“Nothing can exist without its opposite,” goes a popular refrain. The characters above are posing the problem of the definition of evil. What is evil? Is evil something or is it the lack of something? All too many people hold a dualist view of the universe, what would have been considered a Manichean view centuries ago. What is Manichaeism?
Manichaean as used in contemporary popular discourse refers to someone who sees the world as a struggle between Good and Evil. … Manichaeism as a syncretistic form of oriental Christianity was quickly successful and spread far through the Aramaic-Syriac speaking regions, it thrived between the third and seventh centuries, and at its height was one of the most widespread religions in the world. Manichaean churches and scriptures existed as far east as China and as far west as the Roman Empire. It was widespread among the legions of the Roman Empire, who considered it a soldier’s religion, and it was briefly the main rival to Christianity in the competition to replace classical paganism. Manichaeism survived longer in the East than in the West, and it appears to have finally faded away after the 14th century in southern China, contemporary to the decline in China of the Church of the East.
The most common Christian view is that evil is corrupted good. That is, evil has no existence in and of itself. Good can exist without evil but evil cannot exist without good. Saint Augustine put it this way in the Enchiridion:
All of nature, therefore, is good, since the Creator of all nature is supremely good. But nature is not supremely and immutably good as is the Creator of it. Thus the good in created things can be diminished and augmented. For good to be diminished is evil; still, however much it is diminished, something must remain of its original nature as long as it exists at all. For no matter what kind or however insignificant a thing may be, the good which is its “nature” cannot be destroyed without the thing itself being destroyed. … When, however, a thing is corrupted, its corruption is an evil because it is, by just so much, a privation of the good. … Where there is no privation of the good, there is no evil.
When we make statements that imply that good cannot be known to be good except by contrast with evil, it means that we are buying into a view of the world which makes evil every bit as powerful and necessary as good. Under this view, there would be no such thing as getting rid of evil, because either it is itself immortal or because the minute you got rid of evil, you would no longer know that anything was good. In fact, under pure secularism, that second option has happened. When one chooses a non-theistic view of the universe, it means that there is neither good nor evil, there is just what is and what has evolved.
Albert Camus, in his book The Stranger, wrote about the end results of a world in which whatever one chooses to do has no moral implications. It was a terrible world, except that one could not call it terrible because that itself is a moral judgment. As long as genes are perpetuated–according to some current versions of biology–in an efficient fashion, then nothing else matters. Nature is red in tooth and claw thus violence is neither good nor bad, it simply is the way in which genes get nourishment.
But Christians have a different view. Good does exist. Evil does not need to exist. We would recognize good as good even without evil being present. But, in the current world, if we deny good and if we deny that good can be corrupted, if we say that all is biology and nothing else, then Albert Camus is correct. There is no morality left.
On the other hand, if evil has its own proper existence and is necessary to discern good, then we are giving in to a view of the world which is that of eternal warfare between good and evil with sometimes one and sometimes the other gaining the upper hand. And, since we are imperfect, it would seem to me that in such a world evil would always have the upper hand.
I think overall Saint Augustine’s view makes more sense.