Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Monday, August 26, 2013

Evil walks the Earth

Religious people have this powerful concept, "evil", that many of us seem to have lost in our effort to see the world rationally, according to the old concept of "Enlightenment". And yet, I think that what's happening around us deserves to be described in this way. The wanton destruction of everything - human and non human - under a pervasive blanket of indifference can only be described as evil walking the Earth.

Here is a meditation by Richard Rohr - Franciscan Friar. He mentions brush fires not in the context of climate change, but the meaning is clear.

The Invisible Spiral of Violence

Meditation 22 of 52

If you cannot recognize evil on the level of what I call the world, then the flesh and the devil are inevitable consequences. They will soon be out of control, and everything is just trying to put out brush fires on already parched fields. The world or “the system” is the most hidden, the most disguised, and the most denied—but foundational—level of evil. It’s the way cultures, groups, institutions, and nations organize themselves to survive.
It is not “wrong” to survive, but for some reason group egocentricity is never seen as evil when you have only concentrated on individual egocentricity (“the flesh”). That is how our attention has been diverted from the whole spiral of violence. The “devil” then stands for all of the ways we legitimate, enforce, and justify our group egocentricity (most wars; idolization of wealth, power, and show; tyrannical governments; many penal systems; etc.), while not now calling it egocentricity, but necessity!
Once any social system exists, it has to maintain and assert itself at all cost. Things we do inside of that system are no longer seen as evil because “everyone is doing it.” That’s why North Koreans can march lockstep to a communist tyranny, and why American consumers can “shop till they drop” and make no moral connections whatsoever. You see now why most evil is hidden and denied, and why Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). We don’t.


  1. I like Donald Brown's approach to climate ethics in a nice short (6:53) video: Even Monkeys Would Get Climate Injustice

    Description: This video argues that climate change raises such obvious questions of justice and fairness, even monkeys would spot the injustice of some government positions on climate change. The video has been motivated by the absence in discussions about climate change policy of many obvious ethical and justice issues. Although for some climate change ethical issues, it may be difficult to determine what perfect justice requires, governments' positions on these issues are often obviously ethically bankrupt. For this reason, those interested in getting more traction for ethics in climate policy formation should focus on the injustice of positions of governments and individuals.

    Also see for more on ethics and climate.

  2. I agree with you Ugo. A lot of what is going on nowadays (though also earlier) I think easily could be called "evil". However when I try to define the term I really don't find it helpful to start thinking about the devil and/or similar such. So maybe what is going on is evil ...and evil is what is going on? Whatever it "ultimately" is, it offends the human spirit and "natural" human ethics. And what is the human spirit? Something that is offended by evil things that look and feel evil?

    Religion and its categories pervade almost every aspect of human thinking and even experience because they have been around for a very long time and have become part of all languages and cultures. (or even helped to form them from the outset). I think that trying to create a "religion-free" modern and totally secular "enlightenment" or "post-enlightenment" vocabulary and lexicon would be very difficult. But it probably doesn't help to over-indulge certain religious categories and particularly if one is an atheist. (which of course is itself a term imbued with and defined by religion since it means a non-theist)

    It's hard to get away completely from some of those guys ! maybe if one cannot beat them then why not join them at their own game?...(at least linguistically)....But I think it would be GOOD (and NOT evil) to stay well away from talking about or "believing in" Axes of Evil....and probably even more so to believe in the far more dangerous Axes of Good ! And besides why be exclusive when one can be inclusive? Clearly "evil" is not something that belongs only to some ! (after all aren't we all destroying the biosphere?) (though of course some are "more evil" than others )

    Etymology of the word religion:

    " The word religion is derived from Latin "religio" (what attaches or retains, moral bond, anxiety of self-consciousness, scruple) used by the Romans, before Jesus Christ, to indicate the worship of the demons.
    The origin of "religio" is debated since antiquity. Cicero said it comes from "relegere" (to read again, to re-examine carefully, to gather) in the meaning "to carefully consider the things related to the worship of gods".
    Later, Lucretius, Lactancius and Tertullianus see its origin in "religare" (to connect) to refer "the bond of piety that binds to God". Initially used for Christianity, the use of the word religion gradually extended to all the forms of social demonstration in connection with sacred."

    "Evil" instead seems to have this etymology:

    Old English yfel (Kentish evel) "bad, vicious, ill, wicked," from Proto-Germanic *ubilaz (cf. Old Saxon ubil, Old Frisian and Middle Dutch evel, Dutch euvel, Old High German ubil, German übel, Gothic ubils), from PIE *upelo-, from root *wap- (cf. Hittite huwapp- "evil").

    "In OE., as in all the other early Teut. langs., exc. Scandinavian, this word is the most comprehensive adjectival expression of disapproval, dislike or disparagement" [OED]. Evil was the word the Anglo-Saxons used where we would use bad, cruel, unskillful, defective (adj.), or harm, crime, misfortune, disease (n.). The meaning "extreme moral wickedness" was in Old English, but did not become the main sense until 18c. Related: Evilly. Evil eye (Latin oculus malus) was Old English eage yfel. Evilchild is attested as an English surname from 13c.

    And I am sure that now after ALL the above "super-clarifications" everything is now of course (inevitably) "MUCH CLEARER".

    1. Max
      Thanks for some etymology!

      In the West I think we might go back to Plato. Error and the mix of 'good' and 'bad' are demonstrable given any variety of definitions, of course. But Plato does not seem to identify 'evil' as one of the 'forms'.

      'Good', like 'Beauty' is a 'form', but I do not see 'evil' as having an independent existence - to have become a 'master form'?

      Sure we need to be alive to departures from the 'good' - but an over-definition of the concept of 'sin' takes us down strange roads and leads to odd perceptions of 'first causes' - into a kind of a 'blame culture' where we grasp at straws of explanation?

      Hmmm ... well not so clear on my part perhaps!

  3. "“Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). We don’t."

    Ain't that the truth.