Note from CM: Thanks to Richard Beck for giving permission to re-post his thoughts about what the Christian faith says about evil. This is actually part two of a two-part post at his blog, Experimental Theology, and if you want to read more about the first two assertions, follow the link in this post to his first article.
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Monday with Richard Beck
Christian Assertions about Evil
As I pondered yesterday’s post about the two Christian assertions about evil a third one came to mind.
To recap, the first Christian assertion about evil is that evil is not ontological, an eternal and permanent fixture of existence that we must become stoically resigned to living with.
According to Christianity, evil can be defeated.
The second assertion is that God is working to defeat evil, and we are called to that work.
A third assertion Christianity makes about evil is this: Humans are not the source of evil.
In Genesis, the snake is already in the Garden of Eden. Humans succumb to evil. That is, while the origins of evil are not described in the Bible the catastrophe predates human beings. Yes, humans frequently are a source of evil in our world, but they are not The Source.
I think this third assertion about evil is a helpful balance given the first. Evil is not an eternal, ontological aspect of existence. This prompts ethical resistance of evil over stoical resignation. But that ethical resistance must also recognize the third assertion, that humans are not the ultimate source of evil. This assertion is important for two related reasons.
First, the third assertion humbles the utopian aspirations of the Revolution. If evil were solely a human problem we’d be tempted to think that humans were perfectible. That’s the utopian fantasy of the Revolution, the moral perfection of human society. But if evil exists outside of the human sphere then no matter how good we become the snake is always there to tempt us back into the darkness. Even the best of us and the very best of our political projects–I’m looking at you America–can fall back into darkness.
Second, recognizing that humans aren’t the source of evil helps us fight the temptation of believing that our fight against evil is a fight “against flesh and blood,” against other human beings. If humans are the source of evil then fighting evil would mean fighting, ultimately and only, against other human beings. Resistance to evil becomes sorting the world into Angels and Demons and then eradicating the humans deemed demonic. This is the temptation that tips the Revolution toward blood.
(By the way, this is the temptation I name in Reviving Old Scratch when progressive, liberal Christians demythologize “spiritual warfare” to mean “social justice.”)
So, this a third Christian assertion about evil. One that I think, like the other two, is pretty good.
Humans succumb, submit and obey evil, thereby bringing horrors into the world, but humans are not the source and origin of evil.