by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Worshipful Brother Carlos Zapata
Bro Jack Nathan Aquilina
This article was sent to me by WBro Carlos Zapata after many discussions that we had about his passion for Masonic research and philosophy, in particular his love for writing. I was surprised to hear from WBro Carlos that despite his incredible skills and knowledge that he had never actually had any of his work published. In his usual humble manner he said to me that he would be honoured to see his name attached to a published Masonic article that he authored and to have it displayed on a large Masonic forum.
Knowing that WBro Carlos was a big fan and reader of the Midnight Freemasons Blog, I suggested to him he submit one of his pieces for publication. Not only was WBro Carlos excited about this idea, he sent me a number of editions of the “Evolutionist” (a private newsletter he authored monthly for Lodge Evolution in Victoria) that had a large volume of his writings. He asked if there was anything in those newsletters, which he authored, that could be edited for publishing on this blog.
In memory of WBro Carlos therefore this article has been submitted for publishing in dedication to his incredible talent, passion and skill in Masonic and philosophical research. For many, WBro Carlos was seen to be a kind, dependable and knowledgeable brother who touched and changed the lives of so many of his brothers through his generous sharing of knowledge and further light in Masonry.
I hope that by publishing this article my commitment to WBro Carlos to see his incredible and inspirational work being published will be fulfilled and that his incredible gift for education will now continue to perpetually touch the lives of many of whom will now be able to read and learn from his work.
We will be forever indebted to him for his kindness and friendship and it was an honour and privilege to have known him, even if we have lost him too soon.
May he rest peacefully in the Grand Lodge above.
Note: I am very grateful to RWBro Robert Johnson for agreeing to publish this article at short notice and I am greatly indebted to him for his compassion and support for this article in light of the circumstances.
Good and Evil
By Worshipful Brother Carlos Zapata
Lodge of Evolution No 931, United Grand Lodge of Victoria.
For this article in particular, with such a controversial subject, I have compiled and prepared a brief of the theme, Good and Evil, from different contexts, interpretations and definitions, in light to have a clear picture of it, and of course is not intended to take a side, but to understand and comprehend their real meanings in our daily life, for the good of oneself, our society and mankind.
It’s a dangerous over-simplification to believe that some people are innately ‘good’ while others are innately ‘evil’ or ‘bad.’ This misleading concept underpins the justice system of many countries, ‘bad’ people commit crimes, and since they are intrinsically ‘bad’, they should be locked away so that they can’t harm us with their ‘evil’ behaviour. This concept has also fuelled many wars and conflicts in history, and even in the present day. It makes groups believe that they are fighting a just cause against an ‘evil’ enemy and that once the ‘evil’ people have been killed, peace and goodness will reign supreme.
Human nature is infinitely more complex than this, of course. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are relative. One person’s ‘good’ is another person’s ‘evil’. They are also flexible, people can be a combination of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ qualities and some people who behave cruelly and brutally can be rehabilitated and eventually display ‘good’ qualities such as empathy and kindness. And rather than being intrinsic, most cruel or brutal behaviour is due to environmental factors, such as an abusive childhood, or ‘social learning’ from a family or peers.
The Meaning of Good and Evil
What do we really mean when we use these simplistic terms, ‘good’ and ‘evil’? ‘Good’ means a lack of self-centeredness. It means the ability to empathize with other people, to feel compassion for them, and to put their needs before your own. It means, if necessary, sacrificing your own well-being for the sake of others. It means benevolence, altruism and selflessness, and self-sacrifice towards a greater cause, all qualities which stem from a sense of empathy. It means being able to see beyond the superficial difference of race, gender, social context or nationality and relate to a common human essence beneath them. Concepts which perfectly fit into the tenets of Freemasonry, “Good Man”, remember?
‘Evil’ people are those who are unable to empathise with others. As a result, their own needs and desires are of paramount importance. They are selfish, self-absorbed and narcissistic. In fact, other people only have value for them to the extent that they can help them satisfy their own desires, or to which they can exploit them. I would argue that their primary characteristic is an inability to empathise with others. They can’t sense other people’s emotions or their suffering can’t see the world from other people’s perspective, have no sense of their rights. Other human beings are just objects to them, which is what makes their brutality and cruelty possible.
Good and Evil as Flexible
Most of us lie somewhere between the extremes of Good and evil on the spectrum of human behaviour. Sometimes we may behave badly, when egocentric impulses cause us to put our needs before the welfare of others. Sometimes we behave in a saintly fashion, when empathy and compassion impel us to put the needs of others before our own, resulting in altruism and kindness.
The real difference between this idea of ‘good and evil’ and the traditional concept is that empathy or a lack of empathy isn’t fixed. Although people with a psychopathic personality appear to be unable to develop empathy, for most of us, empathy, or goodness, is a quality that can be cultivated. This is recognised by Buddhism, and most other spiritual traditions. As we practise meditation or mindfulness, and as we become less attached to materialism and status- seeking, we become more open and more connected, and so more selfless and altruistic.
This is an optimistic view of nature, but I would go even further. Because the goodness in human beings, emerges when we are connected, when we spread out into empathy with one another. It is believed that goodness expresses something fundamental about human nature, even if it might be sometimes difficult to see. ‘Evil’ is an aberration, a form of pathology, as the psychopathic personality shows, which only emerges when we are broken off into disconnected fragments.
How are we to understand and resolve the historic battle of so called ‘good vs. evil’ in the world? Basically, how are we to make sense of human behaviour, specifically the dark side of human nature? In fact, are we ever going to be able to explain the HUMAN CONDITION? And, more particularly, can we humans ever become truly moral beings?
Most wonderfully, the answer to these last two core questions about human beings is the symbol of Ying and Yang, a certain representation of Good and Evil in human personality, emphasizing that in the Good field could exist little Evil and likewise in the Evil side could exist little Good. The famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung was forever saying that ‘wholeness for humans depends on the ability to own their own shadow’, because he recognised that only finding understanding of our dark side could end the underlying insecurity in us humans about our fundamental goodness and worth, and, in so doing, make us ‘whole’.
Yes, the agonising, underlying, core, real question in all of human life has been the issue of our seemingly-imperfect; ‘good vs. evil’ conflicted, even ‘fallen’ or corrupted, so called HUMAN CONDITION. Are humans good or are we possibly the terrible mistake that all the evidence seems to unequivocally indicate we might be? While it’s undeniable that humans are capable of great love, we also have an unspeakable history of brutality, rape, torture, murder and war. Despite all our marvellous accomplishments, we humans have been the most ferocious and destructive force that has ever lived on Earth. And it’s this conflicted situation that we needed to find understanding of how are we to understand and by so doing resolve the battle of ‘good vs. evil’ in the human make-up?
How are we to reconcile our ‘Yin and Yang’? Yes, what is the biological explanation for ‘sin’, as our far from ideal behaviour has historically been termed? What is ‘the origin of sin’, and, more particularly, how can it be ameliorated? Even in our everyday behaviour, why have we humans been so competitive, selfish and aggressive when clearly the ideals of life are to be the complete opposite, namely cooperative, selfless and loving? In fact, why are we so ruthlessly competitive, selfish and brutal that human life has become all but unbearable and we have nearly destroyed our own planet.
Unable, until now, to truthfully answer this deepest and darkest of all questions about the origin and meaning of our ‘good vs. evil’, human condition afflicted existence, we learnt to avoid the whole depressing subject, so much so, in fact, that the human condition has been described as ‘the personal unspeakable’, and as ‘the black box inside of humans they can’t go near’. Indeed, Carl Jung was referring to the terrifying subject of our ‘good vs. evil’ embattled human condition when he wrote that ‘When it (our shadow) appears…it is quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil.’
Ying Yang, on the religious context
Taoism (also known as Daoism) is an early Chinese religion which emphasizes a balance between humans and nature. One must be flexible and go with the flow. Taoism is represented by the Ying Yang symbol.
The black (Ying) and white (Yang) represent polar opposites, such as, but not specifically, good and evil. The symbol also represents the balance between each. There will always be good and always be evil. One cannot exist without the other. Chi is believed to be a vital energy in all things. It’s important to allow this energy to properly flow in the body and in the world. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese exercise that promotes the balance of Chi in the body. Feng Shui is the art of allowing Chi to flow properly in one’s environment.
Taoism is the practice of peacefully living in a world of opposing forces such as good and evil. It’s a faith that when good and evil are out of balance, the balance will return.
Go with the flow. In Taoism, it’s important to be flexible.
Taoism addresses good and evil and provides a method for living with them. There is a balance that exists between all extremes. Let us use the example of the pendulum to represent balance in the world. When the pendulum is centred, there is balance. The object is perfectly aligned with it’s true value. When the pendulum is to the right the object is overvalued. There will be a correction in which the value lessens. When the pendulum is to the left the object is undervalued. There will be a correction in which the value increases, which is expressed in the Principle of Rhythm in The Kybalion.
When the pendulum is out of balance the best solution is a controlled adjustment. This takes a proactive future looking approach. Unfortunately, many leaders are short sighted and only concerned with the near future. They then have to react to unforeseen required adjustments without planning, with disastrous results as a consequence.
“Order marches with weighty and measured strides. Disorder is always in a hurry.”
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821).
War and peace do not last forever. When there is war have faith that there will be peace. When there is peace one must be vigilant of conflict and war. There are some things that are out of our control. We must do what we can to fight evil with good. We must also have faith that when things are bad, they will get better.
Sometimes we are stabbed in the back; sometimes people do us wrong. There are many people throughout my life who have done me wrong. There are exponentially far more people throughout my life that have done me right. You will not always have an opportunity to confront people who were intentionally harmful due to many circumstances including timing, location and politics. Likewise, you will not always have an opportunity to thank people who have been kind and generous. When situations like this occur, we need to have faith that there will be a balance. What goes around comes around, again the principle of rhythm. One way or another, justice will be served. For the people who have done us wrong, either we let it be, or hold onto the anger and injustice. Often we do hold on to anger, but it subsides over time. I’m not a believer that time heals all wounds; however, it can take the edge off of the pain.
Do good and evil, really exist in the animal world? I would argue that they absolutely do. The varieties in animal life on Earth are miraculous. Animals exist that can produce light, see with sonar, spin webs, morph into butterflies and can change colour to camouflage with their surroundings. We have predators and we have prey. There are plant eaters that do not harm other animals, and there are meat eaters that take lives. We have alligators, sharks, piranhas and mosquitoes. We have swans, dolphins, deer and fireflies. There are animals that represent all the good and bad qualities of mankind, from unconditional protective love to thoughtless destruction.
Good & Evil in Kabbalistic Notion
What is “a Good Person”? Kabbalah reveals the structure of the entire universe to a person and that person discovers that our world is surrounded by one immense benevolent force called the Creator. And this is the immense benevolent force that conducts the still, vegetative and animate nature very rigidly, by forcing that nature to follow its laws with absolute precision.
Human beings meanwhile processes freedom to choose how to behave in relation to oneself and the environment, nature and society. It turns out that people are misusing the freedom that nature has allowed for them. They don’t respond with the same kind of love, filling this void with the attribute of love. In principle, a human being is the only thing in nature that needs correction. There are neither evil nor good forces. There’s only one force that guides us to the end of correction by showing us the way, sometimes causing all that suffering in us. This suffering is a consequence in a difference of attributes, between me and the Creator, there’s no other choice. If I make my attributes like the Creator’s, if I bring myself closer to them, I will then enter states that are called spiritual worlds, sensations of the Creator. To the same measure that I entered these states, I will be sensing goodness and delight. That’s why there are no forces other than good forces, and all the evil forces are indeed our own, and these are what we have to correct, our own heart.
The idea that in the divine worlds, no evil exists is a fundamental Kabbalistic tenet, and is stated repeatedly in Kabbalistic texts. The Biblical verse (Psalms 5:4) is often quoted as proof, “Evil will not dwell with you.” This is taken to mean that in the worlds where the divine light shines unaltered, no evil can exist. After all, the divine light is God’s will, and God wants only good.
However, the divine is the root for all that exists. There is no evil in the divine realm, but it must, in some way, serve as a distant root that allowed evil eventually to emerge. Kabbalists say that the distant root of evil is the strict law represented by the divine attribute known as Gevura. Law and rules are in themselves good, but unbending strictness can eventually result in evil.
Being God’s will is to do only good, evil could not develop in the worlds where he is the only determining force. It could only develop in the lower, separated worlds, where other wills are given freedom to operate. There is some debate as to where evil first emerged.
The term “free will” has been used extensively in philosophic and theological works. It is usually assumed that the meaning of the term is clear, but, in truth, the term is often used in different ways, depending on the user and the context. Therefore, it should be helpful to clarify what is meant by “free will” in our discussion here.
Firstly, free will implies that there is no external constraint on what is willed. Secondly, it also means that there is no internal compulsion. Nevertheless, even if the prior two conditions are met, there still remains an impediment to total free will.
A person does not create himself, nor does he create his environment. The person that supposedly has total free will is not truly responsible for what he is at the moment that he exercises his free will. What he is, is not his doing alone, but results from the actions of God, who provided both his body and his environment.
The difficulty of assigning ultimate responsibility to humans for their deeds is a major problem for theology and will not be solved here. People are never truly independent of their maker, who is the root of all things. However, the fact that God is the root of man, perhaps is what provided the impression that remained after the light was evacuated from the centre of the Ein-Sof. Ultimately, even after the creation of the empty global area, God remains in charge.
Evil is thus an illusionary phenomenon, just like man’s total free will. Both are limited, and ultimately God’s beneficence lies hidden behind both.
Christianity Beliefs on Good & Evil
Humans have wrestled with questions of good and evil since time immemorial without reaching any universally satisfactory conclusion. For Christians, all goodness flows from God’s inherent character, and evil is refusing to submit to His authority and love and serve Him. The problem of evil’s existence is a stickier issue, causing much debate among Christian scholars, theologians and philosophers. But Christian beliefs define the source of determining what is good and what is evil, describe human nature and provide Christians with tools for combating evil with good.
Then, What is Evil?
Evil is generally divided into categories of natural evil, such as natural disasters, diseases or birth defects; and moral evil or human action that results in pain and suffering for others, such as genocide, war, cruelty, exploitation and abuse. Many Christians hold that moral evil stems from rebellion against God, which results in injustice, vanity, pride, dishonesty, aggression, violence, greed and more. The belief in Adam and Eve’s original sin offers a widespread Christian explanation for how suffering and death were introduced to the world through their disobedience to God.
Because of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, Christian tradition holds the belief touted by St. Augustine that humans are born in a state of sinfulness, unrelated to anything they have yet done, already contaminated with the long- lasting and far-reaching consequences of the original sin. Because of this sin, human beings are separated from God and in need of a saviour to bridge the gap and provide a way for salvation. Humans’ sinful nature wars with their desire for God and according to BBC.
Religions, explains the “…tendency for human beings to ‘give in’ when tempted by the prevailing evils of the society around them, rather than standing up for good.” As the Apostle Paul laments: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
The Problem of Evil
Many scholars and theologians over the course of history have tried to explain or justify the existence of evil and suffering in light of God’s goodness. Christian explanations for evil usually include discussion on the role of free will and human choice, God’s corrective discipline and call to repentance, and God’s ability to see the big picture better than humans and turn even apparent evil into that which accomplishes His good purposes. Dr. Davies-Stofka elucidates: “‘Free’ will is not free if we can only choose the good, so God does not prevent us from choosing evil. Suffering is the price we pay for this freedom to choose.” Another Christian viewpoint is that although God cannot cause evil and suffering, He may allow it to happen to bring a person to a state of recognition of her need for His salvation and drive her to repentance; or to test her faith in order to make it grow stronger.
Good and Evil in Buddhism
Because karma is directly concerned with good and evil, any discussion of karma must also include a discussion of good and evil. Standards for defining good and evil are, however, not without their problems. What is “good,” and how is it so? What is it that we call “evil,” and how is that so? These problems are in fact a matter of language. In the Buddha’s teaching, which is based on the Pali language, the meaning becomes much clearer, as will presently be demonstrated.
The English words “good” and “evil” have very broad meanings, particularly the word “good,” which is much more widely used than “evil.” A virtuous and moral person is said to be good; delicious food might be called “good” food; a block of wood which happens to be useful might be called a “good” block of wood. Moreover, something which is good to one person might not be good to many others. Looked at from one angle, a certain thing may be good, but not from another. Behaviour which is considered good in one area, district or society might be considered bad in another.
It seems from these examples that there is some disparity. It might be necessary to consider the word “good” from different viewpoints, such as good in a hedonistic sense, good in an artistic sense, good in an economic sense, and so on. The reason for this disparity is a matter of values. The words “good” and “evil” can be used in many different value systems in English, which makes their meanings very broad.
The Eternal Struggle of Good and Evil, a Gnostic point of view
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.”
Anne Frank (1929-1945)
In the original Star Trek television series there was an episode where a higher intelligence wanted to know what was stronger, good or evil. This higher intelligence did what any higher intelligent being would do to solve the equation. Put a few good people and a few evil people on a barren planet and have them beat each other up. There was a lesson at the end of the episode. It’s not about which is stronger in fighting, it’s about what they are fighting for.
There have been many long discussions over many generations in regard to good and evil. These discussions must continue, and continue often. How do we know who we are without scrutinizing what is good, and what is evil? What is the agnostic standpoint? The agnostic approach is difficult as this discussion is subjective.
We follow the wisdom of Socrates that knowledge is good and ignorance is bad. Good is directly related to truth. Knowledge promotes ethical conduct while ignorance promotes corruption. The purpose of an agnostic is to obtain and promote truth, which is to obtain and promote what is good. What is good often differs from what is popular. So where do good and evil come from?
Good and evil exists in the animal and human world. There are insects and animals that have both good and evil traits and instincts. As the most advanced species on Earth, humans are able to magnify the good and evil that exists in animals. So what is good and what is evil? Are the definitions constant or do they change based on ruling party, society or religious views and customs? We, and many philosophers past and present, maintain that there are concrete definitions of good and evil. We don’t subscribe to the “might makes right” school of thought. We believe in right makes might. There are actions that are wrong regardless of anything. Acceptance of evil does not make evil good. The definition and impact of evil does not change due to ignorance.
“Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought. Let us have faith that right makes might and in that faith let us; to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Good is to create and do good by oneself, one’s family and society. Evil is to destroy and do evil by oneself, one’s family and society. There is some evil in good and some good in evil. A new tree in a crowded forest can only live and grow if another tree dies to let in needed sunlight. Sometimes creation requires destruction. Plant eaters need predators to keep their population steady or the plant eaters over populate and destroy all the vegetation. There is a balance of creation and destruction in nature. Often a society becomes closer and stronger when faced with an evil threat or action. Often a good society can become complacent and lazy when unthreatened allowing evil to grow from within unnoticed and unchallenged until it is deeply rooted.