Micah Redding — faith, technology & the future

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Why are humans Evil?

Pomegranate

Some comments on a recent post brought up the question of why humans are moral. Is it because there is a God, or did we just evolve to act this way?

Intriguing as that question is, I'm more interested in a different question.

Why are humans evil?

This may seem like a strange question at first. After all, many people talk about nature “red in tooth and claw”, as if nature were this vast landscape of total war - every creature against every creature - always violence, always death, always brutality. In this landscape, humanity is a bright spot of unnatural goodness.

But that doesn't really seem to be the way things are. Nature is composed of vast cooperative enterprises, from coral reefs to forests to flocks of birds and schools of fish. Multi-celled creatures organize themselves into ecosystems and symbiotic relationships, bees and flowering plants maintaining each other's existence, bacteria supporting ever more complex life-forms, scavengers and predators working to turn dead animals back into usable food.

The points of contact at which any violence may occur are relatively few. Two different animals fighting over a meal, one animal trying to eat - another animal trying not to be eaten, two animals battling it out for a mate. Even then, we sometimes find the violence to be less than we assumed - predators are often only picking off the already dying, and battles for mating privileges are usually resolved by establishing who is stronger, leaving both combatants relatively unharmed.

In the animal world, there is no vengeance, no war, no genocide. Animals act to achieve their needs, but they go no further. They do not hold grudges, they do not maintain feuds, they do not even seek to wipe out their competition.

But humans are different. We hold deep grudges, and nourish deep anger. We plot to destroy, we conspire to kill, we organize to go to war. We wipe out whole races of people, and enslave millions. We do what could not even be conceived of by looking at the natural world.

How did we get this way?

I think it starts with death. As far as we know, we are the only creatures with a deep and abiding sense of our own mortality - not just as a future event, but as a reality which haunts us, which lives with us, which steals a little of our identity every day.

Genesis describes this dynamic. The first human beings, naive and uncorrupted, reached out and took for themselves the knowledge of the gods. And once they had tasted it, they recoiled in terror. The knowledge of their own mortality sunk deep into them, changing who they were, filling them with fear and shame.

In a way non-existent anywhere else, we human beings know that we are dying. And we fear. Our fear possesses us, our fear makes us pursue our own self-interest, our fear makes us a slave to anyone who threatens us. This fear is deep, present in everything from militaristic nation-building to consumer advertising. Everywhere, voices threaten us with our own mortality, wielding our deaths as a weapon of control.

But from the moment the first warlord rose up and enslaved another people, we have seen only one escape from our terror: to possess and wield violence ourselves. If others can control our very souls, our only protection is to acquire the power they use to do so. If our fear makes us a slave to tyranny, we will be filled with a hatred for that which controls us, and a lust to possess that power ourselves.

This is the truly Satanic impulse, to hate something and to lust for it at the same time. The more we hate the violence inflicted on us, the more we long to exercise that violence. It is a never-ending dynamic, drawing us ever deeper in the bottomless pit of a dark worship.

And so humanity emerged from the ancient mists as a creature of war and violence and slavery. We went out to destroy all those who might threaten us, preemptively seeking to decimate the world.

This is how we became evil.


Next: Ancient Israel vs The Blood Gods

Lincoln Cannon:

Contrast the two would-be Gods about which Paul writes in the New Testament: one would raise itself above all else called God, declaring itself God; the other would raise us together as joints heirs in the glory of God. Paul called the former the Son of Perdition, and the latter he associated with Jesus Christ.

Stephen Wheeley:

A very interesting observation Micah : to lust for the very thing you also hate ( and know will/may destroy you) is a good definition of Satanic influence on mankind, producing evil desires and impulses in us. This love/hate relationship is often at the root of different addictions, those suffering from addictive behavior are aware of its self destructive aspect, yet cannot resist the impulse to partake anyway. Man is in effect addicted to the lust for power and violence, even though the outcome of involvement with these things can only be destructive to both sides, for even the "victor" will suffer damage physically, psychologically and spiritually (morally ). How can the impulse to destroy both yourself and others be anything but evil ? This obviously leads to the question of "Why" ? As the most intelligent, self aware beings on earth why would we lust for what destroys us ? It would be logical and sane to shun what is harmful to our species (evil ), not to embrace it. But mankind is not logical and many would posit our history shows we are as a species not actually sane either. Some would say its because we are emotional creatures, who as you noted "hold grudges ", often as entire people groups for centuries (nationalism ). Others would say its based on greed, whether for food, land, money or power : the unreasonalable lust to possess much more than is necessary just to sustain your own life comfortably. Others would blame the control religious beliefs have over man, which give man the excuse "my god told me to act this way, because your god is false". This view of course makes God, or at least the belief in God, the author of evil rather than good. Aetheists often use this argument against believers, which at its surface level seems valid. But I would say that evil is actually the result of a strange combination of both knowledge and ignorance, shaped and enabled by satan and man's pride in himself. The knowledge part goes back to self-awareness and the ability to know right from wrong, symbolized by Adam & Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit in Eden as Micah noted. This knowledge of good & evil results in Free Will, the double edged sword of choice we have been given by being "made in the image of God". We, unlike other animals, can and often do choose what is worst for us (and others ) instead of what is, often obviously, best for us especially in our relations with others, both as individuals and collectively as people groups. Our growing knowledge of the physical world magnified this. But why ? This is where the ignorance comes in. Man has become ignorant of who he is, who other people are and more importantly why he even exists. Ironically, this ignorance of our real (spiritual ) nature has increased as our knowledge of the physical world and our ability to control it has increased. Or, so to say: getting smarter has made us stupid. We have become evil because of our pride in our own abilities. We have become evil towards others because we have forgotten we are all the same, all children from one Father, instead we see people as "others", not the same as ourselves. We have become evil because we have forgotten we exist only because of God's love, because He willed us into existence for his purposes, not for our desires. We have become evil because we are ignorant of reality and have created a "artificial reality" centered around ourselves, based on self gratification, pride in our selves & our personal abilities & desires : we have made ourselves into our own idols. And this has reached its zenith in the western world, our world. Thus we use our free will to be selfish rather than giving, to love ourselves rather than our neighbor as ourself, and worst of all, to choose to deny God, deny His love, deny His goodness, deny His mercy and instead enthrone "rationalism", relativism and belief in our supremecy as our gods. Evil can be the only result when you are ignorant of reality, whereas good can be the only result of knowing reality, for God is reality.

Megyn @MinimalistMommi:

Ok, I have to make a few corrections: Chimpanzees DO engage in war in order to wipe out the competition and gain territory. However, research shows that they incite no more violence than the typical hunter-gatherer societies. Elephants have an amazing "understanding" of death. They will go to elephant graveyards and feel the bones of deceased relatives with their trunks. It's fascinating to watch them. It has also been shown that when a great ape dies in captivity, it is important for the rest of the group to see the dead body in order to process the event. While these species may not comprehend death the same way humans do, they definitely understand it, that there is an end. Finally, humans are thus far the only species to see spite in, where basically someone harms you, so you return harm but at your expense. Evolutionarily, there is no reason spite should exist as it is harmful to the doer as well. Very interesting topic!

Jennifer:

Are human beings the only beings which are aware of death and fear it? Anyone who sees how animals react in a slaughterhouse might disagree. Maybe it is fear of death from which the evil heart arises, or maybe it is fear of no-self. Once we become aware of a "self", our survival instinct is impaired by our clinging to this self. Anything which seems to negatively impact this "self" becomes a threat. Anytime we experience something we do not like, body and mind react as if our very life is being threatened (kids screaming at broccoli)--because we have associated the "self" with "life". We hold onto this sense of "me", because without it, who are we, really? It's terrifying for ego to let go itself. So I submit it is the sense of self-importance all human beings have until they realize true nature which leads to evil doing (away from benevolence, uprightness, divine order, wisdom and oneness with the eternal, or, acting from greed, hatred/anger or ignorance). Rather than say human beings are evil or became evil; one might just say there is always the potential for evil doing until the evil heart bows before the true one. Jesus hinted at this dual (or myriad) nature of human beings in saying a man cannot serve two masters. The true heart can never be parted from the eternal, so it is the other heart(s) which must come to be guided by it in order to know clearly the what, why and how of life (and death).

micah:

Lincoln, I think you're right. I see the bible narrating an ongoing battle between God and the dynamic of fear-violence-destruction, first taking form as the struggle between Israel and the blood-gods of the ancient world, then "pursuing" this fight through the different forms this dynamic takes on.

micah:

Megyn, thanks for the comments! I'd like to know more about the chimpanzees. Got any good resources on that? I think as time goes on, these kinds of distinctions will always be nuanced. People used to talk about human beings as the only tool-wielding creature. Now we know that there are lots of tools in the animal world. Nevertheless, there is something in that original distinction that remains valid. It might be hard to pin down, but there is something different about the way we use tools. Spite is exactly the sort of thing I'm getting at here. For whatever reason, we humans have the mental machinery to drive us to our own destruction.

Megyn @MinimalistMommi:

Here is one great article discussing chimpanzee warfare against various aspects of human warfare: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1001965.files/Course%20Materials%20Week%204/Wrangham%20Hunter%20Gather%20War%202012.pdf Here is info. on elephant cognition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_cognition (has lots of great sources at the end)

Becca Kello:

So, in your opinion Micah, what's the freedom form this evil? Acceptance of death? Achieving a comfortableness with fear? Maybe just will power/divine intervention? The facts on the ways animals process death is kind of fascinating, thanks for the links Megyn! I like how you are describing the "Fall of Man", as it's usually called, in sense of awareness of things that other animals aren't privileged to rather than defying God and sinning. Not saying you don't see it that way or do, but that's an interesting take away from the Garden of Eden story.

Megyn @MinimalistMommi:

Here is a link where a language competent ape (gorilla Koko) expresses grief over her kitten's death: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Hal3FxFTII You can also find more of Koko's videos on YouTube. Also check out greatapetrust.org --an amazing research facility looking into a human-bonobo culture (among other ape research).

micah:

I think what's different about my approach is that I consider this a set of problems introduced by a new stage of growth. The bible essentially begins when humans emerge with a consciousness which can *hold* things. That allows death to haunt us in a way never before possible. The same thing happens with shame: instead of a fleeting moment of embarrassment, we feel it bearing down on us long afterwards. But this isn't a problem to "undo", anymore than the problems of adolescence are resolved by going backwards to childhood. Nor do we get to totally eradicate the ability to be violent - in fact, as I've kind of pointed out, the problem isn't violence *per se*, it's the fact that we come to be ruled by and worship violence, to our own destruction. So the solution? I think this is what the bible attempts to work out. And I see this culminating in Jesus, who didn't simply free people from the fear of death, but gave us a tool which would decimate any violent empire we face. Non-violence isn't so much an ethical position, or a return to an Edenic state, as a tool with which to free ourselves and others from a system of perpetual slavery to violence. Which opens humanity up to continued development.