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Dealing With Evil

Updated on December 4, 2015

Hollywood loves to scare us -- thus the innumerable films re. the occult, evil, and even the devil himself. When watching such films, I often wonder, where is God? Where are his angels of mercy to protect the characters?

I happen to be an atheist, but I cannot view a film where the devil gets the upper-hand without wondering why God doesn't intervene. In the better films, such as "The Exorcist," he does albeit through the actions of a human character. In "The Exorcist" Father Karras throws himself out a window rather than absorb the evil of the possessed child Regan. Karras is incensed by the death of Father Marrin (played by Max Von Sydow). Karras realizes he is losing control and charitably forfeits his own life. Suicide is frowned upon in the Roman Catholic church, but I think the bishops would overlook Father Karras' last-second decision -- because it made sense.

Max Von Sydow as Father Mirrin in "The Exorcist"
Max Von Sydow as Father Mirrin in "The Exorcist"
Father Karras played by Jason Miller in "The Exorcist"
Father Karras played by Jason Miller in "The Exorcist"

I tend to think that good and evil are manifestations of our own nature. Our media seems to exalt evil, and weakly attempts to show us that there is another side by showing us videos of people who build wheelchairs for crippled animals. Of course such gestures are lovely, but there is no equivalency.

Wheelchairs for Animals
Wheelchairs for Animals

It's more fun to ride a roller coaster than to sit in the Lotus position for two hours, concentrating on nothing or, if nothing, just one's breathing.

Roller Coaster
Roller Coaster
Meditating in the Lotus Position
Meditating in the Lotus Position

Inner-peace, harmony, the curtailment of unnecessary excitement is -- on face value -- not very exhilarating, so the pursuit of peace doesn't get the same play. People seem to enjoy experiencing a sense of danger. The adrenaline gets rushing, and it can be rather addictive.

Some people who enjoy extreme sports, talk about the adrenaline rush. Most of us in our ordinary existences do not confront life and death situations -- so we enjoy manufactured (yet seemingly safe) outlets to give us a thrill. I have nothing against this. Usually, it all just amounts to a certain amount of fun -- something that makes us feel alive. But then I have to ask myself why doesn't a sense of serenity and oneness with the universe not give us an equal "high." For all but a few, it doesn't. And this is rather tragic for our species. If peace is dull then we remain ignorant of its value and virtues.

Extreme Sports
Extreme Sports

If we thrive on life/death experiences, if we cower at representations of evil -- real or manifest, then we as a civilization seem rather juvenile and trending toward one dimensionality. We cannot live in a constant state of fear -- and fear seems to be the major tool of the devil whether it's in cinema or real life.

Even as an atheist I can see that evil is quite real. I don't have to believe there is a supernatural cause for this. No, I think we are quite capable ourselves of manufacturing enough evil on our own to spoil our civilization. Even an atheist must look inward and come to terms with his place in the universe. Some scientists are content with being the stuff of stars. I agree that the evolution of a self-aware life form springing from expunged star matter is fairly amazing, although it doesn't suggest a meaning to our existence and certainly doesn't provide a moral framework (nor should it). Science tells us nothing about why we exist.

Star Stuff
Star Stuff
Dinosaur Distruction
Dinosaur Distruction
Hominds
Hominds

Astrophysicists are nearly united in their opinion that the universe is not either FOR us or necessarily AGAINST us, although they will admit that the struggle for life is not really in our favor. Though we may be "blessed" with factors that work in our favor, over the long haul, these favors can be short-lived on an astronomical time scale. The Earth has gone through a few extinction periods where 90% of life on the planet died out. Happily, such events take epochs. But, it may not take a cataclysm to end our happy days. We are now nearly seven billion hominids walking the Earth. That creates problems of its own. Add to this that we still seem to be a tribal species, and that just adds to the complexity and uncertainty.
So, maybe it's a good thing that God or one of his representatives almost never arrives on the scene during a horror movie, but forces the writer to show that goodness must come from within us. We may have fun externalizing evil in a movie -- less so when it comes to us compared to "the other" on a planetary, societal level. Pure escapism isn't much of a worry, so let Hollywood films scare the pants off us.

The real worry is whether we believe in evil to the exclusion of goodness. It's imperative that each of us finds a balance, whether you are religious or not. It's not a joy to read the daily news and learn about suicide bombings, murder, fraud, natural disasters, and worse. The news definitely seems to focus on the most negative aspects of our civilization ... then offers us a few cute pics of a blind cat or dog adopted by a loving family. The picture is not in balance. You cannot have a news day that states nearly seven billion people just went about their daily routine, did nothing criminal, went to work, came home, and went to bed. That's not very interesting, is it? No, they take the few examples of the worst human behavior and make it into a form of entertainment -- a kind of scare show for all of us. The media caters to our more base instincts, our fear. Our adrenaline rises and we pay more attention. Who cares if nearly seven billion people conducted themselves within the norms of their society? That isn't much of a story. It's the deviations from the norm that catch our attention and activate our sense of fear and/or loathing. We have to become fully conscious of the things that might manipulate us into becoming nothing but fearful creatures. We have to see that all media plays its part and discount it or at least put it into context.

Finding evil is child's play. Discovering goodness requires some real diligence. Goodness doesn't provide an adrenaline rush, so you have to look with different eyes. It's too easy to say that the Earth is the devil's playground. I don't buy it (even if I don't believe in the devil). As stated previously, I do believe that evil exists (and is thriving), not as anything supernatural but as a manifestation of our own character.

For the seven billion people who are just trying to get through one day to the next, I applaud you. Keep up the good work. You are the hope of the world. Don't let all the bad news get you down because it represents just a tiny fraction of us.

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