Sympathy for the Devil
I am finishing my paper on Milton’s Satan and Lewis’ Jadis. For the last few months I have immersed myself in the study of evil and free will. I have researched different opinions and criticisms. And I have been able to form some assumptions about what evil is and what it means to have a free will.
First of all, free will is a distinctly human ability because it is based on reason and the ability to judge between what is right and what is wrong. Humans have the ability to choose to do the right thing by rejecting the wrong thing. Evil is a state of being defined by a separation from the good and moral. The further one gets from the light, the more in the dark they find themselves. However, evil as a state of being in the world is one that then corrupts one’s ability to choose for the good, since the one living in evil can no longer recognize what is good….or, they simply do not care. In my paper, I used the “addict” as an example.
People begin to take heroin knowing that it is illegal and that it is addictive. When they become addicts, it is as a direct result of using the heroin they knew was illegal and addictive. Of their own free will they took the heroin, and of their own free will they rejected the good (not breaking the law and not taking an addictive substance), and chose the wrong. Therefore, that people become heroin addicts is the by-product of heroin use, and now the state in which these person must live. There is no choice about becoming addicted to heroin with continued use. It is the definitive outcome of using this drug.
As an addict, the free will of this person is now corrupted by his/her slavery to his/her addiction. The decisions he/she makes, how they spend their money, how they continue in their relationships will be decided by the state of addiction in which they now live. Addicts have no choice if they want to avoid the horrors of withdrawal. So, they will spend all their money, take the food from their children’s mouths, steal from their grandmothers, rob liquor stores, and basically do anything they can think of to feed their need. As a result of their inability to choose against their addicted state, they begin to slowly lose their grip on their lives. They lose their jobs, their health, their family, their friends, and everything of value that they own. They end up in an alley somewhere, or selling their bodies, or sharing needles…the degradation goes on and on. And the memory of their past life? Does it weigh on them? Probably. Can they do anything about it? No. Except one thing–they can stop taking heroin. However, for those addicts that go into treatment, half quit within the first few days. Of the other half, only a small percent make it to the end. I just read an article that claims only 3-10% of heroin addicts get clean and STAY clean. Over 90% return to drug use. There is a reason for this.
Firstly, let’s address the obvious: the pain of withdrawal is intense. Some addicts even die during withdrawal. Secondly, the other elephant in this “room” speaks to those people who self medicate to relieve some inner pain. For these people in pain, they probably feel that their free will left them long before they saw heroin for the first time, so I am not talking about those damaged people. I am talking about the other percentage–the percentage that take heroin because they think it’s fun, because they like to get high, and because they don’t think addiction can happen to them. Those people who think they can stop at any time, and for some reason, don’t believe the rules of heroin apply to them.
The bottom line is this: drugs ARE fun. They really are, and it’s foolish and narrow to try to believe otherwise. At a party, having a few drinks, getting a good buzz going with a harmless “taste” of something…. And the next day, sobering up, and getting back to life as usual. It happens all the time. And I know, because I used to be 21 once also. It’s easy to get drawn in, to try it “just once”, to feel a sense of belonging with peers who are also trying it. If drugs weren’t fun, no one would try them a second time. Drugs are fun, and the high feels good. Plain and simple. Therefore, as addiction is the by-product of drug use, so evil is the by-product of rejecting the right and choosing the wrong. Once a person has descended into an evil state, that person’s choices become contaminated by that evil. Essentially, evil destroys free will.
Evil is not a disease. Evil is not a specific action. Evil is not perpetrated by the insane. Evil is the sometimes by-product of free will. Because free will is the act of a rational person who knows right from wrong, people who are mentally ill are not capable of actions that propel them into an evil state. Evil is not an action, because evil is the result of actions–not the actions themselves. For instance, murder is an action. The outcome of that action is wrongful death. The consequence of that action is prison for the one who committed the act. So then, all things being equal, the result for the act of murder is prison. Evil is not a disease, because a disease can infect someone against their will. If there is no will, there is no evil.
Now that is not to say that bad things do not happen to good people. That is not to say that a peaceful person cannot be driven to do an immoral thing. That is where “intent” comes into it. What was the intention behind the wrong act? If a man is a victim of a violent criminal, and in defending himself or someone he loves, kills the criminal, has he done an immoral thing? Will he end in a state of evil because of the life he has taken? No. because the intent is self preservation, not murder. To preserve one’s self or defend the life of one’s family/loved ones is a moral act. By this logic, soldiers who kill in battle are not considered murderers, even though they have taken a human life. Usually, good people who commit such acts are often traumatized by their actions. This is where remorse comes in.
True remorse is sorrow for one’s actions, no matter the intent. Soldiers who kill on the battlefield often suffer from PTSD. People who have killed in self-defense abhor the act of killing, although they are glad to be alive. This strange dichotomy often haunts them for years, sometimes the rest of their lives. People who live in a state of evil rarely feel remorse, other than the remorse for being caught, and their intent is always clear–to murder. The murderer who plans to kill, and then commits the act of killing, intends to kill, and only feels sorry if he is caught.
The problem with people who live in a state of evil, is that their thinking is changed. They don’t reason the same way as before. Basically, evil infects their worldview, and suddenly that which is moral seems flawed or meaningless. Atilla the Hun thought mercy was a weakness. And here’s the thing with old Atilla: he drove his men across the known world, killing and raping and pillaging and looting and burning. He enjoyed horror, pain and torture. But the Hun hoard is interesting in its complete lack of footprint, other than the mayhem left in its wake. In fact, the Huns never built anything, or made any contribution to the world, they never taught any wisdom or philosophy other than death. They did absolutely nothing whatsoever to advance human civilization. Therefore, Atilla’s life was fraught with utter meaningless. It was empty and futile. It left nothing of value behind. Atilla the Hun lived in a state of evil and this evil dictated his actions. These actions seemed good and reasonable to him, but now, the proof is in the pudding. Atilla wanted power, wealth, and to dominate. He wanted nothing of true intangible value, because those things, the things that build a solid society, must be those things that bring health to that society, such as rule of law, ethical laws and courts, and a system of social morality. How can one reason social morality with a man like Atilla who thought such things were meaningless or foolish? Therefore, if a man like Atilla attacked your neighborhood, he would want to rape your wife or daughters, take from you any shiny thing that appealed to him, and if you stood in his way, he would kill you. If you tried to reason with him, he would kill you. If you asked him why, he would say “because you are weak and I am strong” and then he would kill you. Atilla was a bad man who did bad things because he lived in a state of evil.
We live in a world that is battling the pervasive spread of evil. The dead young soldier in Ottawa and his fatherless son are victims of an evil state that is threatening moral people. One can be touched by evil, and feel its effects, without actually living in that state. Being touched by it is never a good thing, because everything evil touches dies in some way. Can it be reasoned with? No. Evil does not reason. It only wants what it wants, no matter the cost. Its mind is already made up and cannot be swayed. Evil’s specialty is the one-sided, deceitful bargain. And lies. Lots of lies.
And so I leave my study of evil behind, a little wiser, and a little more wary. And aware–painfully. The most important lesson I learned from Milton, and I think always knew, is that evil is not sexy, but it is attractive. And sympathy for the devil is unwise.