Something Wicked…

I have been re-reading St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and their definitions of what “evil” is.

It seems odd to me that I must determine what is evil in a world that seems to be so often evil everywhere I look. To me, I always considered evil to be bad or immoral acts on the part of human beings. But there seems to be so much more to it than that. Because, simply, what is bad or immoral? To me, giving a child of 6 years old into marriage with a 30-year-old man seems bad and immoral, surely an evil act. Yet in some cultures, this is a common tradition. To them, it is good. So, is there truly an evil that is universal? So I thought on it for a long time.

However, Thomas Aquinas has put it into terms I can understand through different eyes. I see evil as the act, but Aquinas explains evil as a non-existent essence–an element that cannot be a cause or a final end. It is a state, not any one thing. All human beings, according to Aquinas, have a knowledge of good and seek to obtain goodness. However, when they reject the good and willingly choose a direction that “veers away” from goodness, they find themselves “in” evil. It can be explained this way:

A man knows whether or not he can swim, and all human beings on earth are familiar with water. Therefore, if this rational man stands beside a deep pool of water, if he cannot swim, he knows not to jump into the water. But if he does so as a willing choice, he does not become the pool. Rather, he is engulfed by the pool. Also, if he is engulfed by the pool and begins to drown because he cannot swim, then he cannot blame anyone for drowning but himself.

Aquinas says that rational human beings as moral agents of free will are fully able to become “engulfed” in evil of their own free will. This is why people who are mentally impaired in some way cannot be considered moral agents because they are not rational. I suppose children can be placed in this category also. So while mentally impaired people can commit bad acts, they do not end in a state of evil–they are unaware. People who are insane and commit crimes are found not guilty by reason of insanity. Evil, strangely enough, to be truly evil, can only be attained by people of rational minds who have made a willing choice to reject the moral choice in favor of the immoral choice, and this with intent. If Aquinas is right, then the term “criminally insane” is an oxymoron.

So back to the idea of a universal evil…there is no such “thing” because the nature of evil is that it is not a “thing” at all. It’s not an action. For instance, to shoot a person and cause their death is murder. And immoral. Therefore evil, right? But what if the shooter is a soldier or a police officer acting within the parameters of their duty? So shooting itself cannot be considered evil. And for that matter, neither can the act of killing another person. It all depends on the intent of the shooter. If a police officer returns fire, shooting and killing a criminal, it is not the same as some guy shooting his neighbor for stealing his lawn mower. It’s complicated. But what I have gleaned this far is that there cannot be any act that results in a state of evil without the direction of reason, free will, and the intent to do the act. Evil can only be reached by sane persons with their eyes wide open.

I am researching free will and evil in order to better understand Milton and Lewis’ characters in “Paradise Lost” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”. And because I want to see how these elements of free will and evil are applied within their story worlds. In the end, I will be seeing if the characters of Satan and Jadis parallel. Then I will be able to decide if Jadis is an allegory of Satan.

Leaving Dystopian Futures and Entering the Realm of Evil

Having successfully completed my paper on Dystopian Futures, I will move my focus now to Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, and the novels “The Magician’s Nephew” and “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”, by CS Lewis. In this paper, I will compare and contrast the character of Satan in Milton and the character of Jadis/White Witch in CS Lewis.

I will look at Jadis in order to discover whether or not she is a fitting allegory of the Milton Satan model within CS Lewis’ enchanted Narnia world. To do this, I will first ask several questions:
1. Is Jadis a free will agent?
2. Is Jadis responsible for her choices, or do things in her world compel her beyond her ability to freely choose? That is to say, do circumstances of “natural” evil force her into situations where she is robbed of free choice?
3. Is Jadis Evil?

Before I begin with Milton and Lewis, however, I will discuss the idea of Free Will and the notion of Evil. For the purposes of this paper, I will concede to their existence, and will define them in line with their applications in the literature.

I have read the primary selections now. I understand, having read Milton back to back, why his epic poem is a literary classic. I find it flawed, arrogant, sexist, and somewhat maudlin. That said, Milton was a man of his time, and during his life was an out-spoken and forward-thinking scholar on many issues. In his time, women were largely considered lowly, stupid, and the reason for the original ills of the world. There is no telling how his views would evolve if he lived today, but Milton was an academic genius, and I have faith in academic genius. Therefore, I can forgive him. “Paradise Lost” is also revelatory, elegant, wise, and provocative. It speaks directly to human identity and greatness in the face of wrong and weakness. It is mostly a tale of survival and self-analysis. That it can be both arrogant and humble, maudlin and gravely sensitive, is part of its paradoxical depth. “Paradise Lost” is peeled back like an onion to reveal to the reader the enormity of the world, and that she/he has an irreplaceable role to play in it.

CS Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” is, as always, a true delight. An absolute classic, with all the elements of a great epic: Heroes, heroines, magic, witches, centaurs, tree spirits, great evil, ultimate good, sacrifice, dynamic dialogue, enormous battles, and a really BIG lion. I have loved Narnia since I was a child, sitting cross-legged in front of my teacher’s chair, absolutely engaged, as he read the series to us. As a mom, I bought the series for my son. Now, as a student, I am privileged to return to Narnia and analyze its allegories.

In addition to the primary readings, I have now completed several secondary readings. I have read St Augustine’s “Confessions”, Dante’s “Inferno”, Marlowe’s “Dr Faustus”, “The Screwtape Letters” and “A Preface to Paradise Lost” by CS Lewis, and currently, I am reading Alvin Plantinga’s “God, Freedom, and Evil.” All I can say about Plantinga’s book is “Wow!” This book is a discussion on “Natural Atheology” and “Natural Theology”. In it, he discusses Free Will and Evil, and the distinct problems of logic the “existence” of these elements present. Rather than responding with theodicies, he presents propositions and argues them using only the rules of logic. Thus, his arguments are almost impenetrable–at least, they are impenetrable for me. I tried to argue with him as I read, and was stymied at every turn. He is a brilliant thinker and writer, his philosophy is sound, and I highly recommend this reading to anyone who has an interest in the purely academic side of theology.

The reason I have been reading Plantinga is to gain further insight into “Evil” and “Free Will”. For this same reason, I read Augustine. I am beginning to understand these elements in different ways now.

For Augustine, evil exists in “distance” from good, and this distance by human choice. For Augustine, the ultimate good is God, and He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal, and immutable. Augustine states that God is in all things because He occupies all corners of “Creation” (the Universe). Therefore, since God is everywhere and in all things, and because He cannot abide Evil, then evil must be a great “nothing”, because where can it occupy space if God–who hates Evil–is in all spaces? It is in this state of “nothingness”, this complete separation from God, where ultimate Evil abides. People, who are free willed agents, are able to choose to be close to God and “Somethingness” by living according to His guidelines, or by “sinning”, and in such, becoming removed from God–away from Goodness and in the direction of Nothingness. I still need to study my notes, but this is his over-all thesis…I believe.

As for Plantinga, he makes an argument for the existence of evil as the necessarily existing element that makes perfect good possible. In order to be a moral agent, one must have the capability to choose what is immoral, yet choose against it. To make the choice possible, an immoral selection must exist in order to be resisted by the moral agent. This leads to a discussion on Free Will, and “Natural” versus “Moral” evil. They effect each other.

Here is a case of “natural” evil and its effect on free will:

1.) John is a licensed driver in his car. The car has good tires and is in excellent working order. John is driving home from work at 5:30 pm on a cold winter’s day. It is dark outside and wind is blowing snow across the road and obscuring the center line. John has chosen to drive home, in spite of the weather, because his family is celebrating his daughter’s 16th birthday with a dinner party. There will be friends and family present, and his family will be disappointed if he is not there. Therefore, on the drive home, he stays strictly to the speed limit. There is no moral dilemma in John’s choices thus far. On a curve in the road, John hits a patch of black ice. He slides across the road, the car out of his control, and careens into a tree. He is severely injured and his car is a wreck. In addition, he misses his daughter’s party. Even though John made no immoral choice, he encountered an “evil” that exists naturally in nature and caused John’s harm.

2.) John is a licensed driver with a car in excellent working condition. Number 2 will match number 1 in all instances except one: John errs on the side of caution in consideration of the inclement weather. Instead of going the speed limit of 80 km/hr, he chooses to slow down to a super-cautious 50 km/hr. There is no moral difficulty in his choice to slow his velocity. However, on the curve in the road, John hits the black ice, and swerves out of control. He still runs off the road, but lacks the momentum to slam with injurious force into the tree. However, he cannot get his car out of the ditch, and must wait for a tow truck. He misses his daughter’s party. John made a “good” choice to slow down in order to arrive home in time to join his daughter’s birthday celebration. His choice can be seen as a moral one, since its objective was to obtain good. Yet, in spite of John’s free will moral choice, the existence of natural evil led to harm that interfered with John’s intention.

3.) John is a licensed driver with a car in excellent working condition. Number 3 will match number 1 in all instances except one: John is worried that he will be late for his daughter’s party, and so exceeds the speed limit. He hits the patch of ice, swerves off the road and piles into the tree where he is injured and unable to make his daughter’s party. John, as a licensed driver knows that the rules of the road state that one must obey the speed limit. That John chose to exceed the speed limit is an infraction of the laws and a free will “immoral” choice. However, whether or not he made the choice to speed up, stay within the speed limit, or slow down, the natural evil still exists, and leads to his harm. Perhaps his degree of harm caused by the naturally existing evil is more intense because of his immoral choice, but no matter what he chooses, he will still encounter the natural evil that will harm him, and interfere with his intent.

Natural evil, then, is an act of nature that leads to harm and supersedes choice. Storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, etc, are those naturally occurring events that have a negative effect on all people, no matter whether they are good or bad. Basically, the rain falls on everyone equally. Therefore, in the face of natural evil, there are no free willed agents, or rather, free willed agents have no choice–or their choices are irrelevant. Plantinga is not discussing natural evil therefore, but “Moral” evil.

“Moral” evil occurs when an individual of free will and with full consent and understanding makes a choice that leads to harm against either him/herself, others, or both. “Moral” evil also involves choosing “against” the moral choice in favor of the immoral choice. A bank robber chooses to plan and execute robbing a bank for money he/she is not entitled to, rather than working hard to earn an honest paycheque he/she is entitled to. During the course of the robbery, a security guard is shot and killed. The bank robber chose to shoot, rather than give up on the robbery attempt by running away. Moral evil requires the immoral choice of a moral agent and that choice must contrast with the moral alternative (that must exist) in order to be identified as immoral. Whereas Augustine regards evil as a “distance”, Plantinga argues evil as a “choice”.

I will discuss Plantinga’s arguments further in my next blog, because after Plantinga, I will be looking at Thomas Aquinas.

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