The Evil in This World: Good or Evil? It’s Our Choice
Editor’s Note: FāVS has launched a new series on The Evil in this World. We see it every day in the murder and mayhem that trouble our lives. The world’s great religions have an explanation for this and different ways to describe the battle between good and evil. Those who do not subscribe to a religious tradition have their own perceptions of evil and good. How does your belief system describe both forces and how does it help you cope with the notion that evil exists in this world? Has your faith ever been shaken by the evil around you?
Commentary by Pete Haug
One Sunday morning 70 years ago I started to recite the Apostles’ Creed with everyone else In church, but was suddenly unable to say “I believe.” I didn’t believe. There was no point lying to God — if he existed. Thus began my dozen years of agnosticism. I didn’t believe, but neither did I deny God’s existence.
I was 8 when I started Sunday School, 10 when I was christened, fifteen when confirmed. By age 17, I could no longer believe what I’d been taught. Too many questions remained. I cornered an Episcopalian bishop, a friend of my father’s, to question him about my disbelief. He listened patiently and responded brilliantly: “You believe in God as much as I do, but I leave you at the church door.”
Although I partially understood his statement, years of further religious services brought it home. I continued attending because liturgical music lifted my soul. I sang in choirs, half-listening to multiple ministers deliver sermons that reinforced my agnosticism. I didn’t quite have the chutzpah to become an atheist, to throw out God with the bathwater, but I certainly didn’t buy the theology.
And therein lies the problem. As an adolescent becoming aware of the wider world, I realized many branches of Christianity existed, as well as many non-Christian religions. My questions began with “why?” If one God governs the universe, why are there so many religions and denominations? More importantly, why do they disagree, often disagreeably? And what about all those people who lived before Jesus, or who never heard of him? Are they, as some denominations teach, consigned forever to hell? And what about twisted theologies that rationalize slavery, castes, greed, “holy” war and similar social injustices, all in the name of a loving God, whom some believe to have created evil?
As an agnostic, I found evil in man’s inhumanity to man, especially in the name of God. One doesn’t need to be a Jew to follow the Ten Commandments, a Christian to “turn the other cheek” or a member of another religion to embrace the Golden Rule, which dates at least from Confucian times and “appears prominently in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and ‘the rest of the world’s major religions’.” Slavery, oppression and similar injustices don’t accord with such teachings.
A recent SpokaneFaVS post states: “Evil exists as a concrete entity, a creation of God, a word with a meaning, a word that has been brought to life through the Word, who is Jesus Christ.” This perspective is supported by several biblical citations, e.g., “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” — John 1:3
In the sense that it’s real, evil is decidedly “concrete.” Victims of evil experience it palpably. But where does evil originate? The creation myth, in both Bible and Quran, suggests the origin of evil: Adam and Eve disobey their Creator. Details and explanations have been debated since the earliest days. To me, what is relevant is not only that they disobeyed God’s instructions, but they also lied about it and blamed their actions on another. Each made choices; each chose to disobey.
Gifted with freewill, we are responsible beings. When we choose to disobey the teachings of God, elaborated in multiple sacred texts, we generate our own evil. It can be physically “concrete,” or abstract, causing emotional anguish to another.
I abandoned agnosticism after 12 years, when I found a faith that explains most of my theological questions. It draws on its own scriptures, as well as those of earlier religions, to explain and answer questions rationally. Coming in from the cold of unbelief has warmed me for decades. For nearly 60 years, I’ve never looked back.
Evil arises from man’s ego, as Baha’u’llah describes: Follow not the promptings of the self, for it summoneth insistently to wickedness and lust; follow, rather, Him Who is the Possessor of all created things, Who biddeth you to show forth piety, and manifest the fear of God… Take heed not to stir up mischief in the land after it hath been set in order. Whoso acteth in this way is not of Us, and We are quit of him. Such is the command which hath, through the power of truth, been made manifest from the heaven of Revelation.
Man is inherently noble, but we fail to attain that station, as Baha’u’llah writes: Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.
Rising to our God-given nobility is a lifelong challenge. We’re not born evil, but our temptations require conscious choice, just like the allegory of Adam and Eve. Like those “first humans,” each of us was created noble. We rise to our inherent nobility by obeying God’s teachings.
Pete plunged into journalism fresh out of college, putting his English literature degree to use for five years. He started in industrial and academic public relations, edited a rural weekly and reported for a metropolitan daily, abandoning all for graduate school. He finished with an M.S. in wildlife biology and a Ph.D. in systems ecology. After teaching college briefly, he analyzed environmental impacts for federal, state, Native American and private agencies over a couple of decades. His last hurrah was an 11-year gig teaching English in China. After retiring in 2007, he began learning about climate change and fake news, giving talks about both. He started writing columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and continues to do so. He first published for SpokaneFaVS.com in 2020. Pete’s columns alternate weekly between FāVS and the Daily News. His live-in editor, Jolie, infinitely patient wife for 62 years, scrutinizes all columns with her watchful draconian eye. Both have been Baha’is since the 1960s. Pete’s columns on the Baha’i Faith represent his own understanding and not any official position.