There is No Evil Force

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My spiritual path includes the belief that there is no such thing as an evil force in the Universe. There is, to be sure, evil behavior on the part of sentient beings capable of making moral choices and acting on those choices. So far as we can see, that evil is limited to the human race, but we can’t be 100% sure of that.

People can do things that are immoral, offensive, harmful, and otherwise run contrary to the basic purpose and thrust of Life. These actions may be characterized as “evil” if that word works for your understanding of what’s going on.

But I reject the idea that the Universe contains an alternate force to that embodied by and personified in God (by whatever name you wish to call the Divine). I realize this is a difficult view for many to accept but for me it is the only one that is consistent with my view of Spirit as an entity consisting of All That Is expressing only as Love.

For me, if God is not everything that is — if, in other words there is anything that is not God — then we encounter the unanswerable question of how much All That Is is something else? If there is more not-God than God, then is God truly worthy of worship? Or how are we to discern the difference between God and Not-God in that case? Is the Divine to be subject to our frail and limited human judgement? If we get to name what is God and what is Not-God, are we not in some essential way creating Spirit?

Further, if God expresses always as Love (which is a fundamental premise of my belief system), then even if evil could or did exist within All That Is in some form, it could never be expressed unless one’s definition of expression is quite different from the ordinary sense of that word. And if unexpressed, it would, for all practical and non-practical purposes, not exist.

This conundrum — which philosophers call The Problem of Evil — causes all sorts of contortions in those who wish to claim its reality as a countervaling force to that of Love and, by turn, Divinity.

Evil and Terrorism

This whole issue came to a new head for me this week as I read an essay by one of my generally favorite Christian thinkers, Jim Wallis, of Sojourners. In his piece, entitled In the Wake of ISIS Terror: Mourning, Lament, Discernment, gives evil a personification with which I find myself disagreeing. “From a religious perspective, the hardest thing about confronting evil is the painful human tendency to only see it in others, in our enemies,” he writes. This gives evil a presence and a tangibility that only extends the myth of its reality. (He segués from “evil” to “sin”, which is a less loaded word and one which I can accept, assuming we can agree on its limited definition of “falling short of God’s expectations for us.”)

The behaviors in which terrorists engage is inhumane and qualifies for the epithet “evil”. But terrorists, being creatures of God and fashioned in his image, are not evil, at least in my world view. Terrorism is not an ideology; it’s a tactic for spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt. As such, it attempts to act counter to the Divine which it can ultimately not do because God expresses always as Love and God is All There Is.

ISIS, Islam and Evil

Which brings us to the crux of Wallis’ piece and the trigger for this essay.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a political ideology, an artificial construct whose mission is to create an Islamic Caliphate (single regional or world government) in the Middle East. As such, it cannot be evil; however, its leaders and its adherents can and do carry out evil acts in the name of this construct. The idea of a worldwide Caliphate dominated by the Muslim religion may be something Westerners wish to oppose as a practical, political matter, but that does not in itself render the notion evil. Any more than the stated desire of America to “spread democracy” (which is also a political idea and an artificial construct) that would, we presume, be dominated by Christianity (though precisely what form of Christianity is never addressed) can be seen as inherently evil, despite the reception it receives in many parts of the world.

Islam is a religion. As such, it is a form of ideology. (So, it goes without saying, is Christianity.) The teachings of Islam are contained principally in a Holy Scripture called the Qur’an, which was dictated by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad over a 23-year span in the early Seventh Century CE. Although it is a difficult idea to Westerners, the Qur’an is actually the primary object of worship in the Muslim faith. Some scholars suggest the Qur’an plays a role in Islam quite similar to that of Jesus in the Christian faith. Regardless of nuance, the importance of the Muslim Holy Book cannot be doubted. Muhammad referred to his followers, Christians and Jews alike as “People of the Book” and all three faiths trace their roots back to the ancient prophet Abraham.

As with the Jewish Scriptures (particularly what Christians call the “Old Testament”) and the Christian Scriptures (which Christians call the New Testament), the Qur’an contains a great deal of metaphorical and mystical language. It must also be viewed and understood in the socio-historical context in which it originated and in light of the experiences and concerns of the people for whom it was originally intended.

It is often said that you can use the Bible (the combined Old and New Testaments, in Christian terms) to prove anything. That is probably true. Metaphoric language, parable, poetry, arcane language, mystical principles, metaphysical meaning and a dozen other influences make it impossible to read the Bible — and, I believe, any sacred text of any religion — literally and claim to understand its meaning. Particularly if one takes the view that sacred literature generally intends to survive for long periods of time and to continue to bring light and truth and wisdom to bear on future generations, and perhaps across cultural boundaries, then much of the meaning of the book must derive from spiritual study accompanied by a metaphysical or symbolic understanding of the language used in the original.

So it is that I find myself bewildered when confronted with principally Christian critics who see in Islam and the Qur’an teachings that they claim as evil or violent. Yes, such passages exist. But the Bible contains as many such passages if not more, and we tend not to view the Bible as an immoral or evil document (though many atheists do make exactly that claim). Not being a serious student of the Qur’an, I am not qualified to discuss specific passages; I’ll leave that to others here, here, and here.

ISIS is clearly interpreting the Qur’an to suit its own purposes, much as the extreme right in Christianity interprets the Bible to condemn to death those who practice a sexual lifestyle contrary to its narrow standard and medical professionals who perform perfectly legal operations that violate its discompassionate sensibilities.

Conclusion

So where does all of this leave me on the subject of terrorism and America’s proper response? I don’t condone terrorism; as I said earlier, its tactics are violent and aimed at spreading hate and fear, the opposite of the Love I see as manifesting the Divine. What I see is a greater need for increased unconditional Love and unquestioning forgiveness. As practitioners of the religion of Love and Peace, we must forgive and demonstrate love even for those who hate and persecute us (Luke 6:27); particularly for them.

The real enemy here is not evil, which, as I’ve demonstrated, does not and cannot exist as a separate force. The real enemy is fear. It is fear that gives rise to evil behavior and to all manner of negativity in our individual and collective lives. And only a more true, a more powerful, a more eternal force can overcome the force that fear both represents and engenders. And that force is Love.

Come, then, let us love one another. (1 John 4:7)

Namasté

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