On Evil

Believing that goodness is as real and appealing as evil is not always easy.  In many moments, evil can appear so widespread and overwhelming that it seems like every bit goodness must be gone, that every glimmer of something true and worth living for must be have faded.

This is on my mind because I’ve been rewatching the Lord of the Rings films.  Nearing the end of the Two Towers, Samwise Gamgee encourages his companion, Frodo Baggins, as they struggle to press forward in their difficult and treacherous journey.  His words offer a moving reminder for anyone searching for hope in the midst of despair:

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On Evil

Evil is a popular obsession these days.  Much of the reporting done by major news sources focuses on conflicts and social strife, on injustices and political exploitation.  Much of our entertainment focuses their stories on deranged killers and the detectives who chase them, on disturbing events and criminal investigations.  We are all apparently aware of evil’s existence.  Our popular media seems to confirm that it has our attention, and for good reasons.

I must admit that evil has my attention.  I am drawn to the writings of authors like Dostoevsky and Camus, to television shows like Breaking Bad and The Fall, partly because I am convinced that evil is real and that evil matters.  I think most people would agree that evil is real and that evil matters, at least if pressed.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever talked with a single person who honestly believes that evil does not exist.  As much as we may pay lip service to ideas that relativize its reality, nearly everyone, either from personal experience or in view of past or present events, has been confronted by evil’s painful presence.

So why do we so often avoid discussing it openly?  Is it because, if we unequivocally acknowledge that evil exists, then we will be compelled to consider the source of its existence?  Is it because, if compelled to consider the source of evil’s existence, then we will be faced with the unsettling fact that evil is not merely something out there, but something that originates from within?

Feeling pulled in opposite directions, evil often stirs up ambivalence.  It strikes us to our core, yet we so often avoid engaging with it deeply for fear of facing its origins.  It grabs our attention, yet it quickly becomes a mirror that is too hard to hold.