In this series:
Why are humans Evil?
Some comments on a recent post brought up the question of why humans are moral. Is it because there is a God, or did we just evolve to act this way?
Intriguing as that question is, I'm more interested in a different question.
Why are humans evil?
This may seem like a strange question at first. After all, many people talk about nature “red in tooth and claw”, as if nature were this vast landscape of total war - every creature against every creature - always violence, always death, always brutality. In this landscape, humanity is a bright spot of unnatural goodness.
But that doesn't really seem to be the way things are. Nature is composed of vast cooperative enterprises, from coral reefs to forests to flocks of birds and schools of fish. Multi-celled creatures organize themselves into ecosystems and symbiotic relationships, bees and flowering plants maintaining each other's existence, bacteria supporting ever more complex life-forms, scavengers and predators working to turn dead animals back into usable food.
The points of contact at which any violence may occur are relatively few. Two different animals fighting over a meal, one animal trying to eat - another animal trying not to be eaten, two animals battling it out for a mate. Even then, we sometimes find the violence to be less than we assumed - predators are often only picking off the already dying, and battles for mating privileges are usually resolved by establishing who is stronger, leaving both combatants relatively unharmed.
In the animal world, there is no vengeance, no war, no genocide. Animals act to achieve their needs, but they go no further. They do not hold grudges, they do not maintain feuds, they do not even seek to wipe out their competition.
But humans are different. We hold deep grudges, and nourish deep anger. We plot to destroy, we conspire to kill, we organize to go to war. We wipe out whole races of people, and enslave millions. We do what could not even be conceived of by looking at the natural world.
How did we get this way?
I think it starts with death. As far as we know, we are the only creatures with a deep and abiding sense of our own mortality - not just as a future event, but as a reality which haunts us, which lives with us, which steals a little of our identity every day.
Genesis describes this dynamic. The first human beings, naive and uncorrupted, reached out and took for themselves the knowledge of the gods. And once they had tasted it, they recoiled in terror. The knowledge of their own mortality sunk deep into them, changing who they were, filling them with fear and shame.
In a way non-existent anywhere else, we human beings know that we are dying. And we fear. Our fear possesses us, our fear makes us pursue our own self-interest, our fear makes us a slave to anyone who threatens us. This fear is deep, present in everything from militaristic nation-building to consumer advertising. Everywhere, voices threaten us with our own mortality, wielding our deaths as a weapon of control.
But from the moment the first warlord rose up and enslaved another people, we have seen only one escape from our terror: to possess and wield violence ourselves. If others can control our very souls, our only protection is to acquire the power they use to do so. If our fear makes us a slave to tyranny, we will be filled with a hatred for that which controls us, and a lust to possess that power ourselves.
This is the truly Satanic impulse, to hate something and to lust for it at the same time. The more we hate the violence inflicted on us, the more we long to exercise that violence. It is a never-ending dynamic, drawing us ever deeper in the bottomless pit of a dark worship.
And so humanity emerged from the ancient mists as a creature of war and violence and slavery. We went out to destroy all those who might threaten us, preemptively seeking to decimate the world.
This is how we became evil.
Christianity as Anthropology: