3 kinds of evil

We tend to see the world in terms of good guys and bad guys. That’s an easy message to understand, but it’s the wrong one.

Christianity teaches us that we are all sinful, but that’s not the whole story either. Two thousand years of telling people not to sin hasn’t changed the world.

Here’s how I see good and evil.

The first kind

This is the kind of evil the Bible calls the 7 deadly sins. They are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. According to the Bible, these derive from the original sin of the Garden of Eden, but a more helpful way of thinking about them is that they are evolutionary adaptations that helped us to survive in a hostile prehistoric world. In our modern world, they need to be suppressed to some extent, but I think we need to face up to the fact that they aren’t ever going to go away.

In my world view, this first kind of evil is the least of our woes. You could call it accidental evil, as we don’t usually mean to do harm, we just end up hurting people because of our personal failings.

The second kind

The second kind of evil I call intentional evil. You might call people who carry out these evil acts wicked or sick. That’s because they are sick, or severely mentally ill. Or they may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. From what I understand, much of the prison population consists of people like this.

While this kind of evil is much more dangerous than the first kind, we could view the people who commit it as victims themselves. They suffer from mental problems that make them behave this way. One day we might find better ways to help these people instead of punishing them.

The third kind

This is by far the most dangerous kind of evil, and yet it can be seen as unintentional evil. It’s the kind of evil that leads to war, genocide, persecution and all kinds of hate. It arises out of some religious beliefs, nationalism, imperialism, fascism, communism and many other kinds of –isms. There are so many of these poisonous beliefs in the world and they spread like wildfire. Sometimes they are hard to spot.

The tragedy of this kind of evil is that it is committed by good people who believe they are doing the right thing. They are regarded as heroes by people who share their beliefs.

Yet the good news is that of all the three kinds of evil, this is the only one that is not hardwired into our biology. If we can rid the world of such beliefs, we can bring an end to war and the worst kinds of violence that afflict humanity.

How can we do that? Learn to recognize belief systems that promote hate, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice. Say no to those beliefs. Instead practise tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness and generosity. Embrace positive beliefs.

Beliefs are hard to eradicate, but by refusing to believe them or pass them on, we can create a “fire break” that helps to stop them spreading.

27 responses to “3 kinds of evil

  1. Important lesson: Be good and never be proud of it. Simple.

  2. Atheist and other postmodern arguments are always based on a false premise or factual errors that are masqueraded as truth.

    That means that since the first premise is false, everything that comes after it also false.

    Here is the first false premise of this post:

    “Christianity teaches us that we are all sinful, but that’s not the whole story either. Two thousand years of telling people not to sin hasn’t changed the world.”

    The truth is that Christianity teaches the same thing about human nature as did the ancient Greeks.

    And those teachings are incredibly profound and precious.

    The truth is that Christianity did change the world by powering the rise of Western Civilization, the greatest, most prosperous, most just, most technologically advanced civilization in human history.

    The world counts the passing of years, Anno Domini, The Year of Our Lord, because Jesus changed the world.

    If someone is so wrong about Christianity, world history, and our Western Heritage, that person can have no credibility with regard to faith and moral, good or evil.

    • You are taking my words too literally and looking for things to criticise.

    • A Casual Observer

      Buddha knew nothing about “Christianity, world history, and our Western Heritage” but his views on morality seem to carry at least a certain element of credibility.

    • As long as you will stick to that 2000-year-old book, you will not see the truth. The book is hiding the truth from you.

      A person who has been observing and thinking for a while wouldn’t dare qualifying the western civilization as “the greatest, most prosperous, most just, most technologically advanced”.

      We don’t count years from the birth of Jesus because we believe he had a major impact on our world, we do because our calendar was set by a pope, who estimated the time elapsed since that date (and missed by about 100 years).

      Jesus did change our world, but not in a positive way. Too many wars were declared in his name. Countries which have pushed religion out of the state and back to the personal level (where it belongs) are doing better.

      Are you good in history and geography? So how did Jesus had anything to do with the western world, given that he was born in the middle-east? Well, turns out Jesus never lived there. He was really born, as the center character of a book, in Rome, in 325 AD, from the work of Constantine.

  3. When I was young I used to see the world as being black & white but whilst studying & reading & growing up I discovered a world of greys; a universe of change.

  4. After reading this post I can’t get John Lennon’s song, “Imagine” from playing over and over again inside my head.

  5. This is a response to silenceofmind. Grr! I invited you to skip one sentence and respond to my overall thesis. However, it seems that you WILL NOT skip this sentence, and instead choose to write unpleasant comments.

    Have you noticed how your behaviour is precisely what my “third kind of evil” is talking about????? Irony, hello?

    Further thoughts: https://blogbloggerbloggest.com/2013/06/09/sunday-thoughts-is-religion-the-solution-or-the-problem

  6. Steve, I thought that was brilliantly conceived and written with eloquent polish. I really understood … in fact, I thought about this post as I was walking in the park this afternoon with a friend, and we watched parents and their children. Very well done. You continue to amaze and impress me.

  7. Thanks! I’m struggling to formulate my ideas and wondered if this one had missed the target.

    • In this post Steve labeled some acts as evil. He never said anybody was evil. He, in fact, said that good people sometimes unintentionally do evil acts. We all may need to examine our motives, our words, and our actions from time to time.

  8. You never disappoint. Excellent observations.

  9. I agree. I think “sin” is a label used to describe things that are not good for us to do if we want a healthy quality of life. And as a “Jesus-follower”, my perspective is that God said something like, “Don’t do this or you’ll get hurt” like any good father would say to prevent harm to his child. But then I think mankind twisted the meaning to control people. So I agree with your interpretation of what is “evil”, which is different from “sin.” And also, I don’t believe God is punitive. I think we naturally reap what we sow. Nothing magical about it. Disclaimer: This is not factual info; it is my perspective.

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