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Is evil a thing of the past?

There is no doubt that evil continues to exist in and around us.

There is no doubt that evil continues to exist in and around us.

Fresh in our mind is the savage terrorist attack in Barcelona. Similar strikes have targeted defenceless members of the public in Nice, London, Berlin and Stockholm.

Recently, in Charlottesville, Virginia, US, a white supremacist rammed a car into anti-racist demonstrators, killing a young woman. This was rightly condemned by Senator Cory Gardner as “a reprehensible display of racism and hatred”.

The list of inhuman, unethical actions is endless: racism, injustices, drug-pushing, organ-trading, and so forth. Then there are immoral offences against the sacredness of creation: they harm the environment, our ‘common home’. Most of all perhaps, we loathe transgressions against the holiness of human life: these include abortion, wanton terrorism, sexual abuse of children, violence on women, child prostitution, war crimes, and so on.

It is especially grating when religious zeal is invoked to justify sheer cruelty and wanton destruction of life.

Is it sufficient to condemn such actions as anti-social, unethical and/or criminal, or should we go further and call them evil?

In general, in secularised Europe, public discourse tends to keep clear of the term ‘evil’, even when condemning negative, inhuman actions. The term is probably perceived as having religious overtones, being therefore avoided.

Evil gets a foothold when good people say nothing… it is important to speak and act together

In the US, by contrast, the term ‘evil’ is sometimes used. Regarding the Charlottesville killing, Senator Gardner said: “We must call evil by its name”. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Bishops’ Conference, condemned the violence and hatred involved as a “massive evil thing”. He added that “evil gets a foothold when good people say nothing… it is important to speak and act together”, while praying for unity and peace.

Moral evil inflicted on others is rooted in sin, which Pope John-Paul II designated as “the mystery of iniquity”. For Pope Wojtyla, we need here to seek the aid of Revelation and the Holy Spirit. “It is not possible to grasp the evil of sin in all its sad reality without searching the depths of God” (Dominum et Vivificantem, 1986, nr 39).

Christian Revelation shows that the Trinitarian God abhors sin and evil so much that – moved by love – He decided to act. The divine Son took flesh, died for us on the Cross of shame, and then rose again in His glory. He overcame sin, thereby saving us from being enslaved to evil. He calls all to collaborate in a grand venture to overcome evil and build instead God’s kingdom of mercy, truth, justice and peace.

God tolerates evil because He respects human freedom, but He is omnipotent and can draw good out of evil. He did this especially in Jesus, unjustly condemned for our sins but raised up, offering life and hope.

Clearly we must be judicious in what we choose to designate as ‘evil’ and avoid facile accusations addressed at others at the slightest pretext.

Yet there is no doubt that evil continues to exist in and around us. Jesus taught us to pray: “…deliver us from evil”.

It is harmful and ostrich-like to consign the issue of evil to silence, treating it as a relic of the past, going into spiritual denial. It is far more life-giving to place evil in the context of the ongoing struggle of Christ and humanity against all forms of sin and its destructive evil expressions.

Christian hope fills our hearts. Even if at times we or our brethren are burdened by evil, Christ has and will overcome.

Fr Robert Soler is a member of the Society of Jesus.

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