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In life, there are many universal questions that philosophers have struggled to answer for eons. What is the meaning of life? What is evil?Questions such as these have long been contested. However, the question addressed in this essay is the latter. In an attempt to answer this question, both Christian and Hindu religions have “laws”. Those who violate them are considered “evil”. Throughout history, many have tried and failed to discover the true nature of evil. It is not something that can simply be defined by a single sentence, it is a complex concept that requires much thought.
Everybody has different moral compasses and beliefs and this is reflected by the many different opinions of just what exactly evil is. For example, to an environmentalist, companies that produce fossil fuel may be described as evil, while to others, serial killers such as Ted Bundy may be described as evil. In order to gain a better understanding of evil, we must ask ourselves various questions.
To many people, the word evil may denote witches and fanatical, mad scientists, but are these really evil? How do we determine if an act is evil or not? If a person kills another in self-defence, is this less evil than a premeditated murder? Or if the murder fails, is the former now more evil due to the actual death caused?In my personal opinion, evil is not an entity but a “state” which someone can become. Someone is not evil for overindulging in a slice of cake or two but intentionally harming others either mentally or physically, especially if for personal gain is evil. Likewise to me, even if a murderer fails, they are still evil when compared to a person causing an accidental death, as the intent to harm was present. To me, both the effects and the context of actions must be considered and put into perspective. In any other situation, both of these would be taken into account. This makes sense, as it is similar reasoning to that used by judges when sentencing criminals.
Therefore, this proves the validity of using these methods as they have been used for years with significant success. This viewpoint is similar to that of most of the wider population as evil is often used to describe people such as Richard Ramirez (“The Nightstalker”), a serial killer and devoted satanist. The word most definitely applies to him as he never expressed any remorse and even hinted that he simply enjoyed killing. To me, this is true evil as opposed to killing in self-defence which is not.
In Christianity, the ten commandments are used to provide humanity with the basic instructions of how to live pure and godly lives. Disobeying these instructions by committing murder or adultery, for example, may be considered evil. Also falling into the category of evil are the seven deadly sins. These vices are lust, greed, pride, wrath, envy, sloth and gluttony. Despite this, is someone that envies others or commits adultery really evil? In my opinion, although these things are bad, they are not truly evil.
Evil is a word which is often used to describe figures in history such as Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party, who was one of the driving forces behind the Holocaust. Surely evil is a valid word that can be used to describe this man, especially considering he caused the torture and deaths of thousands during WWII. But is this evil, considering the fact that he believed he was helping Germany for the greater good? In Christian faith, the theory of graded absolution states that certain actions, no matter the context, are regarded as “good” or “bad”. For example, one of the ten commandments is “thou shalt not kill”. This means any death whether homicide or accidental is considered “bad” from the Christian perspective. Mark, chapter 7, verses 21-23 states that “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.
All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” This shows that evil is not seen by Christians as an entity in itself but instead as a character trait. The devil (or Satan or Lucifer), a fallen angel, is the personification of evil in Christianity. After Jesus’ baptism, he was tempted by the devil for 40 days and 40 nights but resisted. Many early Christians believed that both the Roman and Greek gods were demons, therefore making them evil. Generally from the point of view of the church, practices such as witchcraft or magic were evil due to the people apparently making a deal with the devil to perform these, thus spreading evil. In the sixteenth century, many people were executed during events such as the Salem Witch Trials, due to their apparent wickedness. However, most, if not all, were actually innocent and simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In older times, hell was where “evil” people and unrepentant sinners were cast down and damned to, however in today’s modern world, sins can be forgiven due to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In Genesis, God creates the world and proclaims it to be “good”. He created Adam and Eve (man and woman) in his image, therefore also making them “good”. In chapter 3, verse 2 of Genesis, God forbids Adam and Eve to eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, however in verse 4, a snake persuades Eve to eat the fruit of the tree and both Adam and Eve are consequently banished from Eden as a result. This snake represents the devil and the evil he brings which taints everything. Adam and Eve gained the knowledge of good and evil through their actions, bringing evil into the world and future generations.
To many people, this is known as the original sin. Eve is often credited for the fall of man in Christianity and for a long time in history, women were frequently viewed as inferior due to this. Christians believe that this “original sin” is inherited from ancestors and they cannot attain eternal life without the love of God. In the beginning of Genesis, Adam and Eve are naked but do not mind, because they are pure and free of sin. Later, after sinning and eating the fruit from the tree, Adam and Eve clothe themselves as they become ashamed of their nudity (or sin). Before God banished Adam and Eve, he clothed them again in animal skin. This is because, in the Old Testament, animal sacrifices were used to atone for sin. However, as the population of humanity grew, so did the amount of sin.
To combat this, God sent Jesus to teach love and forgiveness and eventually die on the cross to atone for our sins. This was because as the Bible says, animal sacrifices were not enough to wash away sin. Due to Jesus’ death, atoning for our sins and removing evil from the world, we can have the promise of resurrection if we believe. This shows the difficulty of the question as the ten commandments allow people to determine whether something is evil or not. If the question was simple, we would not need these guidelines and people would simply know whether certain acts were evil and would not have to consult the commandments to check. Given that the Devil is the personification of evil, does this not therefore make evil an entity rather than a trait? This shows evil is also difficult to define in this respect.
The religion of Hinduism believes that there are two different types of evil: natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil is strife caused by natural events such as a cyclone or tornado while moral evil consists of acts which are morally wrong such as murder. Hindus believe that evil comes from violating Dharma. From the Hindu perspective, Dharma is “god’s divine law” and as quoted by J. A. B. Van Buitenen “is that which all existing beings must accept and respect to sustain harmony and order in the world.” and “natural laws guide the act and prevent chaos in the world.” In other words, Dharma is the universally acknowledged rules of life that people should abide by.
There are two types of Dharma: social class Dharma and common Dharma. Social class Dharma is performing the duties that one is required to do in the workplace. Common Dharma is essentially cosmic law, that is generally guided by one’s moral compass, for example, helping someone when wounded or obeying the law. Dharma is also seen as fulfilling one’s life purpose. The opposite of Dharma is Adharma. It is often used to denote immorality, wickedness or evil. Violation of Dharma is considered Adharma.
This includes things such as violence, theft, adultery, lying, ill will and greed. This makes sense, especially in the context of common Dharma. The majority of the general population would know that it is wrong to intentionally harm others so therefore when doing so, are ignoring both their moral compass and Dharma. Due to this, it makes sense that repeated violation of Dharma creates evil, as if everybody violated Dharma, the world would not be a nice place.
Hindus also believe that breach of Dharma creates negative karma that will affect the person later in life and reincarnation. Karma follows the rule that good actions (like helping elders) have “good” future consequences (a new job offer) and that “bad” actions have poor consequences. In a way, this follows the Christian view that sins must be atoned for, as all actions (good or bad) have consequences otherwise a person will not achieve afterlife or be reincarnated to a good family (in the Hindu belief). Similar to mainstream ideals, poor actions require “punishment” such as prison sentences or fees.
Unlike Christians, Hindus believe that due to the cycle of reincarnation, evil has no origin (contrary to the fall of man) and simply is always related to previous poor actions of man. The hindu approach toevil also shows the difficulty of the question, as again, if people knew whether acts were evil or not, Dharma would not be needed to guide people.In conclusion, in both the Hindu and Christian religions, the question of what is evil, is attempted to be tackled by the teaching of “laws”.
In Christianity, these are the ten commandments and in Hinduism this is Dharma. Both teach similar ethics such as the wrongness of stealing, murder and adultery. This shows these acts are considered widespread across cultures to be “evil”. In my own personal opinion, although these acts are bad, they are not evil (excluding murder). To me, generally acts such as these only become evil depending on the context. If these acts are committed often or are widespread like the Holocaust, they may be considered to be evil. In addition to this, when more than one of these vices is committed, I consider this to make the person committing them evil. For example, not only did Hitler kill thousands but he also allowed his lust and greed for power to overcome him and lead him further astray.
Other situations that must be considered are whether the person is actually aware that what they are doing is wrong or the circumstances surrounding their crime or “evil” act. This is because if the person is not aware that what they have done is wrong, they are not blatantly ignoring their moral compass and the “laws” of their religion (if applicable). All of these factors must be put into perspective in order to give a clear judgement of how evil something (or someone) is and justify these conclusions. These varying opinions show the complexity and difficulty of the question due to these views being based on each religion’s core morals and principles. Likewise, many people will also have different views on evil. These are often based on factors like upbringing and peoples personal ethics.
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