Sin and Evil

I hope you will excuse the apparent redundancy in the title of this blog.  I had started it as Sin and the Serial Killer but then decided it would be Sin and the Mass Killer.  I wanted to include spree, serial and mass murderers in this treatise on sin and evil.  The title, Sin, Serial Killers, Spree Killers and Mass Murderers: Why are they Evil?, just seemed too long.  Actually, if you think Sin and Evil are redundant, I can assure you they are not the same. 

When I was a young boy going to a Catholic School called Mount St. Francis, I learned that there were two types of sin:  Venial and Mortal.  A Mortal sin (if un-confessed at death) would earn you a one way ticket straight to hell.  No stops along the way.  A Venial sin would get you into a place called Purgatory.  If I remember correctly, Purgatory was a lot like hell, you did not get to see God and it was awfully hot. However, a ticket to Purgatory could eventually be exchanged for a ticket to heaven.  You merely had to sit in Purgatory for some length of time and then you would be allowed to change your place of residence.

Way back then, and even today, I had a hard time trying to figure out what were Venial Sins and what were Mortal sins.  Perhaps this is why I rejected the catechism of Catholicism and eventually all of organized religion.   The nuances and intricacies of getting to heaven or hell were beyond my cognitive capacities.  For instance, one of my great pleasures “Masturbation” was good for a ticket to hell.  I cannot tell you how many tickets I earned to hell while deriving great pleasure from this pastime.  I still cannot understand why something that hurts no one, including myself and is actually a great deal of fun would be deemed a Mortal sin.  Neither can I give you an example of a Venial sin since I think I never committed any.  Somehow all of my sins at the time were Mortal:  Disobeying my parents, taking the Lord’s name in vain and having sex without marriage.  I was good for at least 50 Hail Marys’ at every confession I went to. 

So since we cannot define sin, can we say that there is no sin?  Assuredly you would answer NO!  Sin is Evil.  If so, then we must define evil.  If we say that evil is committing a sin, then we really are being redundant.   Perhaps looking at some definitions of evil might help us with this problem.  Here are some various definitions of evil:

  • Profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, esp. when regarded as a supernatural force.
  • According to the Bible evil becomes a reality in the very beginning with the first couple. Sin produces evil. Gen 2:9, the tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
  • Although the Bible meaning of evil includes the idea of sinfulness or wickedness in many cases, it also has a broader meaning that is commonly used. In this broader meaning, evil refers to those things that are generally thought of as bad or undesirable; or as the dictionary says, “causing pain or trouble.” This would include things such as wars or disease and this is the kind of evil referred to in Isaiah 45:7.

I think you can easily see that the common definitions of sin and evil are not very helpful on a day to day basis.  It could be argued quite easily that one person’s sin is another person’s good.  Or that sin and evil are simply social conventions defined by majority thought.  Wars and disease are part of the normal fabric of life and when were any political leaders ever consigned to hell because they declared war?  It seems like a rather good idea but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. 

I suppose you are expecting me then to make a case (perhaps already started) that there is no such thing as sin or perhaps even evil?  Actually, I want to argue the opposite.  The older and I hope wiser I have become the more I see that Sin and Evil actually do exist.  Sin and Evil are behaviors that create havoc and devastation in the world. 

My path to this conclusion lay in my thinking about mass murderers.   Much of the general public are fascinated by the subject of serial killers.  It would seem that at least ½ of the novels on the best seller list have serial killers as their theme.  We are intrigued and perplexed by trying to understand why anyone would commit the crimes (a legal term as I use it and not to be confused necessarily with sin or evil) that these individuals do.  If anything could be generally agreed on as evil by most people, it would be these types of murders, including; spree, serial and mass type executions done by individuals and not sanctioned by state or governmental authority.  So we do have at least one area that we can agree on as evil.  Perhaps a definition of evil as applied to such killers would be:  “The taking of random innocent lives by unknown assailants for no apparent purpose.”  But then are these killers also sinners?   Again, you would readily answer yes to this question, but why?  Where in the Bible does it condemn mass killings as sinful?  The Old Testament is full of mass killings perpetrated for gain and convenience.  What sets the mass murderer apart from the murders perpetuated by one society against another society?  Is there any difference? 

I think the answer is yes.  If you look at the motivation of the mass murderers, people like Bundy, Gacy, Dahmer and many others you will find some common purposes.  Wikipedia defines the “motives” of serial killers as: 

The motives of serial killers are generally placed into four categories: visionarymission-orientedhedonistic and power or control; however, the motives of any given killer may display considerable overlap among these categories.  Wikipedia

What does not emerge from this typology is the rather obvious fact that in each case, the perpetrator has destroyed something and created nothing.  All mass murderers destroy and leave nothing of any value for the world.  They gain their joy from the act of destruction. Whether they torture their victims or kill them all in mass with a bomb, mass murderers derive their pleasure at the moment of destruction.  Everything else connected with their heinous crimes are prelude and postscript.  Nothing gives the mass killer more pleasure than their ability to destroy and their anticipation of destruction.  The literature is full of examples of impotent murderers who were able to achieve potency only at the point of the actual murder of their victims.  This has been true in mass killings as well as individual killings. 

If Evil is the destruction of life, then Sin is the arrogation of the power to destroy life by an individual.  It has often been claimed that there is a Yin and Yang in the world and that Good is the opposite of Evil.  Or that the Devil represents Sin and Evil and God represents Virtue and Goodness.  I believe this is wrong.  It is a false dichotomy.  The mass killer wants to be like God.  God is the ultimate power.  The Devil cannot stand up to God.  In the madness of the mass killer, they want to experience the power of God.  However, there is a grave difference between the power of God and the power of the Devil.  The Devil only has the power to destroy.  God has the power to both create and destroy.  But the destruction of the Devil and the destruction of God are not the same. The destruction that God creates is a cosmic destruction that is part of the cycle of life.  God’s destruction perpetuates creation by allowing a continuous cycle of birth and rebirth throughout the universe.  The Devil’s destruction creates nothing except evil.  The mass killer destroys but never creates.  On a more limited scale, vandals are evil because they destroy without creating anything. 

To conclude then, I would define Sin as the taking of power to destroy by an individual without the responsibility to create.  Evil is destruction without the creation of value.  Someone who destroys something may be guilty of both being Sinful and Evil.  The mass murderer wants to be like God and to experience the power of God but in the end fails.  Humans can never have the power to create life except where some life did not first exist.  The definition of God is one who can give life and can also take it away.  I know not whether there is a God as defined by organized religion but there is a power in the universe which perpetuates a creative cycle of birth and rebirth or creation and destruction.  There are also those people who have more in common with the Devil since they only destroy.  This is the evil of the mass murderer and any who would be God without the responsibility to create as well as to destroy. 

Time for Questions:

What do you think Evil is?  Do you think the Devil really exists?  What is Goodness?  Can humans be both good and evil?  When does anything become pure evil?  Do we really need a God in the world?  Why or Why not?  What role does God play in your life?  What role does the Devil play? 

Life is just beginning.

 

 

 

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Greg Gorman
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 02:08:50

    As requested:
    What do you think Evil is?
    To me evil is the unnecessary and/or supplemental application of pain and suffering to an individual being or any aggregate of such, where unnecessary means that the initial goal of the punitive action was obtained and the continuance occurs as the result of self-indulgence.
    Given that, I believe that serial killers and others of that ilk need to be viewed as aberrations of humanity. Scientists have already shown that their brains are not the same as what is considered normal. My take is that they should be viewed in the same way as tornadoes or hurricanes. Sometimes Mother Nature will be harsh. Not to be confused with evil.
    As Sister Mary Patrick taught me:
    A mortal sin must meet 3 conditions:
    1. You must know that the sin is serious
    2. You must know that it offends God.
    3. You must do it with your free will.
    A venial sin must meet the same conditions except that the sin is not serious, e.g. embezzlement of a retirement fund {mortal}, lying to your mother about your homework {venial}.
    Do you think the Devil really exists?
    The Devil, as he is understood in western culture, began as Lucifer, the angel of light. Through his arrogance he defied God and was cast into hell with all the angels who were of the same mindset. Once in hell, he was re-named Satan where he and his followers were known as the Devil.
    The Devil is blamed for all the problems plaguing mankind that cannot be explained otherwise. The idea of the Devil is a metaphor. His existence lives in the minds of men just as other ideas are incorporated into our common reality. Does karma exist? Does good triumph over evil? Does God hear our prayers? All these ideas exist and are seen and believed because they are self-fulfilling prophecies. Any abstraction takes on real dimensions when there is a common belief is their existence. We can’t show love as a physical entity but we can act in loving way thus giving legitimacy to the idea that love exists. The Devil exists by the same construct.
    What is Goodness?
    Goodness is the result of life-supporting actions bestowed on an individual or group. When one sees these actions occurring on those one loves it is understood to be goodness.
    Can humans be both good and evil?
    Of course, change is the nature of the universe. In WWII, the violence inflicted on Germany was seen to be for the “greater good”. The unnecessary bombing of Dresden, after the war had ended, was evil.
    When does anything become pure evil?
    People and institutions become pure evil when they inflict pain and suffering not for the good of anyone but for their own self-indulgence.
    Do we really need a God in the world? Why or Why not?
    Some people find the reality that they actually exist to be frightening. They fear what will happen to them in their lives and the after-life, if it exists.
    If you are not haunted by existential nightmares then you might need God. But if you are, say your prayers and don’t ridicule Him.
    What role does God play in your life?
    God is my constant companion. Anyone who has been told that they’re going to die and there’s nothing you can do it, rapidly become believers. Obviously, we’re all going to die. It’s just that right now is so inconvenient.
    What role does the Devil play?
    Minimal. If you give credence to this metaphor and tell of your fears to others you give existence to this concept where no credence is the superior condition.

    Reply

    • johnpersico
      Jun 04, 2013 @ 05:32:04

      HI Greg, I guess you could say I believe in the Devil as much as I believe in God. I think my belief in both is metaphorical. The only Devil I see is the one that “Made me do it.” I believe in evil and if the Devil is evil then I believe in the devil with a small d. My idea as an agnostic is much like Russell’s definition in that I see both God and the Devil as highly improbable but if one is not impossible, then why not the other. I have not seen “Evidence” that psychopaths have different brains then the rest of us. I have seen a good deal of “evidence” into brain research that I think lacks any validity or reliability, much like profiling. I would be interested in any research you have found that shows psychopaths were anything other than evil. Too much ambiguity in Sister Patrick’s definition which is my point in my article Greg. Who could tell the difference between a Venial Sin and a Mortal? Only God!

      Reply

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