2. Evil is not merely an absence of something but an active force, a living, spiritual being that is perverted and that perverts others. It is a terrible reality, mysterious and frightening. When the problem of evil is seen in all its complexity and in its absurdity from the point of view of our limited minds, it becomes an obsession. It poses the greatest single obstacle to our religious understanding of the universe.
We find evil in the realm of nature, where so many of its expressions seem to speak to us of some sort of disorder. Then we find it among human beings, in the form of weakness, frailty, suffering, death and something worse: the tension between two laws-one reaching for the good, the other directed toward evil. St. Paul points out this torment in humiliating fashion to prove our need a salvific grace, for the salvation brought by Christ, and also our great good fortune in being saved. Even before this, a pagan poet had described this conflict within the very heart of man: "I see what is better and I approve of it, but then I follow the worse." (Papal Address: Confronting the devil's power, 15 November 1972).
3. For those for whom evil is a problem, the significance lies in what they consider to be the chief evil. In the Western religious texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, disobedience born out of pride is a chief attitudinal evil. However, a more subtle evil is forgetfulness, a lack of attention or inability to recollect, metaphorically called 'sleep', in which God, His words and even the highest spirit in man is lost to mind. Among the Greek religions, for example the Orphic, the sleep of the mind or death of memory (by Lethe) was among the chief evils. Popularly in all these religions the chief behavioural evils include blasphemy, sexual misbehaviour and obvious crimes against persons and property. In psychology the chief evil appears to be the obstacles to the maturation of the personality. In socialism the chief evil is the obstacle to the distribution of wealth. In anarchy the chief evil is the concentration of power. To alleged evil beings themselves, from fiends to head devils, the chief evils are said to be light, the willingness that one person would sacrifice himself or die for others, forgiveness, and (according to Christians and Buddhists) prayer or meditation.
4. Let us remember that the nature of evil is to offer itself to us daily under the guise of good. It is then very easily taken in, and given lodging, as if it were good; but soon after, it secretely strikes down its unwary host with a sword, as he deserves. (Marsilio Ficino).
5. What are the sources of unavoidable evil? First is the intersection of humanity and the rules of nature. Earthquakes produce evil results when humans decide to build their communities along a fault. Second are imperfections of the human organism itself. We don't know why God chose to create the human body with cells and organs subject to disease, failure and death. He has set nature in motion and desires to allow it, as much as possible, to sustain its own laws. Thirdly, humans having free will means that they are capable of evil and that we are all vulnerable to the evil machinations of other persons.
6. Being human requires us to acknowledge our imperfection, our creatureliness. It requires us to recognize our vulnerability to forces more powerful or more malignant than us -- not simply to be resigned to them, but to combat all those forms of evil. At the same time, our dignity as bearers of the image of God demands of us more than a war against evil. It is also our responsibility to promote the spread of good.
2. In as much as there are only human and natural agents in human affairs, the hoary concept of evil argues for the continuing lack of knowledge of human and natural law. More importantly, it attests to the lack of maturity of humanity which is still unwilling to accept responsibility for itself. Some schools of psychotherapy argue that the very milieu that makes actualization of the Self possible also demands that certain components of the Self remain unactualized or be actively repressed there. Such unacceptable elements have been stigmatized as bad or evil, corresponding to the "shadow" side of an individual or collectivity. In whatever culture a child grows up, it is usual for him to identify his conscious personality with whatever his group holds to be good and for his shadow complex to become the repository of all that is evil. In the process of human development, the effort to make the shadow conscious necessarily results in the manifestation of evil effects until whatever has been repressed can be appropriately integrated and contained. The risk of global catastrophe is increased by the collective tendency to project shadow qualities on to social systems, political institutions and individuals. The evil attributes of the shadow are of vital significance for the development process because of the inner transformation in individuals and collectivities brought about by the attempt to contain and integrate them. Such an experience is infinitely more important than political and social reforms which are valueless in the hands of people who are not at one with themselves. As opposite poles of the morality archetype, good and evil are ineradicable characteristics of the human condition. To hope to embrace one and eliminate the other is to breed personal division and public disorder. Both individuation and planetary salvation demand that people be aware of their capacity for both good and evil and that ethical choices be made between the two. Inasmuch as it enhances social responsibility, consciousness of the shadow benefits the group. Awareness of the personal or collective shadow means suffering the tension between good and evil in full consciousness, and through that suffering the basis for a richer and more profound integration emerges.
3. To characterize something as evil is to refuse to understand it. People are not evil: only actions are evil.