I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an animal referred to as evil. Sure, there have been rogue animals that break from normal behavior for one reason or another. They may act in unpredictable ways, but no one ascribes evil motives to them. They are being nothing more than what their environment and their DNA made them to be.
Of course many in our culture want to believe the same about humans. Except there’s this odd, inexplicable problem: Humankind believes in evil.
Not within animals, mind you. No matter how many gazelle a lion slaughters, no one calls him a murderer. No one is out trying to convince the cat family to become vegetarians — not even those which we’ve domesticated and which live under our care. We understand they are carnivorous, we accept that as fact, and we don’t try to train the “evil” out of them. We don’t believe it is evil for them to eat meat.
In contrast, humans believes humans to be evil. Even those who think humanity is good. Generally “society” is blamed for causing good humans to swing to the dark side. It’s those churches, one side says. If it weren’t for religion, we wouldn’t have had all the wars we’ve enduring for centuries.
It’s demon drink, the other side says, or bad government or political corruption or Big Business or drugs.
Whichever way you look at it, the answer is, humanity causes the problems because “society” is nothing more than humans acting in a group.
And yet, our culture increasingly says openly, humanity is good. Hence, we should simply give in to our instincts—as long as we do no harm to others.
How interesting that the animals have no such exception clause. They can do harm to others with impunity. No one calls the bull elephant who chases off the young males threatening his leadership in the herd, a bully. No one wants to hold him accountable or tell him he needs to make room for others to express their individuality. Or that, in fact, the female elephants should have equal authority, and if they want to take charge of the herd, then the males should be only too happy to care for the pint-sized elephants for a while.
There is no equity in the animal kingdom, no sense of fair play, of justice. Alligators aren’t held accountable for the baby wildebeest they devour. Cheetah aren’t considered immoral because they attack the weak or the young instead of taking on the most fit zebra in the herd.
Animals act as animals will. And humans?
We’re such a mixed bag. We volunteer hours on end to search for a missing child, we collect money and clothes to give to victims of natural disasters, we risk our lives to pull others out of burning buildings or sinking ships.
But we also cheat on our income tax and lie to our husbands or wives. We hold grudges and argue and complain and push to get our own way. What a selfish, proud, unkind, discontented lot we are.
From what I can discern, only Christianity explains the existence of evil. If life is, as many apart form Christianity believe, nothing more than matter plus time plus chance, then where did intolerance come from? Where did hatred come from?
Christianity understands the uniqueness of humanity, both of his created and his fallen states, explaining the mixed bag completely. What other worldview can make such clear sense of the things we see in this world?
This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in March 2012.