I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of evil. It sounds a little odd to say it straight out like that. Like, you know, last weekend I just stayed around home, drank coffee, played a little Abalone, ruminated on evil.

It’s just that “evil” has been in the news a lot lately.

There’s a mass school shooting in Newtown. The shooter is “evil.”

Two people push innocent victims into the path of oncoming subway trains. They’re “evil.”

The trial phase begins in Aurora. People yell “evil.”

What is evil exactly?

My favorite online dictionary defines evil as “morally wrong or bad,” “wicked,” “harmful,” “injurious,” “marked by anger, irritability, irascibility”.

I think these are some seriously weak definitions for an incredibly strong word.

It goes on to define evil in these terms: “the force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin,” “the wicked or immoral part of someone or something.”

Now, at least, we’re getting somewhere.

I will use the word immoral, I will use the word wicked, I will even use the word inhuman, before I use the word evil. Evil, to me, is a supernatural term. It goes beyond immorality, beyond harm, beyond anger. The opposite of evil isn’t good or decent. It’s pure, it’s divine, it’s angelic.

Evil is a very strong term.

If evil exists at all…

Neuroscience says that it doesn’t. It’s all brain chemistry and faulty wiring. We are largely slaves to our brains. All of us. I believe absolutely in this neurological misfiring, in the ability of it to take over, to control thoughts, actions, even emotion.

I also believe in evil. I just don’t believe it’s responsible for the ills of the world as frequently as people blame it.

In both Aurora and Newtown, there was documented mental illness. In the NYC subway incidents, there was a fight and there was a hate crime, which may be the closest to true evil, but that is hatred taught, not inborn.

The term evil is troubling. It assumes powerlessness, inevitability. It’s a catchall term that eliminates personal responsibility. If people are evil, there is nothing anyone can do to help them. If they are possessed, the devil is the only one to blame.

I believe in evil. I believe it’s a force of nature. I believe it lives inside each of us.

But what I know is that, while so many people are calling out evil in the world, others are saying we must get rid of assault weapons, as other countries have done to great success, and that we need mental health reform.

One path says “we are not to blame” and does nothing.

The other says “we could have prevented this” and goes to work.

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