Defining Evil

Defining evil is never something I really thought about before. When you’re little, Disney movies teach you what evil is. The villains who do mean things are evil. Simba’s uncle Scar is evil. He kills his own brother out of jealousy and greedy. That seems like a pretty good definition of evil. Jafar tries to steal the kingdom by forcing Jasmine to marry him. Greed and selfishness again. So he is evil too.

But in reality, outside the realm of animated kids movies. What is evil? Are the Disney definitions correct because their purpose is to teach kids in a way that is easy for them to understand? But there is only so much you can expect a child to grasp.

We can organize evil on a continuum. Some evils are more evil than others. If this is true, how do we determine the level of evilness? Does such a scale exist?

In my mind, intent is a pretty big factor in the determination of evil value of a deed. I took an Intro to Criminal Justice course a couple years ago, and I feel like that totally relates to the question of the presence of evil in the world even though now I am viewing it through a religious lens.

In the criminal justice system, intent determines whether an act is criminal or not. That’s why there exists different categories of murder and homicide. Intent is one of the main factors for assessing a possible crime.

So can we use intent to accurately define evil? Are acts evil based solely on their intent? I think this is the best way to look at it.

That being said, it is important to realize how relative this all is. We can never know exactly what someone is going through, how they were raised, what their day has been like, what their personality is at its core, and therefore we can never judge their intent from an outside viewpoint. It’s not possible to look into someone else’s mind and sole and determine the intent of their every thought and action.

Unfortunately the world is not as black and white as the Disney movies. Even the ones in color. When villains in a movie are evil, it’s because they were designed to represent evil. In the real world, we can’t assume the unhappy person we bump into on the street is evil because they yell something nasty at us as they storm away. We can’t even assume that the guy on the evening news who raped and killed ten innocent girls is evil. Sure we can view it that way from out relative reality. And sure there is probably a majority who would agree. But it is also important that we understand that we cannot judge. The right to judge the actions and intent of others is beyond us, and if we think we can take that duty upon ourselves and carry out our judgments in a righteous way, we the being evil ourselves.

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