The Ambiguity of Evil

Evil in the religious and philosophical context

{…} he asked me how, after all I had seen and experienced, I could still believe in God. I answered that I know that there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him, and I have touched him. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a God.

Roméo dallaire

This quote is from Roméo Dallaire’s book, “Shake Hands with the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda”. Dallaire was the commander of a peacekeeping group during the military and humanitarian crisis in Rwanda in the 1990s. He experienced the cruelties, the voilence, the deaths, the hunger, the child-soldiers, and all the evil things this world has to offer. He narrates his experiences in detail. All his senses were part of that experience: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. It certainly can be imagined how awful the events he lived were, when after twenty years he can still remember the smell of rotten bodies.

Evil in the context of Religion

Dallaire defined the cruelties he experienced in Rwanda as “the existence of the Devil”. He came to the logical conclusion: if the Devil exists, then God also exists, because these two are inseparable. Nevertheless, he does not give his opinion on WHY evil is necessary. Why has God created a world full of evil and a species that is capable of commiting those unimaginable atrocities?

One Explanation of the existence of evil in correspondance to the existence of God

When I was younger, and my father was still a faithful Christian, I overheard a conversation he had with my mother. They talked about evil and why it exists. It sounded irrational to my mother, how a loving God was even able to create evil and human beings who were able of commiting atrocities like murder and rape. My father gave an explanation that sounded very rational to me.

Life on earth is the foreplay to the infinite life after death. Life’s only purpose is to teach men and women to be good human beings. How could God separate good from bad souls, if evil did not exist?

My Father

Furthermore, we can add free will to the equation. Free will and the freedom to act and decorate our lives whichever way we want are fundamental principles of our modern age. If only “good” existed, free will would be something unknown to us. We would not even have conversations on free will because we would not be able to theorise it. Nevertheless, I hope at least, free will is something that most human beings cherish and value. Evil and the ability to choose freely between acting with bad or acting with good intentions, are the foundations of learning, wisdom and becoming human beings instead of animals. The reasonableness is clear when we see the Human as the creation of God on this planet with the role of superiority over other animals. Added to this, the theory of life on this earth being an audition for the infinite life after death, we can conclude that the existence of evil is not only reasonable, but entirely necessary. Nevertheless, the existence of evil has also been used as an argument for the non-existence of God and makes even the most faithful believers doubt their Religion and God.

Evil is the most difficult problem in the world. It is also the strongest objection to God’s existence. If God does exist, it is also the most problematic challenge to his nature and power. As a Christian, it is my greatest temptation for doubt and unbelief.

Jon Morrison

The existence of Evil has the totally opposite result in this statement made by Jon Morrison. Evil does not strengthen his belief of the existence of God but it sabotages it. This argument is very plausible. How can the so-called omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnibenevolent (all-loving) God first of all create a species that is able to commit atrocities of the kind Gallaire has seen and furthermore NOT do anything to stop the suffering? Either God does not exist, or we have defined him wrongly because we cannot grasp his essence with our limited sensual and intellectual capacities.

Evil in the context of Philosophy

Different definitions of Evil

The problem starts when there is a species – humans – with individuals that are capable of having different conceptions of one term. Evil is an ambiguous term, as we can see in the currently flaming topic of abortion in the United States of America. On the one hand you have people who say that abortion is bad (evil) because it kills the baby – a potential human being, and on the other side people who claim that it is not bad (not evil) because the prohibition of abortion takes away the right of women to decide over their own bodies and consequently their own lives.

Furthermore, the ambiguity of the term “evil” is visible when religious or ideological fundamentalists do not believe that it is evil to kill, because they are doing it for their holy purposes. For those fundamentalists, whether they are muslim, christian, liberal, communist, nationalist, fascist or anti-fascist, the life of a person belonging to a hostile group is of no worth. Civilised people think that murder and violence are evil. Many ideological fundamentalists think that murder and violence are good, if they serve their purposes and higher goal(s). The so-called “necessary evil”. What you see as evil may be a blessing to me and vice-versa… what I see as evil may be a blessing to you.


I hope, even though I doubt, that globally we have achieved a consensus on classifying certain actions as “evil”. Whether that evil is proof for the existence or non-existence of God should be the personal choice of every individual human being, based on their (God given?) free will. This objectively existent evil should never be used to justify the motives of certain ideological groups, neither religious nor political.

Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: