Thursday, July 5, 2012

Is Anything Really Evil?

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has weighed in on the religious discussions of late.  Scientology, he twitted, is “evil,” while the Mormon faith is “a mystery” but not “evil.”

That’s nice to know, but makes little sense.  How does Murdoch define evil?  How does anyone define such a nebulous term?

People have tried, of course, even assigning names like Satan or devil to an embodiment of evil.  Unfortunately, evil apparently falls into the Supreme Court’s view of pornography: undefined but recognizable.

Actually, pornography is easier to recognize.  Evil?  Pick anything and anyone.

Women?  Sure they are.  Just ask St. Jerome: "Woman is the root of all evil."

The Bible chimes in with:  “And a man will choose...any wickedness, but the wickedness of a woman...Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die." (Ecclesiasticus, 25:18, 19 & 33. 1)

People like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Mao Tse Tung, all of whom were responsible for the deaths of millions of people in the 20th century, would seem perfect images of evil, but don’t tell that to neo-Nazis, diehard Communists and many Chinese.  

That unholy trio has plenty of company on the “evil” side of the ledger.  President Franklin Roosevelt was called evil.  Conservative commentator Glen Beck called him "one evil son of a bitch."  Former President Richard Nixon (right) was evil, too, as author Hunter S. Thompson wrote in Rolling Stone in 1994:  "Richard Nixon was an evil man -- evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency."

George Washington did not escape such abuse either. "If ever a nation was debauched by a man," newspaper editor Benjamin Franklin Bache wrote, "the American nation has been debauched by Washington.”

Few presidents have evaded similar attacks.  During a recent speech to a National Rifle Association conference in St. Louis, for example, conservative musician Ted Nugent called President Obama “vile” and evil.”  

Why stop there? The late English Prime Minister Winston Churchill was called evil.  So was former Vice President Dick Cheney (left), among so many others, including Murdoch.  Political commentator Roger Simon wrote a 2011 column titled "The Evil of Rupert Murdoch." 

Religion does not escape unscathed, as Murdoch’s comment shows.  Noted atheist and scholar Richard Dawkins reportedly said, “I regard Islam as one of the great evils in the world.”  Call up “evil Islam “on Google, and 18 million sites will pop up (in .48 seconds.)

Jews, of course, are targeted, too.  Typing “Jews are evil” garnered 33.9 million sites. Famed composer Ikis Theodorakis called Jews "the root of evil."    Consider what the religious reformer Martin Luther wrote: "What shall we Christians do now with this depraved and damned people of the Jews? ... I will give my faithful advice: First, that one should set fire to their synagogues. . . . Then that one should also break down and destroy their houses. . . . That one should drive them out the country."

The Nazis obliged.

Not to be outdone, there are plenty of people that believe Christianity is evil, or Buddhism or Hinduism etc.  “Christians are evil” led to 22 million sites.  Eastern faiths apparently don’t evoke the same emotion: “Hindus are evil” elicited only 5.550 million responses; “Buddhists are evil” caused 2.510 million sites to appear.

How about the Earth?  “Nature, more of a stepmother than a mother in several ways, has sown a seed of evil in the hearts of mortals, especially in the more thoughtful men, which makes them dissatisfied with their own lot and envious of another,” Dutch humanist Erasmus wrote some 550 years ago.

Left-handed people?  Of course.  In the Middle Ages, the Devil was typically portrayed as left handed for that reason.    

Countries?  Sure.  Who can forget the “axis of evil,” in President George W. Bush’s words?  Bush (left)was referring to Iran, Iraq and North Korea.  Of course, there’s the Soviet Union, which President Ronald Reagan labeled “the evil empire.”

Companies?  Google has promoted the idea of “don’t be evil.”  Wal-Mart, on the other hand, has been labeled evil.  So have many major companies.  Procter & Gamble has been forced repeatedly to explain that its seemingly benign logo is not a symbol of evil.

Let’s not forget money.  "The love of money is the root of all evil,” according to 1Timothy 6:10.  Actually, there are lots of roots sprouting evil:  in lyricist’s Johnny Mercer’s words: “Congress is the the root of all evil" and so on. Don't forget "necessary evils."  In fact, you’d be hard pressed not to find anything that someone somewhere did not designate as evil.

Does that make anything truly evil?  Obvious not.  Evil is in the eye of the beholder, just like beauty.  That’s a problem, too.  As the prophet Isaiah said: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (5:20)

Boy, are we all in trouble.  Maybe it’s a foreshadowing of our future: “…But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come . . . Evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving (lying) and being deceived." (2 Timothy 3:1, 13)

Either that or Murdoch’s comments reflect the usually calumny directed at anything that’s misunderstood.  Evil is an easy cop-out.  Point a finger and cite the devil. 

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty evil way to deal with anything.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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