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What We Talk About When We Talk About Evil

What We Talk About When We Talk About Evil

Are Christian notions of evil so outmoded as to be irrelevant? Or does anger at injustice imply belief and faith in a universal goodness? What do we really mean by the world "evil"?

What’s the Latest Development?

Were those who attacked the US embassy in Libya evil? Is the CIA’s efforts to step up drone operations evil? What do we mean when we pose moral questions, distinguishing between good and its opposite? Despite the secular tendency of our age, “the idea that certain human rights ought not to be infringed – that these are ‘sacred’, even – implies not moral neutrality, but faith in a basic standard of decency. The outrage and protest frequently voiced in response to evil point to a deeply-held belief in norms of goodness and justice.”

What’s the Big Idea?

There may be a more palatable level at which our concept of evil can be understood. Perhaps a psychological approach, in which evil takes the form of the darker side in us all, is more profitable: “If the tabloid concept of evil is the visible tip of an iceberg, signalling a submerged mass of more widespread psychological tendencies, then the effort to understand evil responds not to any theological dogma, but to Socrates’ philosophical imperative: ‘Know yourself!'” Next week, the Guardian will investigate the writings of a 4th-century Christian theologian who held controversial ideas on the subject of evil.

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