I do not understand evil separately from the culture I live in and from my religion. Also, I closely associate evil with the appalling and wicked events that are labelled as “evil” in my society. Evil is a much stronger word than bad. I believe it has a far more specific meaning that derives from our culture, religion, and socio-political realities. The meaning of evil can be best understood through comparison of evil with bad, a weaker and a more general word.
My understanding of evil is inseparable from the culture that I’ve embraced since childhood. The word “evil” belonged to the world of fairy tales, above all, when I was a child. In those that mom told me before I went to bed, the evil characters were Big Bad Wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Three Little Pigs” (the character provided me with understanding of evil as cunning, victimizing, and aiming to kill) and Stepmother and two Stepdaughters in “Cinderella” (those characters provided me with understanding evil as immoral and jealous). Also, there were a lot of evil characters in the cartoons that I watched as a child. Owing to Ursula the Sea Witch, who not only stole Ariel’s voice but also wanted to steal her true love, I came to associate evil with immoral, cunning, and wicked behaviour. Plus, this part octopus, part human, and part pure evil character brought a clear association of evil with cosmic evil, witches, and destructive black magic. Another character that shared the same, evil characteristic was Maleficent, a half witch and half dragon, who put Aurora to death by spindle needle because she was not invited to her christening. Through those characters, the concept of evil came as the opposition to those of the light, angels, and good, etc. Another aspect of evil cams to the light as I contemplated on another sinister character Cruella de Vil, who would skin puppies for fur. I realised that evil is related to inhumane cruelty and deliberate, sadistic bad.
In many ways, the understanding of evil I soaked from the exposure to the culture since earliest years echoed the one that I took from the Christian religion. Since religion is an inseparable part of my life and since it pays a lot of attention to differentiating between what is evil and what is good, I expanded my understanding of the evil with I insights from the Christian religion. Now the concept of evil got shaped in my thoughts as that opposes the eternal, absolute Good, Our God. It came to be associated with Satan, Hell, the serpent that seduced Adam and Eve, and, finally, with Anti-Christ. Again, evil was associated with wickedness, harm, cunningness, destruction, and, among other things, with sin. It was juxtaposed with Jesus Christ, Paradise, Christian virtues, Angels, and other representations and embodiments of the good and God-serving, heavenly cosmic creatures. This is how evil shaped in my view both as a matter of morality and a matter of wickedness. What’s more, because Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise and destined to experience pain and death, evil also came to mean these two things to me. This is how the two dimensions of my life – the culture and religion – shaped my understanding of evil in a complementary manner.
The understanding of evil derived from my socio-political experiences is the one associated with appalling, bloody, and destructive acts such as war and terrorism. If to consider war, its horrors are first of all rooted in the death of multiple people, many of whom are our acquaintances or family members. Here the theme of death again arises as the one that is inseparable from evil. Essentially, this death is unnatural, it contradicts the laws of Nature and the principle of peaceful co-existence among the humanity. The evil is once again associated with destruction and deliberate murder of the humans by the representatives of their own species, and even, oftentimes, their own kin. Terrorism, likewise, is a fruit of the evil because it brings death to innocent people, results in physical destruction, pain, and suffering of non-military populations, and contradicts all known norms of war making of international law. The society labels wars and terrorist attacks “evil” because they result in mass deaths and are deliberate, planned wicked actions. These evil actions are also associated not just with individuals’ deaths but also with the destruction of their property and even of the whole states. I believe this socio-political understanding of evil is closely intertwined with the previous two, since it is based on the same associations, virtues, and Christian roots.
Finally, evil contrasts with bad. I think that bad is a more general word which does not necessarily need to have a meaning of deliberate wickedness, cunningness, immorality, and cruelty. Bad is more about the inferior quality of things or something that is poorly done. Bad can, in addition, mean that something is incorrect or inaccurate. For example, if I think of weather, I may call it bad, but it would be absurd to call it evil. On the other hand, bad is a word that can be used to describe all bad things, including evil ones. In this way, I perceive bad as a more general, universal word than evil.
In summary, my understanding of evil as some deliberate wickedness, cunningness, cruelty, suffering, pain, and death is rooted in my cultural, religious, and socio-political experiences. Evil evolves as a much stronger, much more negative and car more wicked word than bad. It, hence, should be used with caution.
- Electferiou-Ernst, D. (2011). Fairy-tale bad guys. Retrieved from www.onestopenglish.com.
- Fenchel, G. H. (2013). Good and Evil. Issues in Psychoanalytic Psychology, 35(1), 78-87.
- Martinez, B. (2013). Is Evil Good for Religion? The Link between Supernatural Evil and Religious Commitment. Review of Religious Research, 55 (2), 319-338.