Deliver Us from Evil

The most beautiful syllogisms, I think, are those employed by those old Christian Platonists to explain the existence of evil in the world. From Augustine to Boethius, and on, they argued away the Force of Evil, and so dealt a death blow to a major argument against their notion of God as the Supreme Good. How could evil exist as an independent and vital force in the world if God was omnipotent and good? Didn’t the Manichees, against whom Augustine argued, have a point, that evil was coextensive with, and the equal in potentcy of God? Wasn’t the universe the scene of battle between these two equal and opposing forces? How else to explain the existence of suffering, misery, treachery, and all things sordid and bad in a world created by the Good? Nope, not at all! Evil, we are told, does not exist, because it is simply a supreme lack of goodness; it has no being.

Things are insofar as they are good, or partake of the good. Things are, to the degree to which they partake of their essence. Consider a chair: A good chair does just what a chair should, supports your weight comfortably while you sit. A very good chair might be beautiful to look at too. (Some people would say that a beautiful thing is one that is what its essence is, that is, one that partakes of its essence. Thus, beauty is objective, and certainly not in the eye of the beholder, a notion that Voltaire satirized in his Philosphical Dictionary.) A bad chair is one that fulfills these functions poorly: it is ugly, uncomfortable, rickety, and falls apart soon. So, we might say, the good chair is more of a chair than the bad one, or partakes of chair-ness more than the bad. The good chair meets or fulfills our notion of what a chair is more completely than the bad one, and is, therefore, more of a chair. We all talk this way all the time. A fine fellow is a real man; a jerk is less of a man.

It’s not hard to see where this line of reasoning is going: We in society have a notion of good and bad, and we have notions of the Good, at least for specific categories, such as chairs, steaks, or automobiles. (Nevermind that our notions about these specific goods might be totally at odds with each other – that’s a different problem!) When we consider the moral realm, the realm within which we judge of good and evil, we see that those actions that we call evil are those which are in conflict with our notion of the good. The Good, we might say, consists partly in having compassion for others, so those who lay about them with selfishness and contempt are bad, bad people, not under the force of Evil, but who have fallen away, so to speak, from the Good. (Of course, we assume that Good sets the standard, the path, from which one strays. We could imagine an alternative universe where the Bad is the standard and Satan is the supreme ruler.) God and his Supreme Good remain triumphant in their fullness of Being, containing as they do the ultimate nature of all Good, and evil is simply the non-attainment, to one degree or another, of Good. It’s a continuum, from Evil, the supreme non-being and negativity, to supreme Is-ness, total being and goodness. It’s a great idea, and it appealed to people very deeply for a very long time.

Of course, there is a concrete reason for associating goodness with being, that is, existence. Things exist by virtue of having qualities, things that are described. Insofar as things have qualities, they are. What is there to say about a nullity? What can be described or said? And the better a thing is, the more qualities it is likely to have. Advertisers understand this, perceptive philosophers that they are. They describe everything in terms of its new and many featured functionality to convince us that theirs is the best car, the best radio, the most good computer. Isn’t more better? So, if more is better, if things are by virtue of their qualities, and if good things are those that are most like their essence, then those that are good at being what they are, have more being. Simple.

So fear thee not evil, it has no power. Seek the good and true, secure in the knowledge that evil is ignorance and error. And know that even in error there is truth, for error is merely a less correct apperception of what is than is the truth, that is, it is a falling away from the true and the good, not a statement of something else. Everything is good, but some stuff is less good, i.e. more bad, than others. We are on a great ascending scale: seek to raise yourself towards the Fullness of Being by cleaving to the truth. We walk about this world surrounded by objects that are like red hot embers sizzling in the white snow, their heat fanned to glowing by the breath of Being. Watch your step.

The universe encompasses all that has being and all that is not. It is the sum total of all truth and of all error. Nothing can be uttered that is out of this world. The nature of any thing is its history, the description of what it is and has been, in its progression through time and space; a recitation of its qualities as it moves towards or away from what it is, in essence. Nullity and being are the two faces of the universe, so why worry about whence came the world? It has always been here. Before the Big Bang, there was, perhaps, the Big Nothing, and it too was the World.

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One Response to Deliver Us from Evil

  1. livingoutsidetime says:

    stimulating and engaging post..notions of good and evil are not as useful i find as notions of health and sickness…

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