The existence of Evil

(Veja em Português)

This entry should more or less be taken as dialectic when compared to The Existence of God, from where the reader came.

I will try,  maybe unsuccessfully, to keep this entry  bearing in mind that the Devil should be understood always in terms of suffering of an individual.

I refrained to call this post The existence of the Devil because of the following, and I quote from Wikipedia Daemonic (there is no Demonic entry, only Demon, which will be discussed here):

The psychologist Rollo May conceives of the daimonic as a primal force of nature which contains both constructive and destructive potentialities, but ultimately seeks to promote totality of the self.[16] May introduced the daimonic to psychology[16] as a concept designed to rival the terms ‘devil’ and ‘demonic’. He believed the term demonic to be unsatisfactory because of our tendency, rooted in Judeo-Christian mythology, to project power outside of the self and onto devils and demons. The daimonic is also similar to Jung‘s shadow, but is viewed as less differentiated. A pitfall of the Jungian doctrine of the shadow is the temptation to project evil onto this relatively autonomous ‘splinter personality’ and thus unnecessarily fragment the individual and obviate freedom and responsibility. Finally, by comparison to Freud‘s death instinct (Thanatos), the daimonic is seen as less one-sided.

While similar to several other psychological terms, noteworthy differences exist. The daimonic is often improperly confused with the term demonic.

I dispute that although the Devil does not exists per se, there are forces within us that the best description to them is the Devil and, as  Jeffrey Burton Russel, as an eminent historian, says very correctly, and I quote:

“Historical scholarship cannot determine whether the Devil exists objectively. The historian may, however, suggest that men and women have seemed to act as if the Devil did Exist”

I will concentrate on Jeffrey Burton Russel’s “The Devil – Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity” because it was through Dante’s Divine Comedy that this whole idea took over and this book together with the book of  author Eilleen Gardiner “Visions of Heaven Hell Before Dante”, sets up a perfect frame to appreciate Auerbach’s Mimesis from the medieval point of view and, specially, to understand Dante’s contribution.

The Amazon review says:

“This lively and learned book traces the history of the concept of evil from its beginnings in ancient times to the period of the New Testament. A remarkable work of synthesis, it draws upon a vast number of sources in addressing a major historical and philosophical problem over a broad span of time and in a number of diverse cultures, East and West. Jeffrey Burton Russell probes the roots of the idea of evil, treats the development of the idea in the Ancient Near East, and then examines the concept of the Devil as it was formed in late Judaism and early Christianity. Generously illustrated with fifty black-and-white photographs, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, from specialists in religion, theology, sociology, history, psychology, anthropology, and philosophy to anyone with an interest in the demonic, the supernatural, and the question of good and evil.”

Please take notice that while in the post of Existence of God it tends to go to Theology metaphysically, here it will be examined as a concept in the human mind.

“Der Teufel, der ist alt” (The devil, he is old) Faust, Goethe (which is basically the same discussion we do here, but by a genius)

Escher The_Scapegoat

From now on I will summarize the concept in the book without mentioning “quoting”, but the arguments are those that can be read there.

If the Devil does not exist, rationally, then what exists?

The best bet is that it is something genetic in us. It springs from our animal nature. Probably because like other animals, primitivive humans had to struggle endlessly against an indifferent or hostile environment, generating habits that civilization tries out to control. But it is not that simple. Perhaps Konrad Lorenz in his book On Agression is the best example of that line of thinking which should be rean with  Erich Fromm  criticizing On Aggression in his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.

The basic difference is “nature” against “nurture”. Probably it is both.

It is not clear to me if this book from Konrad Lorenz is the same in German Das sogenannte Böse. My German is very poor,  but the adding of the qualification in front of aggression makes it an entirely different game. The German Wikipedia entry, which I translated with the help of the Google translator, says the following:

(As matter of fact, the entire entry is a prime example of German competence, perhaps I will tackle it when I have more time)

The so-called evil is a book by the behavioral scientist Konrad Lorenz from the year 1963. In it he deals with the origin of and the handling of aggression (the so-called evil), that is to Lorenz’s interpretation of the intraspecific, “directed at the conspecific fighting instinct of animals and human “.  The decision to write this book was made, according to Lorenz, during a trip to America where he gave lectures on comparative behavioral science and behavioral physiology to psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and psychologists. There he met psychoanalysts who did not regard the teachings of Freud as irrefutable dogmas, but as working hypotheses. He had recognized in relation to Freud: “Discussions of his instincts revealed unexpected coincidences between the results of psychoanalysis and behavioral physiology.” These included a shared views on the death instinct described by Freud and the instinct for aggression of man as presumed by Lorenz as part of his instinct theory. Thus, he was for the first time contrary to Josef Rattner, who said, “… that destructiveness and hostility in human behavior must be thoroughly based on educational and cultural deformation.” The book begins with the description of observations of typical forms of aggressive behavior. The territorial battles of the coral fish, the morally similar instincts and inhibitions of social animals, the marital and social life of the night herons, the mass struggles of the brown rats and many other peculiar behaviors of the animals serve as the basis for “understanding the deeper connections”. By applying the inductive method, the laws that all animals obey are to be developed – from the unquestioning consideration of individual cases to abstraction.

If you are not keen on psychology, psychoanalysis, behaviourism, or how are the most recognized models of the human mind, a good starting point is  Mental Maps of New York  specially the discussion about the author, Dr Steve Milgran. You should  take a look on the Netflix  2015 a movie about his experiment on behaviourism and other experiments which was released and is available at Netflix

On the side of humanistic psychology, with their most distinguished proponents, Freud and Jung, you must take the human mind as something real, not as separate entity from the body and the brain, but actually as something that the ideas and the feelings of the mind are what we experience directly and indeed are the only things we really know. You can take your bet, but for me, the mind, specially in what makes us human beings, has an independence and freedom beyond the boundaries set by genetics and behaviorists determinists. On these grounds, you can reject nurture and nature arguments. And besides the obvious argument of instinct, it should be noticed, as Jeffrey Burton Russel did in his book, quoting Robet A.Nisbel in The Sociological Tradition, NY, 1966, page 164 that:

“A social order seized by convulsive change, dislocation of values, and spiritual uncertainty, inevitably invites to the kind of alienation that produces evil”

To what should be added the most important element of discussion: Responsibility, freedom, consciousness and, most of all, dignity.
And I will not mention Beyond Freedom and Dignity from Skinner, because I totally disagree with him, although, I reluctantly recognize that Steve Milgran kind of demonstrated it. But it should be noticed that neither Skinner, neither Milgran though recognizing that certain forms of control block human freedom, or free will, they do not say which are those controls.
Behaviourism is not only Beyond Freedom and Dignity, it is beyond good and evil, pain and joy, love and compassion originality and creativity, or, bottom line: beyond humanity.
Perhaps it is a good point to observe that although cognitivism tries to differentiate itself from behaviourism, they have in common characteristics to which the criticism elaborated here fit the same.
Back to humanistic psychology, the idea of Jung that the repression (as opposed to conscious suppression) of destructive feelings tend to create a “shadow” or negative force in the personality that can burst out destructively without warning.
To understand what Jung had in mind take for example if you are driving your car and inadvertently hit somebody. If the guy looses his mind and say offensively things to you, no matter what anger you may feel, making you wanting to hit the person, you recognize the urge and decide not to act upon it. That is conscious suppression.
Perhaps this is the most suggestive option in understanding the Devil there is!
Monstrous shadows can be built and when released, they seem to come  from the Devil, but what they really are is that…
Jeffrey Burton Russel elaborates extensively on that but it is much too graphic to reproduce it here and let’s move and go back in our search for the Devil.
Leaving asideThomistic theology, which assumes that the Devil has no ontological being, having strictly speaking, no essence, generally the Devil can be regarded as the personification of the origin and essence of evil.

History is a good system to find out the truth about the Devil because:

  1. It strives for a sense of the individual reality of the person or event, a perception of the person or event as it was or is in life;
  2. History is not static but dynamic, dealing with changes through time (as opposed to the social scientist);
  3. History is never impersonal, but always humane, taking into consideration what is important to the human condition (and to the historian himself);
  4. History puts distance between the observer and the culture in which the observer and the observed lives, broadening the spectrum of options integrating thoughts of the past into the present.
  5. History is concerned with morals, recognizing the commitment to other men and women which does not cease when they die.

Within these lines it is possible to understand why the figure of the Devil is coherent. Remember that, as it was already said, understanding is not an accretion of external information, but an assimilation or integration of knowledge into our experience, as a human being.

This has brought the following possibilities for the subject:

Summarizing the argument so far, one can say that the Devil exists because (although there is no objective definition of the Devil):

  1. The Devil can be defined historically
  2. The Devil’s historical definition can be obtained with reference to definitions of evil that are themselves existential;
  3. The Devil is the personification of whatever is perceived in society as evil;
  4. The concept of the Devil consists of the tradition(s) of perceptions of this personification.

After this rather long introduction, which in a way is the state of the art about the subject, let’s get to the idea which brought us here, i.e., how was it before Dante. Although Dante is not concerned with the Devil, but with Hell, it seems to me that Dante takes the Devil for granted.

The first part of the book, when Jeffrey Burton Russel really digs in the subject, he writes a chapter about Devil East and West, searching for it in the oldest civilizations and their cultures, to frame a perspective on Western concepts. Despite widely separated cultures, the Devil (or evil) brings up parallel formulations  which arise from universal human thought structures (archetypes?) or from some sort of diffusion which we are not yet aware might have occurred. Obviously the cosmos is sometimes benign and sometimes hostile to humanity, not to mention that human nature is also divided against itself, which causes the parallelism to make all of them accept the idea of a divine principle ambivalent. God, since the the dawn of mankind has two faces: He is a coincidence of opposites. This ambivalence can be expressed theologically, in rational terms, mythologically and in terms of stories. When the culture creates polytheism, part of the gods are good, part are evil. in Hinduism this is very clear, where Brahma is called “the creation and destruction of all people.” Jeffrey goes on offering examples and offers an interesting idea about this recurrence: The god principle is still the source of evil, but it is now twinned (literally of figuratively) into a principle of good and a principle of evil, the former usually being identified with the High God, the latter becoming the God’s adversary. Such pairs are called “doublets.”

I looked over for doublet, and it seems to me that Jeffrey forced a little bit the concept, but anyway, it is a good reasoning about something that cannot be reasoned…

Let’s stop for a minute and give it a thought.

Martin Buber, in his book Israel and the World – Essays in a Time of Crisis makes a very interesting observation when he quotes Kant “God is not an entity outside of me, but merely a thought within me”. Or, as Kant says on another occasion, “Merely a moral relation within me.” Nevertheless, He (God) possesses a certain kind of “reality.”  Adding up: “God is only an idea of reason, but one possessing the greatest practical internal and external reality.” Yet It us obvious that this kind of reality is not adequate to make the thought about God identical with the “belief in Him and His personality.” Transcendental philosophy, whose task was to ascertain whether there is a God, finally found itself compelled to state: It is preposterous to ask whether there is a God.”

Preposterous, as it is well known, means contrary to reason or common sense; utterly absurd or ridiculous, to what can be added, ridiculous, foolish, stupid, ludicrous, farcical, laughable, comical, risible, nonsensical, senseless, insane.

To what I should add, since a very, very long time, it goes the same for the Devil…

For those more curious, with time to spare, take a look on a Visual Display of Doublet Gods from Antiquity


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