Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Spirituality and Evil

While it can inspire respect of people and other species, spirituality also can be used for evil. When we objectify the unknown as good or evil, as many religions are prone to do, we end up only respecting the “good” parts, and isolate or destroy the “bad” parts.

I would argue that the terms “good” and “evil” should only be applied to our TREATMENT of people or species, not to people or species themselves. My use of the term “evil” therefore involves the hurt or destruction of others, not the character of the people doing the hurt or destruction. To brand any individual or group (of people or species) as good or evil is to assume that they will always behave as they did when the label was applied, and leads to uniform treatment of them which, more often than not, will be inappropriate and possibly damaging (that is, evil).

A perceptive reader might counter that this discussion exposes the most important aspect of evil, as a set of actions rather than a characteristic of people, which implies that objectifying people and species is okay as long as you include an accurate portrayal of their actions. If abstractions could be made perfect, this would be a valid argument, but as history can attest, even the most rigorous models of physical reality are merely caricatures, focusing on a limited set of characteristics with predictive power that involves non-trivial degrees of probability. Put another way, we can say, based on our abstractions, what MIGHT happen (with some quantifiable level of confidence), but not what WILL happen (with total confidence).

Given the fact of uncertainty in our models, we must keep from acting solely based on our expectations. Spirituality, in its purest application, enables us to respect everyone and everything enough to minimize our own evil.

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