An important first step in addressing the problem of evil involves the definition or description you give to it. From my observations, evil is a force that corrodes and eats away at the human spirit in whatever way and to whatever degree it can. It delays, derails, or puts an end altogether to the natural unfolding of your deepest potential, or destiny. It seeks the destruction of goodness in all of its forms–such as love, creativity, consciousness, healing, and maturation. Evil can strike with the swiftness of a rattlesnake or the slow methodicalness of a strangling vine. It will crush your spirit, if given the opportunity, by sowing seeds of discouragement, cynicism, bitterness, and resentment. It may cause you to doubt or deny that there is a deeper purpose to life. Neil Young sang that “rust never sleeps,” and neither does evil. It weakens and destroys the life-preserving and life giving energies at the core of the personality.
In its darkest form—what is called archetypal evil—it is a force which seeks the torture, humiliation, degradation, and enslavement of the soul. It wants power and control and seeks to usurp the role of God. It enjoys chaos, disobedience, and pain for their own sake and revels in the destruction of goodness. This is because, at its core, archetypal evil is driven by revolt against the authority and dominion of God or, in psychological terms, against the Self. It commandeers the ego in its attempts to establish itself as the center of the total personality. The result of such possessions are individuals who covet absolute power, would subjugate all things and people to their own will, and delight in the infliction of pain.
Wheels within wheels, traps and tricks within other traps and tricks. There are times when we are like mice in a house booby-trapped by evil. You encounter situations where the powers that be are set to crush you, and every which way you turn, every option you see is as bleak and black as the next, and all that you can do is pursue the lesser of two evils (or three or four) and pray for the best. Damage control over damage avoidance. Like a bad move in chess, the more experienced and knowledgeable player can see how the game is going to play out long before the novice. You are trapped, you’ve been tricked, and you don’t have much choice but to take your beating and hope it is not too severe.
Life can slip sideways into hell faster than you can blink your eye. An archetypal pattern gets triggered and all of the sudden you get to play the victim in a sadistic drama that plods inexorably to its devilish end. Perhaps it’s the dawning awareness that the person you are engaged to marry doesn’t have a conscience, that your angry spouse is going to punish you in divorce and afterwards, that you have contracted a potentially deadly hospital infection. Or maybe it’s the evil you knew was there but tried to ignore, like an addiction to gambling, drugs, pornography, etc. that has dug its claws into you deeply, won’t let go, and is pulling you under.
This description of evil is blunt and perhaps discomforting to read. Nonetheless, those who have done battle with this side of reality can attest to its accuracy. I describe evil in anthropomorphic terms, as if it has a consciousness and personality of its own. I believe this perspective is legitimate. Not only is evil often portrayed as a conscious being in literature and movies, it is also depicted as such in our dreams through figures such as the devil or demons. In addition, individuals who have become possessed by evil, or who have made a conscious choice to serve evil, behave in these very ways.
The movements of evil in the world are not blind, probabilistic, or random. Rather, evil seems to be exceedingly clever, calculating, organized and coordinated in the pursuit of its goals. The cunning and complexity of archetypal evil strongly suggests a force with its own personality structure and form of consciousness. In fact, encounters with evil may cause you to wonder, as did religious philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev, whether the powers of darkness are not smarter than the powers of light.
1. Berdyaev, Nicolas, Dream and Reality: An Essay in Autobiography. London: Geoffrey Bless, 1950