A Response to the “Evil” Dilemma: All About Intent

I would like to welcome my friend, very old friend actually, Eddie Matthews to the podium. I have known Eddie  since early-high school, and probably before. We had a lot of great times back then, and no, I won’t tell those stories. At least not now. But, besides being a long time friend, interesting soul (bomb squad anyone?) and fellow techie, Eddie now serves part time as pastor for a church in middle Tennessee. So, it was with great interest and not just a little trepidation that I read his response to my last couple of blog posts. Wow, he still has his wits about him!  I asked his permission to post what he wrote to me.  His introduction and then the actual comments follow.

Eddie MatthewsI read your recent articles on evil, which I thought were good by the way, and felt compelled to write a response.  I was just going to post a response to one of them on your blog, but it turned into more of an article in itself, so here it is.  – Pastor Eddie Matthews

Questions regarding the nature of evil are as limitless as the imaginations of people. Likely, most of these concerns will never be adequately resolved in this world. However, Michael Carnell raises some interesting issues in his two recent articles which beg close examination. While I cannot answer the overall question of evil, I hope to clarify the discussion by a more in-depth look at what evil really is, and how it applies to the human condition.

In his first article Michael laid out an argument for a loose definition of evil as a concept which can be applied to individuals, corporations, and politicians alike. (Carnell, Whence Cometh Evil? 2013) In his second article he expands on the subjective nature of evil to include how the hypocrisy of people helps to bring about evil. (Carnell, The Hypocrite’s Life 2013) He makes many good points in his articles; but in both cases, the nature of evil is described all at once as being both personal and impersonal, a direct result of certain individuals, and an indirect and oft unavoidable fact of life. These seemingly contradictory descriptions of the nature of evil lead to a fundamental confusion concerning its nature, with an end result of evil being objectified and distanced from its connection to man. The quote from Edmund Burke, “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing” is a prime example of this objectification. It’s as if Burke is suggesting that evil exists as an entity in itself, supported and encouraged by, but separate from humanity.

This subjective and abstract conceptualization of evil broadly applied to a range of personally disagreeable conditions is prevalent in society today. I’m sure many would agree with Michael’s assessment, but I believe this issue should be approached from a different perspective. Unlocking the confusion begins with realizing the current understanding of evil has been heavily influenced by a slow shift in word usage over time. The word evil has become, in modern usage, synonymous with “bad.” By extension we naturally view this as the opposite of good. That may sound simplistic, but ponder the consequences. “Bad” is also the opposite of “good,” and both are completely subjective concepts. What I consider to be bad may differ greatly from another’s opinion. After all, we all have very different personalities. Even within ourselves these concepts of good and bad evolve over time. Our opinions change as we mature, and our viewpoints shift as we learn to see things from alternative and wider-ranged perspectives. So, “bad” is a completely relative and subjective term. On the other hand, “evil” was never intended to have a subjective connotation, and neither is it the opposite of “good.” Please read on before you judge this last statement.

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