We Hear About "Evil" All The Time, But What Does It Truly Mean?

Haile Selassie said, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” But what exactly is evil?

We Hear About "Evil" All The Time, But What Does It Truly Mean?
Via Wikimedia Commons

We all know evil when we see it, but how do we actually define it? In the wake of mass shootings, for example, almost every politician talks about how mass shootings are “evil.” But what exactly does that mean?

In Old English, evil used to mean simply “misfortune.” Enslavement and colonization have been described globally as “evil,” but the impacts of those atrocities go far beyond simple misfortunes.

There’s another layer to understanding evil, too.

Is evil moral, i.e. when humans do things or purpose to hurt others such as racism or terrorism? Or is it natural, like disasters or events that happen in nature?

Even the Bible mentions evil hundreds of times, in over 500 verses, without explicitly defining what is meant by the concept. So what does all this vague language around the concept of evil mean for us?

It means that when things we recognize as evil happen, our faith practices remind us to do more than send thoughts and prayers. We are to speak out and act. Doing this helps fight evil and reminds us of something important.

“Evil” things happen in the world, both morally and naturally. But just because they happen doesn’t necessarily mean good things cannot happen again. What good can you create in the world today?

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