2009-11-22

Things Good and Evil

 
What does it mean to say something or someone is good or evil? When we inspect things closely, even if we try hard to see what is good in all things, we may have a hard time realizing what about some things could possibly be good. What is evil?
The ancient Christian philosopher Augustine of Hippo taught that evil is not a positive substance, but merely the absence of good. This way of thinking about good and evil can help us appreciate the world as it already exists while we also inspiring us to work toward a better world to come.
All things have some aspect of goodness, even if it is only the good of existing. What appears evil about a thing is how it lacks what is good, or what is better. Its evil is a defect rather than a present substance. So, however little there is about something that is good about it, we can, if we try hard enough, find this good in it and appreciate it.
At the same time, when we see evil as inadequacy, we can see the potential for good in all things, by their ability to be built up and repaired. In fact, seeing things in this way liberates us from a foolish, rigid dualism. All things are good in some ways, but also could be better, and thus contain elements of evil.
Since everything in the world is at the same time both good and evil, the way to greater good is by filling up what is lacking in good in all things. Evil, which does not exist as a positive substance, can spontaneously disappear, like an empty space being filled.
As it says in the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Truth, "As in the case of the ignorance of a person, when he comes to have knowledge, his ignorance vanishes of itself, as the darkness vanishes when light appears, so also the deficiency vanishes in the perfection. . . . In time . . . each one will attain himself; within knowledge he will purify himself from multiplicity into unity, consuming matter within himself like fire, and darkness by light, death by life."
All of nature, including ourselves, is potentially good, and also potentially able to become better, and to make itself better. We can become better to ourselves, and to others, and to all the rest of nature. The rest of nature, that which is not human, can also become better to themselves, and to us.
By uplifting ourselves and the rest of nature into a better harmony, one yielding greater happiness, we can aim to fulfill human nature and all of nature in its distinctiveness – the complete happiness of all sentient and sapient beings.
The evils of the natural world, including the evils in ourselves, are a temporary way-station, a time of transition from what is insufficiently good on the way to becoming something better. Nature is partly good, yet on the way to becoming something better, and human nature is partly good, yet on the way to becoming something better. Humanity will be fulfilled when it has fully realized its own nature by becoming fully human -- that is, by realizing its divine nature.
Right now, we are still vulnerable to sources of evil inside ourselves and outside ourselves in the natural world. But if we uplift ourselves and help the rest of the natural world uplift itself, we will be able to become what we will be, remedying every defect in our hearts and minds, healing every illness, strengthening every weakness, and supplying every inadequacy. In that way humanity will be able to become saviors of themselves and the rest of nature. It is not the gods we believe in that will save us; rather, it is the gods we will become.