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 Post subject: The problem of Evil
PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:33 pm 
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So, I was thinking of Epicurus and the Problem of Evil, and a thought occurred to me.

What, exactly, is Evil?

I witness the Atheist versus Christian debates, and a very good point Atheists have is asking Christians to define God. But Atheists often quote Epicurus without taking the time to define Evil leaving that largely assumed. The only ones to tackle that problem are a few Christian apologists who try to say that Evil is the absence of Good. Well, that leaves two questions, what is Good and what is its Absence.

I ask because a very dear friend of mine has recently encountered a disgusting situation. In order for some rather rude people to strike at her mom, but without the courage to say it to her mom's face, they told her that because her mom is divorced therefore her mom is living in sin. Her mom isn't remarried.

From my point of view, the mom's divorce isn't a bad thing. Divorcing an abusive, cheating, adulterous, lying, child abusing, and child molesting spouse isn't a bad thing. But these people talking to my friend are probably convinced they are doing good by reminding her that divorce is looked down on in Christian circles, especially the more fundamentalist ones. And they would be sure that divorcing that guy was an evil thing to do, if one doe some sort of equating between sinful and evil.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:53 pm 
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Evil is in the eye of the beholder. It is an entirely man-made artifice, and not intrinsic to the nature of any thing or action, in this beholder's eye.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:19 pm 
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I can't quite agree with narya here.

I think one aspect of Evil is to deliberately harm another person. And I would describe the vicious remarks C_G mentions as being very near to evil - deliberate cruelty. Maybe I'll use the word "sinful" instead of Evil - since cruelty is sinful, IMHO.

On the other hand, divorce is not evil. Not in and of itself, at any rate. Nor is it sinful.

By and large breaking the rules of religion is neither sinful nor evil, but that's "by and large", not "always".

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:35 pm 
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How can an action be intrinsically evil if not every group believes it is? Is it only evil if the Catholics officially declare it so, or a particularly radical Muslim sect, or some other group? I can say something is evil just as I can say something is beautiful, but both are subjective to me alone, and perhaps to the like-minded people I associate with.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:39 pm 
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I would bet the people C_G describes think they are doing "the right thing." Much evil is done by those who believe their actions are justified, even required, by their beliefs.

Yet if I slap my child's hand away from a hot pot on a stove, or if someone's liberty is denied because they've proven themselves incapable of living in society without being harmful to others, otherwise harmful actions take on a different sheen. Doing a smaller harm to prevent a larger...but again, isn't that what the people thought they were doing? The difference being one set of beliefs is shared by the majority within the society, and one isn't.

So evil is not only contextual but socially defined. That pushes it darn close to Narya's point. An objective definition of evil would require an objective point of view to exist, and it doesn't. Even an external deity wouldn't qualify--indeed, I'd argue an omniscient, omnipotent God would be the ultimate in subjective point of views.

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 Post subject: Re: The problem of Evil
PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 5:03 pm 
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Do you want to talk about evil or the ideas some people have about marriage and divorce?

If the woman in question is a Christian and is living with someone where they are not committed to each other in the eyes of God (I missed the part where Adam and Eve hired a wedding planner and had the big ceremony before being considered as one flesh) then I suppose it could be called an act of wilful disobedience on her part. No amount of evil that was visited upon her in her previous marriage would make it okay to live that way, according to some.

The thing about marriage and divorce in the Bible is the rules appear to change depending on who is speaking. It therefore comes down to [yet another case of] what is in her heart and mind regarding her present series of choices... following or not following "the rules" can only be evaluated based on intent.

For instance if the person is all "blank you Lord, I'm not making any special commitment here, look at what the last btard did to me," then perhaps she is not ready yet to be in a conjugal (common law or otherwise) relationship in the first place. Entering one in such a way carries its own risks... (It really bugs me the way our socio-economic system seems to drive people to make living arrangements that are not good for them in the long run.)

The trouble for Christians in evaluating actions based on intent though is the tendency to want to do a little evil for a greater good. Even though, "all things work for good for those who love God," the evil one does, even that good should result, will be addressed in the final judgement. (This must be part of the reason it is said: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.")

Now if the woman is not a Christian, the question of whether she is living in sin or not becomes moot. The judgemental (some would say evil) people who are accosting her should know that, if they are Christians themselves. And if she and they are Christians, rather than speaking condemnation over her, they should be offering guidance and support to her instead, imho.

As for evil itself, it seems to me like the question "what is darkness?" If darkness can only be defined as the absence of light then I suppose we must be satisfied if evil can only be defined as the absence of good. If we must equate evil to sin, there are no degrees: no matter the form, substance or quality of a transgression, it is still evil.

The idea that there is Evil as a force unto itself in the world seems logical. The same way that there is Good and, again, Light and Darkness.

ETA Forgot something else I wanted to say about sin... there is the idea that we should not do something that might cause another to stumble. In other words even if we are okay in our heart that what we are doing is good, and done for the right reasons, if it sets an example that may lead another to harm, it may be counted as sin.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 5:43 pm 
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SirD is right in pointing out that you are raising two separate questions. What is evil is a big and vague issue.

Based on what you described in your post, what these people are doing to your friend is wrong. If they are Christian, there are a few quotes about the relative size of eye contaminants she might mention to them. Anyway, if they are so concerned about the well-being of her mother, where were they when her husband abused her? Did they talk to him about his evil ways?

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 5:49 pm 
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Frelga wrote:
SirD is right in pointing out that you are raising two separate questions. What is evil is a big and vague issue.

Based on what you described in your post, what these people are doing to your friend is wrong. If they are Christian, there are a few quotes about the relative size of eye contaminants she might mention to them. Anyway, if they are so concerned about the well-being of her mother, where were they when her husband abused her? Did they talk to him about his evil ways?

Exactly.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:10 pm 
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axordil wrote:
Doing a smaller harm to prevent a larger...but again, isn't that what the people thought they were doing? The difference being one set of beliefs is shared by the majority within the society, and one isn't.

So evil is not only contextual but socially defined. That pushes it darn close to Narya's point. An objective definition of evil would require an objective point of view to exist, and it doesn't.


Just because we can't know for certain which actions cause the most harm doesn't mean that, objectively, some actions will cause the most harm and is therefore objectively more evil. We don't need to know or understand objective reality for it to be objective.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:16 pm 
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Ax, you're right, the people who did this probably thought they were doing good.

SirD, while marriage and divorce was the trigger for this conversation, I don't imagine it as the topic of the conversation in itself. I used it as an example to discuss evil.

Now I am doing a conflation, I confess, by conflating sin with evil.

For elaboration purposes, this woman, my friend's mom, is not living with anyone and does not have a boyfriend. The people speaking ill of her were describing her situation negatively only because she dared divorce the bastard.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:30 pm 
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Put me down in the evil = infliction of harm camp. Particularly, I would say, intentionally inflicting harm on others through either selfish indifference or outright desire to cause suffering to others.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 9:50 pm 
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Quote:
Just because we can't know for certain which actions cause the most harm doesn't mean that, objectively, some actions will cause the most harm and is therefore objectively more evil. We don't need to know or understand objective reality for it to be objective.


But if we can't access objective reality except subjectively, it does us no good. Besides, some of the actions which are designed to "prevent greater harm" are based on unfalsifiables. Is it worth making the woman in question miserable if it saves her soul? The people in question obviously think so, or would likely say that's what they're attempting to do. It's purely coincidence it appears to anyone watching like mean-spirited and vindictive pettiness. :D

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:13 pm 
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Cenedril_Gildinaur wrote:
For elaboration purposes, this woman, my friend's mom, is not living with anyone and does not have a boyfriend. The people speaking ill of her were describing her situation negatively only because she dared divorce the bastard.


That is what I thought, but I couldn't believe anyone (even die-hard, fundamentalist Christians) would label that "living in sin."

I would think they would assert that she is STILL married "in the eyes of God" or some such nonsense.

I do NOT believe that these kinds of people honestly think they are "doing good." Not for one single second. I think they get off on being "holier than thou" and piously self-righteous. I think they are miserable excuses for human beings.

I think God frowns on such behavior. And if such statements were directed at me, or someone I loved, I would (politely) invite the statement-makers to kiss a certain part of my anatomy.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:34 pm 
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axordil wrote:
But if we can't access objective reality except subjectively, it does us no good.


Disagree - we know our knowledge will likely never be total but finite knowledge does not mean useless knowledge. Plus by acknowledging that objective knowledge does exist, we can strive towards better and better understanding, something a subjective philosophy doesn't allow for very well.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 6:17 am 
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Cenedril_Gildinaur wrote:
Ax, you're right, the people who did this probably thought they were doing good.

For elaboration purposes, this woman, my friend's mom, is not living with anyone and does not have a boyfriend. The people speaking ill of her were describing her situation negatively only because she dared divorce the bastard.

Oi, in that case I would definitely suggest they read their Bibles [again]. I know of nowhere divorce is called sin. And most of those things would have earned her a pass even from the legalism side. This kind of thing, to me, is evil incarnate. Therefore your example is a very good one. It is useful to speak of somewhat intangible things (such as Evil) by way of allusion or though story telling.

ax wrote:
The people in question obviously think so, or would likely say that's what they're attempting to do. It's purely coincidence it appears to anyone watching like mean-spirited and vindictive pettiness.

Granted we may not have all the facts here, but what they are attempting to do is misguided if they believe it to be based on scripture. Heck it's misguided period. What exactly are they trying to teach the young woman, CG's friend?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:03 pm 
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narya wrote:
Evil is in the eye of the beholder. It is an entirely man-made artifice, and not intrinsic to the nature of any thing or action, in this beholder's eye.


I ... don't agree with this. I don't see how anyone who visited Auschwitz (I have not, btw) could say that evil was 'an entirely man-made artifice'. It was all too real in that dreadful place, and in many other places too. Cruelty to other human beings is always evil.

I believe that evil exists but not that all people are evil, or even that pepole who do evil things are 100% evil. I do realise that human beings are more complex that that. ;) But I have no hesitation in calling things like the Final Solution completely evil and wicked.

JewelSong wrote:
I do NOT believe that these kinds of people honestly think they are "doing good." Not for one single second. I think they get off on being "holier than thou" and piously self-righteous. I think they are miserable excuses for human beings.

I think God frowns on such behavior.


What Jewel said. 8)

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And if such statements were directed at me, or someone I loved, I would (politely) invite the statement-makers to kiss a certain part of my anatomy.


:D Me too. ;)

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 2:43 pm 
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I think they get off on being "holier than thou" and piously self-righteous.


Experience suggests some people equate that with being Good. Personally I agree with your evaluation, of course.

yovargas wrote:
axordil wrote:
But if we can't access objective reality except subjectively, it does us no good.


Disagree - we know our knowledge will likely never be total but finite knowledge does not mean useless knowledge. Plus by acknowledging that objective knowledge does exist, we can strive towards better and better understanding, something a subjective philosophy doesn't allow for very well.


When it comes to things empirical, I'm fully in agreement with you. What I'm saying is there is no empirical test for evil, because there isn't and cannot be a universally agreed-upon definition of what it is in the first place. That's what makes it a subjective concept. Evil is not like electromagnetism or matter or molecular structure, a descriptive concept of an object or phenomenon that changes and deepens over time. It's a label, pure and simple, for behavior or people we don't like, because said behavior or people threaten us or others.

It's also a label that gets applied to us (in the generic sense), often, by the people we apply it to.

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I don't see how anyone who visited Auschwitz (I have not, btw) could say that evil was 'an entirely man-made artifice'.


Funny, I see Auschwitz as evidence that evil is entirely man-made. Badgers didn't build those camps. Werewolves didn't close the doors to the gas chambers. Demons didn't give the orders. Those were people. And some of those people thought what they were doing was Right. Thankfully enough of the rest of the world thought otherwise, or at least cooperated in stopping it for their own reasons.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 3:26 pm 
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axordil wrote:
Funny, I see Auschwitz as evidence that evil is entirely man-made. Badgers didn't build those camps. Werewolves didn't close the doors to the gas chambers. Demons didn't give the orders. Those were people. And some of those people thought what they were doing was Right. Thankfully enough of the rest of the world thought otherwise, or at least cooperated in stopping it for their own reasons.


Yes, I agree with that. And I guess that's what narya was getting at.

As for some "of them" thinking they were doing right, I wonder how many really thought so? People are awfully good at denial, even when they're in the midst of acting.

I am sure that many of those involved were not "evil" but caught up in something far beyond their control. Don't get me wrong, I'm not "making excuses" for anyone. But I do wonder what I would have done, had I been there and been told what I had to do. What would any of us have done?

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 3:52 pm 
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Oh, I think most people involved in the machinery of genocide act without thought, or in denial, or out of fear, or habit, or any number of reasons. But the system wouldn't have worked without sufficient True Believers, at all levels of the system.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 3:55 pm 
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axordil wrote:
Oh, I think most people involved in the machinery of genocide act without thought, or in denial, or out of fear, or habit, or any number of reasons. But the system wouldn't have worked without sufficient True Believers, at all levels of the system.


True enough.

But you know, without dragging politics into it, it often takes decades, if not centuries, for evil acts to be seen for what they are.

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