The Sinister Situation of Evil: Problem or Necessity?

Q: I try to understand evil itself – what is it? Brokenness from the biology of the human being, brokenness from the things that have happened sometimes before and sometimes after birth? I’m not finding the right words as I struggle to understand the essence of evil which may inform one’s response but not in terms of consequences.

Robert: Whether we are completely conscious of it or not, all our theologizing is done within a worldview: a philosophical system of thought that governs the careful formulation of our most cherished religious beliefs. Our beliefs concerning the theology of redemption, which necessarily includes the difficult discussion of evil, are no exception. Concerned with meeting the spiritual needs of contemporary society, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin found the classical explanation of evil as “the privation of being”—one that may have seemed logical in a static, perfectly ordered cosmos—seriously deficient in an evolutionary universe.  As a result, he sought to offer a more palatable explanation of the nature of evil in light of this reigning worldview.

While the nuances of his position are complex, his basic premise is that evil is a necessary and inevitable consequence of a world in ever-increasing organization and wholeness. He writes: “[In the process of evolution,] for implacable statistical reasons, and at every level—preliving, living, reflectively conscious—it is impossible that there not be some disorder or lack of organization in a multiplicity that is progressively moving toward a higher degree of organization.” For Teilhard, evil is the result of the incompleteness of life, a failure to unite and a refusal to bring God’s creation to completion. Let us briefly examine this proposition.

In an evolutionary paradigm, the activity of creation is conceived as a gradual process of unification, namely, to create is to unite. It is a slow movement from erratic multiplication to deeper unity, one that reaches its final synthesis in Christ (St. Paul’s pleroma: the moment when all is consciously united in Christ). Thus, if creation is understood as an unremitting process of advancing wholeness and the totalization of Christ is the culminating point of this long trajectory, then Teilhard concluded that the problem of evil is no longer a problem. In other words, the great minds who inhabited ancient cosmologies necessarily had difficulty reconciling the existence of evil with the belief in a ready-made world fashioned by a good and omnipotent God. In a world in a constant state of becoming—what might be more aptly described as continual creation—however, evil is an unavoidable and natural byproduct. Teilhard explains:

By arranging and unifying little by little, through [Christ’s] attracting influence and utilization of the random combinations that occur in quantities of large number, an immense multitude of elements, at first almost infinitely numerous, extremely simple, and possessing negligible consciousness, then gradually more rare and more complex, and finally gifted with reflection. now what is the inevitable counterpart of any success obtained by following a process of this kind if not the necessity of paying success by a certain amount of waste? Disharmony or decomposition in preliving matter, suffering among living things, sin in the domain of liberty: there is no order in the process of formation that does not at every stage of the process imply disorder. There is nothing. . . in this condition of participated being which would lessen the dignity or limit the omnipotence of the Creator. Nor is there anything whatever savoring of Manicheism. Pure unorganized multiplicity is not bad in itself. But because it is multiple—that is, essentially subject in its arrangements to the play of chance—it is absolutely impossible that it progress toward unity without giving ride to evil here and there by statistical necessity.

Evil is, therefore, not an accident but “the very expression of a state of plurality that is not yet completely organized. . . It is an enemy, the shadow that God raises by [God’s] decision to create.” A universe in evolution is a universe racked with growing pains; it is one that is locked in battle against the natural forces of unification that are indispensable to the future consummation of the God-world relationship.

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  1. Janet Winfield on January 22, 2023 at 4:15 am


  2. Craigus on November 15, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    When I see a vine choking a tree I don’t regard it as evil because I understand the level of consciousness that the vine possess is relatively infinitesimal. When I see a dog biting a human, again, I do not consider it evil for the same reason. But when I see a human choking a dog that’s when evil begins to mean something.

    Evil, it seems to me, is something that really has any meaning when applied to beings that possess a self-reflective level of consciousness. Applying that term to anything below that level of consciousness is pretty clumsy I think. Not really convinced by the answer you’ve given. A bit too reductionistic.

    It’s dangerous ground to equate unconsciousness with evil. There’s definitely a relationship there but they’re not the same thing.

  3. Joe Masterleo on September 23, 2021 at 8:06 am

    The much sought after grail is beyond all molecular, atomic and subatomic affinities, yet is intimately associated with them. So thinking paradoxically, it is “beyond-within,” a both/and phenomenon. A necessary key to discovering this mysterious axial and active germ at the root of all things is found in the medieval concept of the word “university,” which over the centuries has devolved, vitiated along more exclusive empirical lines. The word “universe” derives from the Old French “univers,” which in turn derives from the Latin “universum,” literally “turned around on one thing.” The word “university” came into English in the 1200’s, derived from the Latin “universus,” meaning “whole or entire,” and “veritas,” meaning “truth.” Part of its definition included the notion of helping a student ‘find his place in the universe.’ The key to attaining that goal, and with it the solution to the mythical holy grail quest was by two means, intellectual knowledge (scientia) and contemplative practice via the monastary (sapientia) — combining science and the wisdom traditions. The study of the natural cosmos was combined with Scripture so that knowledge of the cosmos would lead to knowledge of God. In modern terms, that involves combining an integrated left and right brain way of educating. Heads of universities then understood the sacred nature of creation which they felt could exist in and of itself. Most medievalists maintained. Most medievalists maintained that true knowledge forms an inner wholeness, and the primary goal of the university is to liberate the spark (Teilhard’s ‘fire’) within the inmost center of a soul (‘scintilla animae’), enabling a vision of that center in all things. It was axiomatic that only a combination of the spiritual life and learning could lead to a penetrating vision of reality as a whole, and each person’s place in it. Knowledge of self, knowledge of the cosmos, and Spirit were seen as bound together in a harmonious whole. And contemplation was seen as the gateway to the really real.

    “The spark which is in my true self is a flash of the Absolute recognizing itself in me” (Thomas Merton).

    Contrast this medieval ethos with that of most modern universities, whereby knowledge and degrees are sought and disseminated primarily as a means to economic advancement. The current range of knowledge in most university curricula no longer relates to a harmonious whole, but a mechanized universe requiring the mastery of partitioned specialties and subspecialties. Developing human identity integral to the cosmos has, with few exceptions, become a thing of the past. Many believe that separating ‘scientia’ from ‘sapientia’ has caused “higher” education to fall from its first estate, the attainment of wisdom and with it wholeness, and the ability to conceptualize therefrom, THE key to synthesis, “whose dream,” said Teilhard, “is to discover and master the ultimate energy of which all other energies are but servants, by grasping the very mainspring of evolution, seizing the tiller of the world.” He well understood the new ideas are best incubated when both left and right brain work together, combining knowledge that belongs as much to the soul, as to the body and mind. Such is the key to seeing the unified whole of things, without which there can be no effective synthesis, or attainment in personal or collective Omega in this rare phylum of love leading to the Parousia.

    Meanwhile, the aim of this mythical quest remains, two co-create and redeem with Christ in our little corner of the world, subjecting a little more matter to Spirit via the “narrow way” spoken of by Christ, and passed on in the medieval tradition of “university,” discovering that “one thing” in which all things consist and are held together organically as unified physical/spiritual center of creation. Such is the mythical middle path that reconciles the tension of all apparent contraries, multiplicities and polarities, the place of agreement in any dichotomy or dispute — science (scientia) and spirituality (sapientia) included.

  4. Joe Masterleo on September 18, 2021 at 11:24 am

    I will give a few clues as to what this “new idiom” is that (1) synthesizes science and religion once and for all, (2) bridges both these artificially contrived and siloed disciplines via its unalloyed, indivisible, and standalone nature, from its vantage point making no such distinction between them, (3) at once exists within the field of time and outside it, (4) draws all things upward and forward in its trajectory, (4) holds all things to itself and themselves from their center at all cosmic scales, and is the substance of their form universally, (5) embeds in matter like leaven in bread, both animating and suranimating it in its outworking(s) and evolution in personal history and over deep time in collective history, and (7) is the same essence/dynamism at work in so-called “inner” space (psyche/spirit) and “outer” space (the world of matter), though itself makes no such distinction between them. I’ll pose the clue in riddle form, so put on your thinking caps. We’ll call it the “Riddle of the Russian Doll.” Ready?

    What is plain as day in every way, and perfectly revealed, yet dark as night and out of sight, perfectly concealed?

    The answer to WHAT “it” is (laid claim to by science), is the same answer as to WHO “it” is (laid claim to by theology), both disciplines laying claim to this mysterious reality as a partial truth, owing to their respective limitations in seeing the whole. The correct answer to the riddle must fulfill the synthesis vision of Teilhard, harmonizing with science, theology, and all disciplines, bar none. Said answer must be expressed in a single, all-encompassing word, and its basics teachable to a middle school child –j in the words of Ilia “creating a new whole, with new symbols, rituals, language, creeds, and forms of worship” in a manner consistent with ancient wisdom traditions and cosmologies.

    So have at it, all you synthesis seekers. Whoever cracks this mystery will be in possession of none other than the legendary Holy Grail, heretofore sought after unsuccessfully by many a questing, but less than whole-seeing knight.

  5. Joe Masterleo on September 15, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    I’m not with Teilhard on this one, or more aptly put, not with the interpretation of Teilhard on the subject of evil given here. Indeed, evil is a ‘privation of being’ in the following way: To know Christ as the physical center of creation, and love as the essence of that center (defined by Teilhard as an “energy”) makes this mysterious center (God) and its energy (love) the proper domain of physics, or what he termed a ‘hyperphysics’ or ‘ultraphysics’ of the future. Today, such is known as quantum physics. And so Teilhard’s mythical futurist model is a magnetic one, or more properly, an electromagnetic one, whose energies have supernatural/spiritual/extrasensory/paranormal dimensions which physics made no room for in his day. What has this to do with evil? Plenty, from the standpoint of synthesis and a new story (cosmotheology) whose rudiments must pass through and beyond Teilhard. Such requires a new idiom that effectively joins science and spirituality via physics in our technological age. In the biblical narrative, Satan lies in contrast to the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6), Christ, who came to reverse the dominant materialized polarity (darkness/evil) of this fallen world and present age. Both Christ and Satan, good and evil, darkness and light, and all other unreconciled polarities are electromagnetic entities, twinned polar expressions of a single energy field that are mirror images of one another. They are given names and identified as persons, Christ and Satan, as if they were finite, localized beings. In reality, they are nonlocal aspects of the SAME universal continuum of light/darkness “in which ALL THINGS consist and are held together” (Col.1:17). Same energy, different polarities. Meaning, all things consist of polarized currents residing everywhere in the cosmos and nature at all scales, including the human soul. And all of them are God in some form of either higher or lower vibrational expression, falling somewhere on the slope of a continuum. Such is what often “attracts” (electrical term) them to each other per se, and in convergence at all scales, causing them to couple, swarm or create tribes and societies, what Teilhard termed ‘anthropogenesis.’ The same applies today with science and spirituality, once contraries now converging. Therefore, evil is not a positive entity present in devils or persons, qua evil. Rather, it is a radical or temporary departure from the good, marked by its opposite pole in superficiality, ignorance, deficiency, (depravity), privation, and/or immaturity in human souls. Absenting an inner awareness/awakening of the dominant polarity in a soul (its polestar = Christ) and with it virtue, allows the other polarity, ie. fear, dominative power, violence, darkness and terror to fill the void where the good (God) belongs.

    “Even those who seem to be “devils” derive their existence from the Good, and are naturally good . . . they are called evil through the deprivation and loss whereby they have lapsed from their proper virtues” (Pseudo-Dionysis).

    I have an award winning book on this which fulfills and completes the synthesis vision of Teilhard and beyond, and is about 20 years ahead of its time. Such is the fate of innovators, welcomed only after their time, if at all.


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