Monday 1 October 2007

End and Means- The Curious Blend of Good and Evil

Well, twenty of you are being won by Inner Monkey.
Worryingly, the Reptile has four of you...

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Or so the saying goes.

And it is true. It isn't a platitude. It IS something we really need to get to grips with, not just in the world at large, but in understanding ourselves.

The problem seems to be, that Good and Evil don't appear to us in black and white.
We can't see the difference easily.
It's easy to judge others when we see outcomes, but we don't always know motivations.

For example, I always get a little disconcerted reading about the Nuremburg trials. Some of these guys perpetrated some of the greatest evils of our time- or were silent accomplices to them- but some, were to my mind anyway, Good men with Good intentions, at least to begin with. When did they realise they had crossed the line?
Did they ever realise?

It is disconcerting. Good men with Good intentions can equal Evil.
And then of course, we find ourselves confronted with the reverse.

Sometimes, Evil men with Evil intentions cause Good.

How can this be?

It's what I call the John XII Paradox.
As a Catholic, I have to have faith that the Church- my Church- is, and always has been serving the purpose of perpetuating the teachings of Christ.
That, like any institution, some of those serving in it, are Evil.

But the overall thrust is Good.
I do believe that the world is a better place for the existence of the Catholic Church.
I don't particularly ask YOU to take that as proven, but I think its overall contribution to the world, has been for Good.

But if you are to be devout- but honest- it has to be accepted, that several of those selected by Christ to be his Vicar on Earth, were not Good people.

John XII being a good example. It's a safe bet that if there is a Hell, it contains John XII.
So why would Christ CHOOSE this man, to lead the faithful?
Or Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope?

One is left with only one sensible answer.
That somehow, it served Christ's Church, and the Universe as a whole, for the Church to be led by an Evil man.
That through it, greater good would come.

And if Good came out of the Holy Roman Empire- something that accidently emerged from the machinations of this Pope, then maybe that was God's purpose.

But the paradox there is- If John XII had been a Good man, and a Good Pope...
The world would have been a WORSE place, in the long run.

This is the only way I can reconcile myself to things like the Inquisition.
The Conquistadors, I have less of a problem with, when I look at Montezuma's temples full of hundreds of still beating human hearts.

But if we accept all this, then we have to accept the startling consequences that for some of us, our successes are denied, because they would make the world as a whole worse.

And more sinisterly, there MUST be some people, who if they won their own battle with Good and Evil, would make the world a worse place, than if they lost it.

Good and Evil are intertwined in ways the complexity of which is hard to fathom.
Each one of us is such a blend.

And each one of us faces most of our choices blind.
If they were that clear, with Good white, and Evil black, I'm not sure everyone would go for Good, but at least people would know where they were going.

Because as it is, Good intentions by Good men, are not enough for Good to win.
Good men need to know exactly which blend of Evil they need to use to acheive Good.
Because the wrong blend really will lead to Evil.

But none at all, will also lead to Evil.

Because Evil doesn't JUST entice us with the things we know can corrupt.
Wealth. Power. Sex. Drugs.

Sometimes, it can entice with wholesome things too.
Loved ones. Family. Children. Happiness

And sometimes, the road to true Good may REALLY mean, that we have to make the hardest choices of all. Maybe surrender any chance we have ourselves to be happy.

Could you make that choice?

Prosper for Evil or Suffer for Good.

Have your say!


Anonymous said...

You are taking a very utilitarian view of good and evil, that is, that the goodness or evil of an act can be measured by the goodness or evil of its consequences. The way out of your dilemma is to postulate good and evil as inherent in the act itself, independent of its consequences. After all, consequences unfold in unexpected and often impossible to determine ways. You cannot say that the behaviour of the conquistadors was not evil simply because it resulted in fewer deaths than letting the preexisting culture continue. Firstly because you can't know that (over the course of history how many people have suffered as a result of that invasion) and secondly because the act of killing another human being for personal gain (which is what they were up to) is evil regardless of any momentary positive consequences.
The goodness or evil (if such things exist) of an act consist in that acts integrity to an ideal, not its unpredictable consequences. Which, of course, makes hypocrisy the only sin like the hypocrisy of the conquistadors doing what they did in the name of their God.

Anonymous said...

You are right, goodness and evil are two sides of the same coin. Depending on our circumstances, we tend to lean towards one or the other. We have to walk on the razor's edge to maintain a balance of the life force within us and that with which we forced to contend with.

Btw, congrats on your top 500 UK blog accolades.

Anonymous said...

Crushed, according to Christian tradition (and that is the tradition we are talking about here), the original sin was not sex as everyone fancies it to be, it was defying God's will and indulging fruit that led to the perceived knowledge of Good and Evil. It is merely one of those other facets of the universe, whose good or whose evil are you considering? And what hubris possesses man to assume that power of judgement? Ultimately the power and knowlege to authoritatively identify good and/or evil is not for man to decide.
However, no, I don't believe in moral relativity. There are patent directions for behavior that thousands of years of civilization have codified into "norms"--predictable patterns of behavior that allow us to live in relative harmony with one another.
We can only learn from the past, not subjectify past atrocities.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot in this post to respond to... but what caught me at the beginning is the part about not knowing people's intentions. We can be so very simplistic in characterising bad things as only done by bad people... which gives us no sense of preparation when we become faced with them in a different shade of grey.

Anonymous said...

What is Good ?

What is Evil ?

Medicine is Good ... or IS it ???

It has increased populations and life expectancy - this is not Good for the environment. I just cite this as an example.

But let's stick to the idea that Good is about being good and fair to people. In that case the breakaway sects from the Catholic church were Good - the Lutherian revolt and Protestantism enabled Western progress and is part of the reason why Britain excelled in the scientific revolutions. Had Catholicism had its way we wouldn't have advanced anymore than Islam has. The Catholic church has only just deigned to 'forgive' Galileo for daring to state that the Earth orbits the Sun. And it is the Catholic church which eschews birth control for its own hegmonic ends and perpetuates misery in the 3rd world.

In truth I feel that religion was a necessary part of human evolution which has had its day. It has not withstood advances in knowledge - God has not been found at either the microscopic OR macroscopic level, only more excuses and narrower gaps for the Deity to escape through out of sight.

A test of faith ? The ultimate cop-out more like.

Anonymous said...

An interesting post, crushed. There are those who would argue that the war in Iraq was good because it freed a country from a dictator. Good and evil are, to a large extent, variable depending on your viewpoint. Then again most people would agree that child abuse is evil.

It's a huge topic. Well done for raising it and allowing us to begin to consider it.

Anonymous said...

Such deep thoughts for such a young man is what I always come away with after reading yuor posts. I have no idea why some people are evil other than to think that they do not see themselves as evil. Like the Cambodian guy Polpot or what ever his name was. His reign of terror has got to be one of the worst in history. Yet, the people who worked under him were equally as evil. But, did they think it was alright to do the things they did? What about people who abuse the elderly or children. Animal abusers or even the people who race animals.Do they think this is acceptable? Who knows the evil that lurks within the hearts of men? Luckily, and I do believe this to be a true statement, good outweighs evil,always!

Anonymous said...

I am the embodiment of pure good! Do you think I should start my own church - with me as God??

Anonymous said...

Paul- I think you have to be ultilitarian, because of the way the world is.

Dresden, Cologne, Hiroshima.
Al evil acts. But was there really an alternative?

Similarly, look at many national freedom movements.
Irish freedom was partly won by a deliberate campaign of assasination attempts of police and intelligence officers- often whilst at home with their families.
Do I regard the orchestrator of that, Michael Collins as a hero?

Well, Yes. I just don't think Irish freedom would have happened otherwise.

Sometimes that's the paradox. Choosing 'Good' can be the easy option, because it is a false good.
The true good may indeed involve getting your hands dirty.

Alexys- Sometimes it is impossible to truly tell them apart- we can be misled.
I often think of Lucius Jenius Brutus. His son betrayed Rome, and was judged by his father, in his capacity as Judge.

Now it might seem the most horrific thing in the world, to order the death of your son.
But the Romans rightly realised the true height of his virtue in so doing.

As for the ranking, I must admit I am a little flattered. I don't think I'm actually that political.

Helen- To me, good and Evil are real.

Good is what improves the lot of humanity, Bad is what reduces it.

Good takes us forward as a whole, Bad takes us back.

Helping a few, could harm the many.
And vice versa.

I think a certain amount of moral relativism is necessary, because morals are in place to hold society together, and social dynamics change.

Princess P- To me, a case in point is the Twin Tower bombers.
It's hard for us to realise, that they sincerely believed they were striking right at Satan's underbelly.
I don't think many of us would agree they were right, but does it make them Good or Evil?

Does God judge the results, or the thoughts behind them?

E-K- Hmmm. I'm not entirely sure I can agree with you here, actually.

Luther was a very ignorant fanatic- he banned the teachings of Aristotle and Plato. One of his gripes with the Church was it's 'corruption' by 'pagan' thought.

The bright awakening of the rennaisance was ended by an ideological war, with each side bidding to be the MOST ignorant, because neither dared risk new ideas that might be wrong.

For example, in 1378, the Church ruled that it was POSSIBLE that there could be other world with life on them, somewhere.

That's quite and advanced proposition.

In fact it the Catholic church had quietly accepted the Copernican theory long before Galileo, it just didn't want to admit it. Galileo thought he could push the Church into admitting that in fact, it accepted the theory. But it was too politically dangerous for the church to do so, with the Thirty years war raging- just in case it was wrong.

But the Gregorian calender (1582) is actually based on the assumption that the Earth goes round the sun.

Britain didn't accept the Gregorian calndar till the 1750s.

The scientific revolution in this country owes far more to the ideological freedom that thinkers found whilst in hiding during the Cromwell years.

But YOU do se the deity under the microscope. And through the telescope.
He IS the laws of physics.

Just because he is no longer a mystery, doesn't mean we should overlook him.

Liz- Well Iraq could well go on the list of evils perpetrated with good intentions, though I doubt even that, to be honest.

Child abuse of course raises huge issues on behalf of the victims, most of whom will be broken for life, and many of whom will sadly be drawn to commit Evil themselves, often the same one they themselves suffered.

Does that excuse them?
Ultimately, I don't think it can.

In the same way any retaliation, that is simply done for retaliation is Evil.

Poody- I think it is true to say that there are different types of evil. Some are based on complete warpings og good intentions.

But there is such a thing as truly evil people.

People who desire to cause pain and enjoy suffering. But isn't there a grading with that too?
Isn't racial taunting a small step in that direction? A desire to cause hurt- and enjoy it?

Sometimes I think I can possibly see what causes this type of evil. I guess we all want to know we have an effect on the world. Most of us are lucky enough to do that- in small ways, but good ones.

Some people really are so inadequete that the only way the can be part of the world, and feel some influence on it, is through Evil.

Mutley- If a Church with God as God, has so much trouble, I fear your religion may not have much chance...

I think politics, and not religion is the way forward for you...

The United Morris Dancing Party needs reviving.

Anonymous said...

So many Catholic Priests have brought destruction and horror to so many lives through sexual abuse ..."Good" men, doing "Evil" things? No, corrupted men, corrupting others, deluded and abusing their power, using their victims as human sheilds. Evil acts, evil motives, evil sanctimony and evil outcomes.

Anonymous said...

Have you read "An Ordinary Man" by Paul Rusesabagina? Afetr all the evil he saw, he still believes that no one is wholly good or wholly bad. I'm not sure I agree as I think Hitler was the personification of evil. I , too, think the Cathloic Church is more a force for good than evil - but I can't just accept the terrible things that have been done in its name. At best, we can put some of them down to ignorance. As for the Nazis and Nuremburg, those men lived in luxury and watched and ordered the murder of innocents. It only needed one of them to make a stand at one stage - or for their wives - who knew exactly what was going on - to do so. See Jill Tweedie, "In the Name of Love".

Anonymous said...

Lilith- I find this accusation hurled at me frequently as a Catholic.
Several things I would say that need saying.

Firstly, it is statistically true that a far HIGHER proportion of CofE priests have been involved in cases of sexual abuse. There just happen to be many more Catholic priests worldwide.

Secondly, as I pointed out, the blend of Good and Evil means that institutions of Good will be served by Evil men.

I can confidently state that I have known and met more Catholic priests- and known them well- then most people.

I can also say that one of the most selfless people I know, one who has always ultimately been there when I called, travelled to see me in times of ill, has been the priest who did my confirmation, the priest who still presides over Mass at my Church.

Most- though obviously not all- Catholic priests, are people who have given up Love, Family, etc, to serve something bigger- the rest of us.

Welshcakes- As I say, Good and Evil blend, so Good Institutions will be served by Evil people as well, Evil people with Evil agendas. Th logical consequence of this, is that sometimes, Evil agendas will predominate and pervert the true cause.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant response to me, Ingsoc.

Muchos respect.

Anonymous said...

You are right of course, it isn't just catholic priests. And I have too many arguments with organised religion to begin to bore you with them. Faith is good. Morality is good. Misplaced trust and reverence for other human beings is bad. I have no doubt that there are some "good" priests out there.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you have to give up love and family to serve humanity. I don't think that doing that (forgoing love and family) is necessarily a special gift to humanity or qualifies an individual to critisise or control the behaviour of others, or that it is even a sign of "special" faith. I am sure that there are "special" priests out there, but just being a priest is no more a sign of selfless service to humanity than it is evidence of being a paedophile.