Has evil stopped shocking us?

Evil seems to be staging a strong comeback in philosophy. The idea of evil was discarded earlier and was viewed as a product of a mythical Christian w

Aug 02, 2019

By Fr Victor Ferrao
Evil seems to be staging a strong comeback in philosophy. The idea of evil was discarded earlier and was viewed as a product of a mythical Christian world view. With the growth of atheism, Satan as incarnated evil was declared dead.

However, we cannot imagine a world without evil. Evil has not stopped fascinating thinkers and has become an aesthetic object that functions as the other in the context of the banality of everyday life. Evil is aestheticised in fiction, films, media, religions and in politics in our society and we seem to have lost sight of the horror of evil.

When evil is aestheticised, we become de-sensitised to its violence and we seem to tolerate it without worrying that the knife will cut too deep. The increasing incidents of mob lynching in India and other places necessitate us to use the word evil to express our horror.

Mobs have attacked and killed hundreds of people in incidences linked to differences of culture, belief, caste, religion, etc.
It is not easy to call these monstrous acts as evil as they are supposed to be committed in the name of God. Some even chant the holy name of God while they mercilessly kill their victims. All the same, these events do not exhibit any symbolic resonance of the divine and have to be named as evil for what they are.

Still some cannot see evil in these heinous crimes. Often the recognition of evil in this context, if at all we have, is only done to be quickly forgotten. Jean Baudrillard says that evil resides everywhere and is omnipresent and hence we have lost our ability to grasp it. Maybe evil has stopped shocking us. Evil has been decentralised and can no longer be located in a single face. It has become faceless for us precisely because it marks our very face and we cannot see our face in the evil around us.

More than ever before, we need to problematise the evil as an idea. Paul Ricoeur suggests that evil is inaccessible to philosophical reflection but points out that myths and symbolism become resources that aid our understanding of evil. Humans have always attempted to represent evil through mythological symbolisations.

Evil is not simply an idea. It is a practical problem that challenges to seek a solution. It is not enough to explain or define it. Michel Foucault teaches that even mindless violence has a mind. We are all capable of doing unspeakable things to our other. Maybe we can ask a self-introspecting question: what will it take for me to indulge in such heinous crimes? This is important as we always think that the other is always evil and we see ourselves as representatives of the good fighting evil.

This ‘we and they’ divide is fundamental to ferment violence. It is this division that blinds us as we can easily employ violence against those whom we have defined as evil.

Hence, the ‘we-they’ dichotomy that operates in our life can become insane and generate violence because we love our people and tend to hate ‘them’. This means we aestheticise the ‘we-they’ binary. Such an aestheticisation incapacitates thinking for oneself as it can become an act of disloyalty to the group. It leads to the depersonalisation of the self, which makes it easy to depersonalise the other. This is why it is difficult to recognise the humanity of the person who is construed as evil.

The solution lies in avoiding all aestheticisations of evil in our own lives. This does not mean that we should not fight evil outside of us. We are obligated to oppose evil, but we cannot use evil to do away evil. We have to do good — non-violence — to break the chain of evil.

Non-violence as a moral tool, can be our strength in this project and Christian love can animate our war against evil.

Christian theology of suffering and sacrifice can be our companion in our struggle to cast out evil from ourselves and our society. --LCI (international.la-croix.com)

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