Whatever/Whoever G-d may be, in the end, is a notion that I can’t see fitting into my own rather limited homo-sapiens brain. Any anthromorphization (e.g., old man with a long, white beard) is simply a diminuization of the notion itself.
On the other hand, it is easy – it almost lends itself – to thinking about “the Devil” (I consciously avoid the use of the word “Satan” for many reasons) in anthropomorphic terms. Could it be that this is because it is almost natural to inflate our own considerations of our human nature into mythologic terms?
In other words, why should a deflation of G-d (good) equal an inflation of evil?
Or, perhaps stated even more strongly: if we (humans) were created in the likeness and image of G-d, why do we need a third party to ascribe “evil” to. What we find as evil in the world is nothing more than the results of human action and activity. It’s just us. Why do we need a Devil at all … except to rationalize away our own guilt?
If I apply Occam’s razor, the Devil gets shaved away.
I tend to skew “post-metaphysical” (or “beyond good and evil”) in my general philosophical outlook, but I do think there is some virtue in reintegrating the old, sturdy metaphysical verities. In an atmosphere of perverse, pervavise nihilisitic relativism (or “hypernormalization”) to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough could be clarifying, even galvanizing.
At the same time, I wouldn’t want to fully dispense with the nondual view; and I’m reminded of a song by Stuart Davis, apropos.
That said, I think Jonathan’s piece describes well the basic dimensions of the inner struggle, insofar he goes beyond “cartoonish” depictions of good and evil, while still advocating for a strong conception of moral agency.
A good corrective- the re-attribution of moral agency to the individual- in the contemporary world of attributing determinants to the astrological, numerological, entangled field that gives us the liberty to evade responsibility and plough the selfish furrows.
It is bound to be both inasmuch as the trends hold sway, and we can swim with or against the currents. Yet we are still subject to them. I find the prevalence of debased thinking and conduct so overwhelming that the only comfort lies it assuming the dark gathers its energy simply to obscure the coming light. For me this is not a conviction of faith, but of the balance that prevails in every other field, the pendulum restoration.
It is also (I suppose) a residual belief that nothing ultimately is ever lost, and the capacities of heroism, and inspired creativity still reside but only, as they always did, deep in the individual. The ‘collective’ has always exerted the inertia against which the individual must struggle, but perhaps now that has become explicit. The savagery has made it so.
I welcome the use of the word ‘evil’ as a power recognised in its own right and not dissolved in half truths and faux sympathy. This article ( and Ignacious Loyola) looks it in the eye, and that is a good start (or old recovery). I grow fatigued- no angry-at the evasions, however slight that now prevail. I mean even the limp excuses that pass muster for the ‘Will of the Universe’. Indifference can be owned as can selfishness. Both can be part redeemed by honesty, and part dissolved in its clear water.
For me God is consciousness, the field of creation, and our participation within it is defined by discernment, the shades of grey are black and white when discerningly perceived.
My point was that this moral agency was and is always with us. I think we have used the focusing of evil into its own thingness, i.e. “the Devil”, as a way of pushing the responsibility for evil away from ourselves. I keep hoping we (that is, we humans, as conscious beings) will finally drop the trappings and actually look evil in the eye, realizing that what we’re seeing is ourselves, not, as St. Ignacious would have it, G-d’s counterpart.
Who is the “ourselves,” though, that we are seeing if/when we look evil “in the eye”? Who’s eye?
As an individual moral agent (which is a nice idea)—what am I responsible for? Where am I at cause?
As a member of species sapiens, what? What genus of evil genius lurks in my DNA?
As a Western supposedly white male? As an American? As a Cosmic being?
The in-divual is by definition undivided, so clearly his/her responsibility must be as well.
But undivided from what or whom?
To have a conversation (including with oneself), there must be some division, some other or “devil”—which discernment disambiguates. Which self is true and which illusion? The devil is in the details!
All metaphysics are essentially about “ourselves,” yes?
One may take my invocation of angels and demons as literally or metaphorically as one wishes (the distinction between the two will be the topic of an upcoming article). Whether one chooses to think of them as actual spiritual beings or anthropomorphized psychological constructs, I urge readers not to get too caught up in such distinctions, as such squabbles are largely beside the point.
Truth be told, I am reluctant to engage figures of speech on a literal level. In my mind – as simple as it may be – it’s too easy to go from fundamental to fundamentalistic.
Nevertheless, there is a phenomenon that we in the English-speaking world refer to by the word “evil”. I take it also to be of a very fundamental nature insofar as we only find it whenever and wherever members of the genus sapiens are to be found … not always, mind you, but when it is there, humans are involved.
What one’s DNA has to do with it is very unclear to me, simply because at my present state of development, I see DNA as providing a physical (as opposed to spiritual, knowing full well I am making a somewhat arbitrary distinction, but I believe useful one nevertheless) basis for whatever living creatures are. One of the things about Gebser’s notion of Origin that appeals to me (and which I also find useful in my own searching) is its spiritual (as opposed to physical nature). This does not preclude the use of the notionality of “origins”, for that is what I understand we are talking about here, for the most part: self, evil, etc. are non-physical, but that in and of itself does not appear to me to be enough to comprehend them. There is, for me, a “more” involved that I am comfortable with in identifying as spiritual/conscious/… and which I feel is a necessary part of the discussion. In recent decades, the work of the materialist-cognitive scientists, however, has done a lot to muddy already murky waters.
Now, I couldn’t agree with you more: no division, no discernment. Or, for those of us who occasionally try to push our minds beyond our humanness, the ol’ how-does-the-one-become-many problematic. In non-physical realms, if you will, this problematic is even more challenging, I think, for if we are to think about it seriously, we have to start examining those assumptions and presuppositions we normally don’t even realize we have or are making. Of course, none of this lends itself to clear and definitive statements, but the beliefs that result are the tools we use to explore further. Some folks are willing to modify theirs in light of new “evidence” (however that may be conceived) and others are less willing to do so. I like to think I belong to the former group, but I have to continually check to ensure myself that I do.
(There is a great likelihood that I’m the exception not the rule when it comes to thinking fundamentally. That is neither critique nor criticism nor acclaim, it is merely an observation. When I look out into the world (well, my world, actually), I don’t find a whole lot of fellow fundamentals-seekers. And that’s OK, I’m not complaining, again, only observing. I would be the last to argue that we need to do away with old dualisms, regardles of how useless they may appear in my eyes (there’s that damned figure of speech again!) for I know that they can be and are helpful to others. Knowing full well that some folks may never let go of them. (The devil has served a useful purpose for a lot longer than most such constructs, and new ones get introduced every day, and who knows how long how wide or how deep some of these may be usedful …) I keep hoping nevertheless that one day I’ll notice something of a shift in the direction of overcoming, but today’s not the day.)
So, yes, in a sense, all metaphysics is about “ourselves”, for it is only “we” (whoever or whatever that may ultimately be) who concern (or, perhaps, can concern) themselves with such matters.
It certainly was not my intention to squabble.
I thought out loud a thought that was prompted by your article. That might have been unwise. I have found the ensuing back-and-forth rather helpful (for me at any rate), because I don’t think it is beside the point, I see it as in-additon-to, yet I also realize that it can be a distraction-from.
I think it’s worth unpacking these distinctions, and adding reflections prompted by “fundamental considerations,” as I think Jonathan is pointing us toward.
To add to the cluster, here is a talk by Jordan Peterson I watched (and appreciated) a few weeks ago, via @bradsayers in another topic.
Peterson is having something of a moment for not great reasons. (You can google it.) But here he is talking about the “absolute nature of reality,” articulating an impassioned conception of evil vis-a-vis tragedy, the infinite, and other existential fundamentals.
Thank you for this. It’s well-written and relevant to the times.
The commentary on St. Ignatius and “spirits” was thought-provoking:
These phenomena were a central concern for St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century Catholic mystic famous for founding the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. He developed a series of spiritual exercises to help the initiate discover and develop a spiritual gift known as the discernment of spirits. The “spirits” in this case may be thought of as motives. They are drives within us that seek satisfaction. One might imagine that Ignatius, like many ascetics before him, would encourage a militant attitude of self-denial, refraining from “worldly” desires. Yet with his keen psychological insight, he realized that desires are actually very important. So important, in fact, that God speaks to us through our desires. The problem is that we confuse desires with whims or impulses. One may feel very strongly in the moment that one wants to cheat on their spouse, or get drunk for the third night in a row, or have fast food every night of the week. Yet these desires are fleeting. Upon satisfying them, we do not ultimately feel satisfied with ourselves. On the other hand, one may have a desire to improve one’s health, to spend more time with friends and family, to perfect a skill, or to pursue a vocation. These desires may not burn as bright in a moment of passion, but if pursued effectively, they leave us with a more prolonged sense of satisfaction.
Ignatius gives a number of exercises for discerning such spirits. He notes a number of features that characterize higher and lower desires. Any desire that comes with a sense of urgency in making a decision, unless external circumstances demand it, is almost always from the Dark One.
The concept of “spirits” is interesting. The term itself is significant because it aligns us with the divine and not the physical. Edgar Cayce’s writings on ideals are similar. Here is a link :
“Spirits” and “ideals” are each a holistically valuable and concrete system we can employ. (System: stem: underground / in the dark: gestation / creation: surfaced in growth.)
In closing, it is true that pursuing and perfecting a skill or relationship will provide us with more prolonged satisfaction than satisfying an impulse of drink or affair. This pursuit is made more satisfying because more effort is required before achieving such. Anything worthwhile requires this effort.
The Devil is always available, then, because many are bored and lazy. Bored with what’s present and works, lazy because making any effort at self-improvement is agitating, irritating, and pained. We do not consider the long term: How will this effect not only me but someone I love? We are not creatures of habit. We are creatures continually seeking new habitation. The Devil without God is ruin. The Devil with God? A shadow cast upon our peering gaze and we see where the light is an instructive silhouette.