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There is a phrase that is used a lot in our culture that greatly upsets me. It is a phrase that is used by politicians and media personnel, by pastors and by regular people. It is a phrase that I have used in the past. That phrase: “so-and-so is pure evil.”
Despite its popularity among people of authority and in our common parlance, despite it being somewhat of a commonplace or even necessary way to describe terrorists, rapists, and fans of a certain sports team, I am very unsettled when I hear it.
For starters, it’s an entirely unbiblical, un-theological concept. When we start using words like “evil” one assumes that we are entering into the realm of theology, but to say that something is pure evil is a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing. As Christians, we believe that God is ultimately the creator of all and all that God created is good. While distortion and depravity can enter into creation by way of free will, all that exists came to be through God and remains to be because God allows it to exist. Nothing can exist apart from God, meaning that everything—and everyone—has at least some goodness in them. Even the Devil, the Tempter, the one who resides in Hell and is often associated with evil itself, is a creation a God and therefore not pure evil. To call anyone such a name is to use a theological concept very un-theologically.
But the problem is more practical for me. Outside of the potential esoteric nature of defining theological terms, the act of calling someone “pure evil” divides the human family when there is an ever-increasing need to build it up. When we use this phrase to describe someone, what we are ultimately saying is that they are not our brother or sister, that they are beyond our care or concern, that they are beyond love, mercy, or forgiveness. Someone who is pure evil deserves one thing, and one thing only: death.
When we speak of those who commit horrible crimes—terrorists, rapists, and fans of a certain sports team—it can be tempting to use such a phrase. It can be tempting to demonize or villainize them, seeing them as simply the manifestation of their evil acts, to literally “make a demon/villain” out of them, and to treat them like the villains of movies and comic books.
But is that the way we are called to treat one another? Is that the way we are to act towards even our enemies? I hardly think so. And it raises the question for me, now that I’ve brought up the idea of a villain: do we sometimes allow artistic depictions of evil, namely “the bad guy” in movies and comics, influence our view of the human person? In such words of art, there is a “good guy” who epitomizes all that we stand for, and a “bad guy,” the manifestation of all that is wrong with the world, and the goal is to destroy the bad guy. Is that the way we view our “enemies”?
Such is the question that Br. Tito and I pose to our listeners this week on our new podcast, Everyday Liminality. I hope that you’ll check it out and join us each week for a new episode as we look to popular entertainment to pose the questions of our day. You can click above to listen, or download the podcast on iTunes.