The Dilemma Of Good And Evil

Religions differ in what they teach about the origins of evil. Some believe evil forces have been present in the world from the beginning. Some believe evil is part of God’s creation and it may have a purpose that humans cannot understand. Some consider evil to be the outcome of ignorance and to have no beginning. The concept of good and evil is not only integral to our understanding of morality, it also plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of our world. While the eradication of evil is a noble aspiration, it is essential to recognize the complexities of human nature and the intricate dynamics that govern our actions. Striking a balance between these opposing forces provides a more nuanced understanding of our world and helps pave the way for more effective strategies in addressing societal issues.

 The Epicurus Paradox: is a logical dilemma about the problem of evil, as per ancient Greek philosopher – Epicurus (341-270 BC) who argued against the existence of a god who is at the same time omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent. He questioned:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then, where does evil come from?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

In this argument, and in the problem of evil itself, evil is understood to encompass both moral evil (caused by free human actions) and natural evil (caused by natural phenomena such as disease, earthquakes, and floods). Humans generally consider whatever causes suffering as evil and broadly divide evil into two types – Moral Evil or acts of humans considered morally wrong (e.g., dishonesty, murder, theft etc.); and Natural Evil or ‘Act of God’ (e.g., earthquake, tsunami, flood etc.) which humans have no control over. Interestingly, both can work together and moral evil can make natural evil worse. For eg., if a drought (natural evil) causes crops to fail, the policies of a government can make food shortages for the poorest people worse (moral evil).

Divinity Is Incomprehensible: 17th century French philosopher – Pierre Bayle proposed that although natural evil is undeniable, it should not challenge our faith in God’s love, power and wisdom. What natural evil challenges is the power of human reason. We can’t fully understand how God’s attributes are compatible with each other because we try to think about matters beyond our comprehension. In other words, God’s ways are inscrutable and to comprehend the Divine or how Divinity works is mysterious and beyond our mortal knowledge or wisdom.

True gratitude and thanksgiving can blossom only in humbling ourselves under God’s ‘inscrutable ways’ and as long as we believe, ‘Divinity owes us an explanation’, we will continue to miss experiencing the joy that comes from genuine gratitude for all that Divinity is and has done.

Dionysian Pessimism: German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) said: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” He believed the world was full of suffering and lacked any overall purpose or meaning. However, he thought that our ability to deal with this suffering, to endure hardships and overcome them, was an important and valuable exercise of our power and character. In summoning the strength to overcome the challenges of life, we find a way to overcome its meaninglessness, according to Nietzsche. He termed this ‘Dionysian Pessimism’, after Dionysus – the Greek god of wine, music and celebration.

Hindu Perspective: In ancient Indian texts ‘Agha’ (Avesta Anghra) or evil and ‘Dukkha’ or suffering are considered part of the innate nature of life in the Saṃsāra – cycle of rebirths. Divinity is not specifically held responsible for suffering. While some suffering is self-caused (karma in this life or past life, either intentionally or from ignorance), some is caused or inflicted by others and some suffering is natural (aging, disease, natural disasters).

In classical Indian tradition, evil is not considered the opposite of good. We symbolically view darkness as evil. But, can one imagine life on earth if brightness of day is not balanced by the darkness of night? We also consider anger as evil. However, anger in the service of good cannot be considered as evil. Is it wrong or evil to feel outraged when we witness injustice?

Science has discovered that all energies are neutral. Energy is neither good nor evil. Thus, the energy of anger is good if used in service of good, and evil if it is used destructively. A knife can be used to hurt or by a surgeon to heal – the knife remains a neutral tool. What matters is what it is used for. Evil, therefore, is misuse of energy.

Zoroastrian Angra Mainyu – A State Of The Mind

Mainyu is variously translated as ‘Spirit’ – an abstract energy or ‘Mind’. Angra is viewed as destructive, chaotic, disorderly, and inhibitive. One of its chief manifestations is destruction, arising from uncontrolled and unjustified anger… and anger is a state of mind. Thus, Angra Mainyu is a destructive state of the mind which often manifests into anger and destruction of all that is good.

In Yasna 30.3 there is reference to ‘Aka Mainyu’ – Aka is Avestan for ‘evil’ or ‘deficient’ and is the antithesis of Spenta, which is good and bounteous. Thus, while earlier Avestan texts refer to Angra Mainyu in the abstract, the later Middle Persian texts refer to a more personalized embodiment of evil by the name Ahriman. But, Angra Mainu or Ahriman, both are in eternal conflict with all that is good and bountiful.

 According to Zoroastrian theology, Angra Mainyu is limited to material space and time and at the end of time, Angra Mainyu will be finally defeated or simply disappear because Angra Mainyu is akin to a shadow. A shadow is simply the absence of reflected light. A shadow has no independent standing – it exists only in relationship to a light source, a disrupting object and an object in the background.

Thus, if Truth is light and the mind is the disorderly obstructive object, what is seen in the background of life is the shadow of the devil. But, let the light of truth shine through a mind attuned to that light (of truth) and there would be no obstruction and no shadow can be seen in the background of life! There would be just light! Little wonder that certain Pahlavi texts view Ahriman (the demon of evil) as ‘nonexistent’!

To reiterate, evil has no real existence. Evil is simply the absence of good, just as darkness is absence of light. When we choose light, we automatically reject darkness and when we choose goodness, we automatically reject evil.

 The Zamyad Yasht is a litany to the spirit of this earth. The final paragraph of this hymn is inspiring and hope-giving! It affirms that: Akem-Mano (evil mentality) smites, but Vohu-Mano (good mentality) shall smite him back; the Word of falsehood smites, but the Word of truth shall smite it back. Haurvatat (Khordad or perfection) and Ameretat (Amardad or eternity) shall smite both hunger and thirst: The evil-doing Angra Mainyu bows and flees, becoming powerless.

The Yasht does not speak of Angra Mainyu being destroyed, because, one can only destroy what exists. Angra accepts defeat and flees, just like darkness flees when light is brought in. Ultimately, evil mentality bows to good mentality and flees; and the world will know Frasho Kereti or a Perfect World!

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