Ignorance: The Mother of Evil
First, let’s focus on ignorance; then we can develop its relationship to evil. Ignorance certainly includes lack of knowledge, but ignorance is not merely absence of knowledge. Ignorance has a positive existence in human consciousness. It is incorrect beliefs more often than the mere absence of correct beliefs. The incorrect beliefs are strongly and passionately held and adamantly defended. Ignorance doesn’t just stand on a street corner and rant and rave; it talks on I-Phones, and moves in emails. It gains access to media, public offices, courtrooms, classrooms and even churches. It enters into and affects behavior just like any other strongly held belief.
Like other strongly held beliefs, ignorance is usually shared by the groups of which an individual is a part. It is what the group believes. It is handed from generation to generation in the bosom of the family. The fact that the individual is surrounded by others who maintain the incorrect belief makes it extremely difficult to eradicate. It actively resists truth and correction. The faulty dictum that one opinion is just as good as another supports it. Some opinions obviously are better than others. It forms the basis for inappropriate behavior.
Against this background it is not at all difficult to see a connecting link between ignorance and evil. The fact that the Bible teaches that we have all sinned shows that none of us are immune from ignorance. This discussion is about the concepts of ignorance and evil. It is not a pretext for launching into a tirade about some specific activity that may be going on in the world right now, although there is plenty of ignorance and evil that we could pick out to discuss.
Just a word or two about good and evil. Anything that promotes the welfare and survival of humanity is good. Anything that is harmful to humanity and decreases the likelihood of human survival is evil. Now let’s get theological. The Old Testament concept of sin, or evil, is breaking the law. The law was a gift of God. (It still is.) Jesus made it clear that he did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill the law. The abundant life that he advocated does not happen simply because one does not break the law. Breaking the law is not a good thing to do, but following the law does not necessarily make one good. The New Testament concept of evil is “missing the mark.” It is failure to live life in a way that brings about good. When one actively pursues an abundant life, and does things that make the world a better place to live, good arises.
The New Testament concepts of good and evil differ dramatically from beliefs that arise out of the Zoroastrian Persian religious milieu and its mythology. In that mythology, the hero Marduk destroys the force of evil, which is epitomized by a giant snake, Tiamat. The universe arose from the remains of the evil beast. Thus, good arises from the destruction of evil. Those fundamental differences in cultural beliefs may explain a lot about the things that are happening in the world today. But they give rise to pretty serious questions about what to do about evil.
Christians believe that the Crucifixion of Jesus was an evil thing. But Jesus said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His request was predicated on the fact that the evil actions arose from ignorance. The Bible says that the wages of Sin are death. So theoretically evil ultimately destroys itself and goes out of business. Evil ultimately doesn’t work. That seems to be consistent with Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. But all of that theological philosophy doesn’t provide great peace of mind for most of us as we watch the world that seems to be churning with evil. It does not eliminate the strong temptation to aggressively fight evil at every opportunity, and adamantly believe in our cause.
The Christian viewpoint is eminently correct. We cannot save world merely by fighting evil. Of course, when someone like Hitler comes along, we have to resist. But even that does not create good. A lot of good things were destroyed in World War II. But in the final analysis, we have to show the world a better way. When we look at the eons involved in the evolution of human consciousness, it becomes clear that we can deal with ignorance and evil only by finding and offering a better way.