, then this common myth fuses with what seems like the American way.

All this expresses a manichean sentiment. That word refers to the tendency to see the world as a reflection of a cosmic fight of good versus evil. Mani was a very significant spiritual teacher in the Middle East whose religion was rather popular for several hundred years before and after the change into the common era (i.e., the time of Jesus). For a while, Saint Augustine was part of this group and then converted to Christianity. But the basic idea arises from a valid theme in the deep unconscious: The mind can aspire to heights of nobility and also plunge to what in the Star Wars mythology is called “the dark side.” Ever since Hitler, evil has mixed the mere temptation to sin and the aura of hell and torture with the ideal of world domination. Much popular literature, James Bond and other adventure stories, comic books, etc., plays off of the fight of the hero against the forces of evil.

Transferred to politics, evil becomes a natural quality of “them”—and liberals and conservatives, radicals and reactionaries, true believers and infidels, tend to demonize their opposites. Demon-ization is a word that not only focuses on the imagined excesses of the opposition, but attributes malicious motivation to them—the idea that the other side might have at least some fair arguments being rather inconceivable.

The common illusory state: Certainly I can’t be bad. Or if “I” am filled with unspecified sins—as Luther and others were willing to concede for themselves—, this is only a call to a higher power for God to cleanse me or transport me via Grace beyond the clutches of sin. The idea that one can actually identify and remedy one’s own sins fluttered in and out of consciousness and doctrine, both being intuited as necessary as part of true repentance, and yet presumptuous as denying the power of higher authorities—not just God, but also ecclesiastical go-betweens.

In our era of what I call ‘psychological-ization’ there comes another world-view: God at best may stand as an ideal to which we aspire, but each person is fully responsible to identify and correct whatever elements of unworthy or less valued thoughts and actions may remain. This is a bit more secular, but it’s on a spectrum: Many otherwise religious people hold to this shift of the centrality of responsibility.

In spite of personal sin—which generally had to do with lust and anger—, there’s been a curious blindness to the incredible power of rationalization and collective endeavor to mask or deny the prevalence of greed, avarice, and benign exploitation and oppression of others. It’s quite possible for a person to claim piety in all sincerity and to pursue business that edges on the fraudulent, on neo-colonialism, on base prejudice, etc.—all the while compartmentalizing these endeavors as “business is business.”

Even Jesus in one of the sayings attributed to Him—in fact, whether he said half of what he is said to have said is challenged by more than a few Biblical scholars—said that “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” line. The early Christians were not eager to be labeled political subversives—the Jews, from whom they attempted to distance themselves—had made enough trouble with their rebellion in 70 AD. But in terms of the norms of elements of modern politically, socially, and economically conscious Christianity, if some aspects of the modern world remain oppressive, the Roman world was doubly so! Many would recognize the “render unto Caesar” line as a politically expedient caving-in to an outrageously immoral system—albeit the system at that time in Power.

(We must recognize that 92% of what has been considered “legitimate” government in history became thus through simple thuggery on a mass scale. If you steal a loaf of bread, you’re a petty thief, properly hanged. If you steal a country, well, good for you and for the glory of the Queen.)

My present radical view is that evil is generally all too easily projected into the outside world, and this disguises and deflects the strong inclinations of people to desire the prerogatives of early childhood (I want everything, immediately, with permanent access to more, and no work or care in its management) mixed with the imagined status of grown-up-hood—respect, access to all privileges, wealth, fame, power. Mix in further a hefty dose of not wanting to examine the inconsistencies and degrees of unreality in these attitudes and a generous glop of the various defense mechanisms to seal it all over with a veneer of being okay and you get what is considered to be normal and okay in the vast majority of the population!

The point is that it is nowhere near as simple as thinking that we can adhere to the good and correctly identify much less effectively fight “evil.” Far too often the evil we hate is present in good part in our own unconscious mind, and the line about taking the log (or beam) out of your own eye before you criticize the speck (or mote) in your neighbor’s eye really is wisdom.

I’ll confess my values and thoughts for the 21st century. I think we have the tools and the obligation to engage in an ongoing process of self-analysis, repentance, atonement, taking responsibility, and going back over the whole process repeatedly because one knows there will be (1) all sorts of areas not noticed on the first go-round; and (2) new temptations and excuses that have cropped up in the meanwhile. I think we should be doing this collectively as well as individually.

Not that I’m suggesting only a solemn and rather dour life-style; there is lots of room in my thinking for celebration, gratitude, rest, enjoyment of the wonders and pleasures of the world, and so forth. Indeed, I think if people are going to deal with the pain of maturation, we need to make life mainly fun, so as to suggest that the pay-off for this work is actually making for more wholesome fun for everyone!

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