Why do we refuse to acknowledge the existence of evil in the world? Why do we refuse to acknowledge the existence of an absolute truth? There are manifest and complicated reasons as to why we humans struggle so mightily against the concept of objective right and wrong. However, the simple answer is that acknowledging the existence of external evil requires acknowledging the possible existence of internal evil. This is not easy but it is of supreme importance.
Over the past few months, actually years, we have witnessed unspeakable acts of terror foisted upon humankind. From the attack in San Bernardino to the the Pulse night club massacre; from the beheading of Egyptian Christians to the senseless murders at the AME church in Charleston evil has reared its ugly head, taking on many forms. We have named it racism, or extremism, or radicalism, or whatever other -ism seems to most closely describe the situation like some sort of elementary school multiple choice test. What we refuse to do, however, is to call it it by it’s name, evil.
Evil is defined by various dictionaries as profound immorality, deep wickedness, or great depravity, depending on which one you choose to reference. They all seem to have a similar definition. Another similarity in all of the dictionaries is that they acknowledge its existence. There is no judgment passed as to whether or not the dictionary itself contains evil, it simply states, matter of factly, that evil is a thing. A dictionary, as an inanimate reference resource, does not have to struggle with its own morality so it can simply speak truth.
We humans however do no have the luxury of inanimacy. We do not get the privilege of being able to distance ourselves from any given situation and coldly acknowledge reality. because whether we like it or not we have a vested interest in the situation. If we see a news story about a robbery or burglary we are drawn in to wrestling with whether or not we would be capable of such behavior given the right circumstances. We don’t usually do this consciously. it usually happens back in the depths of our minds where we don’t even realize the internal dialogue is happening.
Therefore instead of acknowledging that someone may simply have evil intentions we try to find ways to justify their behavior. Because if we can justify their behavior, we will be able to justify our own future behavior should the need arise. We blame poverty or addiction, we blame racism or politics, anything we can find to not blame the individual and the very real possibility that they may just have hearts filled with evil. Because if we acknowledge their evil we may have to acknowledge that a similar evil may be lurking in us.
Edmund Burke once famously stated “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This quote brilliantly illustrates another reason why we refuse to acknowledge evil. The simple truth is that if evil exists, we have to do something. If evil exists a response is required of us. If it’s racism we can pass hate speech laws and have a debate about race relations in America. If it’s homophobia we can have dialogues about diversity and tolerance. If it is terrorism, we can have a peace summit and have negotiations and we can all walk away proud of ourselves for having “difficult discussions.”
But, if it’s evil, that requires action. Talk is not enough. We must first evaluate ourselves and make sure that our own intentions and motivations are righteous. Because if our own
intentions are rooted in evil then evil will simply continue in perpetuity. If evil does not drive you to introspection, first and foremost, I dare say that there is something missing in your heart. As Burke said, evil triumphs when the response of good men is inaction. But in addition to that, the reaction of evil men to evil is equally dangerous. So it cannot be stated in strong enough terms that your response to evil be first rooted in righteous indignation.
This is not easy. Action requires sacrifice, action requires selflessness, action requires you. You will face pushback by a majority who refuse to acknowledge evil. They will pushback because they know, just like you do of yourself, that there may be evil in there own hearts and it is just to difficult for them to address it. What this action looks like I don’t entirely know, but what I do know is that we have to start acknowledging evil’s existence. Acknowledging it will expose it and will allow us to evaluate it and begin to formulate a plan against it. But as long as we continue avoid it, it will continue to fester and grow more vile and wretched every day.