The Problem of evil as understood in World Cultures & Systems

World cultures and world systems how evil is cognized: a summary of Hasan Askari’s view from the book Towards A Spiritual Humanism

Ancient Indian discourseevil is “avidya” or ignorance – lack of knowledge. A lack of being. Duality is the source of all evil

Ancient Chinese systems – distinction between function and contemplation. Human mind immersed in functionalism it becomes evil, unless attended by a contemplative perspective on life, world and relationships. Variety of shades and options of emphases between Confucius and Laotze. 

Buddhist – evil is the phenomenon of desire. Philosophically desire is an expression of want, of lack. This lacking or want creates suffering which is evil. 

Jewish – post Sinai understanding of evil, evil is the rebelliousness, the wantonness and the pride within man to erect false idols which are the projections and embodiment of his fear and desires. Jewish paradigm offers a sharp contract between two moments:(i) Moses in dialogue with God, receiving the Ten Commandments (ii) the other of his people at the foot of the mountain worshipping the Golden Calf. It is this sharp dichotomy within the same moment which sums up the entire tragedy and the entire failing in human history. 

Christian – an extraordinary situation. Evil is seen as generic to human nature. Historically Christian conception of evil is expressed in the human vulnerability to failure, to wantonness and towards evil.

Near Eastern Civilizations – Zoroastrian and later Manichaean understanding of a polarity between good and evil.  

Islamic – Quranic insight, evil is “ghafala” to remain unconscious and heedless. 

Philosophy – Greeks – but Hellenistic culture as a whole- the opposite of reason,  the opposite of the rational man, namely, whatever is irrational, wilful or untamed in human nature is evil. Through education and discipline and purification one obtains a rational self attaining to truth and wisdom.

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2 thoughts on “The Problem of evil as understood in World Cultures & Systems”

  1. Hi Musa,

    Very interesting post. A couple thoughts:
    For the ancient Indian thinking, you said that avidya (ignorance) is the source of evil, but then that duality is the source of all evil. Is this duality a separate thing from the avidya, or is there a link there?

    Ancient Chinese: It’s ironic and sad how the modern Chinese communist government is completely focused on functionalism. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I see no contemplative perspective in how they usually conduct themselves.

    I’m definitely familiar with the Christian one! ><

    In Islamic thinking, is ghafala due to a lack of interest and motivation to do good, or is it more caused by a simple lack of awareness of what is right? In other words, is it a "conscious unconsciousness" (if that makes any sense) or an unconscious one?

    Thanks for pointing me to this one!
    -Connor

  2. I remember seeing a TV programme where a group of key people from different faiths discussed what ‘evil’ meant to them. It was fascinating and very simply done, with everyone having time to explain and discuss. I wish more TV was like it but there seems to be a mistaken belief that no-one wants to watch people quietly talking about meaningful subjects…

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