Is there such a thing as "Good" and "Evil" or is this yet another oversimplified religious concept?

It is my opinion that without these ludicrously outdated concepts, created manly by religion, we would have a much safer society. Why? Because we would address the real causes of crime, instead of using our current method of punishing criminals for their “evil”deeds.


Lets start with evil.

When something is described as evil there is a strong implication that it is being influenced by some dark supernatural force. Without that association the term evil becomes almost meaningless.

Why do I say this? Well, because it is a massive oversimplification that covers a great variety of behaviors and actions, personality traits and so on. The extremes are so generalized they cover areas from things as horrifying as mass murder to the completely ridiculous term “evil” smell


From what I can see, there is no such thing as evil, there is only motivation and circumstance.


Let me give you an example.


A man robs a pharmacy.

From my point of view there are only two possible motives (I'd love to hear if you can think of another.)


  1. Desperation.

  2. Greed.


Desperation as far as I am concerned is always a valid reason.

The man may need, money or drugs he can't afford for himself or his family. Even if he is a drug addict I still see it as a valid reason. I will go into this more later.


The second reason is commonly attributed to evil. I believe this is a big mistake.

I have come to realize that greed is a mental disorder. Human beings only need certain things to survive. Air, water, food, shelter and happiness/peace of mind.

Happiness/Peace of mind is the key. I would also describe it as sanity. If it is not sanity it is very closely tied to it. We all need certain things to help keep our peace of mind or maintain our happiness. For me I think those things are my family and my creative outlets. From experience I know I can do with out both of these for long periods of time, but eventually my thinking becomes distorted and I move into depression and mental illness. I feel isolated from everything around me and it appears to me that nothing has any point. Most people will eventually go into similar distorted thinking when deprived of the things that grant them happiness/peace of mind. Modern society actually creates the illusion that happiness and peace of mind can be obtained by owning things. We call this trend consumerism and it is now pretty much the cornerstone of the first world civilization.  Everybody has at one time or other felt these consumerist pressures. We need the right cloths to “fit in”, We need the traditional family and home to be happy. We need the right DVD player or the right cell phone. The more we have of these things, the more we want; and yet if we actually sat down and thought about it, do we really feel any happier because we are able to wear a particular brand of jeans or watch a wide screen TV? Does this really give us peace of mind? Of course not. And the promoters of consumerism know this and use it. They continue to promote that more is better and more means happiness and peace of mind. This creates the false belief that. okay I have all these things, but I still don't have enough, therefore I need more. The more I get the more I want. The cycle is endless because its a false solution. And for some of us, if we can not have these things we fall into depression, jealousy, anger, drug abuse, violence and so on. And there are also many other pressures on us that are closely linked with consumerism. Social pressures that bear down on us from the environment in which we live. Pressures driven by everything from our religious and political beliefs to our sexuality and peer groups.


So anyway, back to our greedy pharmacy robber. He robs the pharmacy because he want money to buy more things to be happy. Of course it does not work which is why he goes on to rob again and again. Now is this evil? No it is the result of distorted thinking. Distorted thinking is always a symptom of mental illness.


Back to our drug addict. The situation he is in is similar. He has an addiction. It has become so overwhelming that he will do anything to get his drugs, he is desperate and he is very obviously mentally ill, due to the complete disruption of his normal thinking patterns due to his drug addiction.


And now lets take a look a “good”.

This concept is something of a paradox. Why do people commit good acts? Well most psychologists now agree that the reasons are selfish (If you don't believe me then just google it. There are many studies that cover this subject). Basically the person commits a good act because it gives them pleasure. There is no such ting as an unselfish act. I heard the argument about the soldier who dives on the grenade to save his friends. What possible selfish reason could there be for such an act. Since its impossible to interview the dead soldier we can only speculate. His reasons may be that he can not face life in the jungle without his friends. He may want to die a hero and knows he faces certain death anyway so opts to do this. Though I cant be 100% certain of the mans reasons I think that there is a large enough body of evidence to show his reasons are most likely to be selfish.


Here is the paradox. Selfish behavior is supposed to be evil. If by committing an act of good we are acting on selfish reasons then we are doing it for evil motives so how can the act be good?


Take away the concept of good and evil and you are left with behavior, Nothing more and nothing less.


Here is the crux of my argument. Currently we punish criminals for their bad behavior. Why do we really punish them? Many will argue that it is to prevent them from committing crime again. However this obviously does not work, The numbers of repeat offenders are a testimony to this fact. As are the ever growing prison populations. This is evidently not the real reason. No the real reason we punish them is because we consider them to be under the influence of evil. As if by punishing them they will cast off their evil ways and become “good” God fearing people.


Its time we re-thought this strategy completely since it is basically bronze age thinking. We need to update our approach to dealing with what is described as evil. Because first of all there is no such thing as evil. There is only behavior. Behavior is a result of environment combined with mental health. Since we now know more about human behavior and animal behavior than any other time in known history, and we have the capacity to study it more comprehensively than ever before I think it is time we did so. With the knowledge we have and the knowledge we can gain we can solve the issue of crime. We may not be able to cure psychopaths right now but is the best way to deal with them to punish them for
their sickness?


We can help drug addicts. We have rehab, we have therapy we have support groups. With the right research and study these things could be vastly improved and become
much more effective perhaps even almost 100% effective.


We can help the person so brainwashed by consumerism that they feel the need to rob others to get the things that they mistakenly believe will make them happy.


We can also help the teenagers who think they don't fit in because their parents didn't buy them the right cell phone. We can help the boys and girls who's self esteem is so low they feel the need to boost it by bullying others. In fact we can help everybody to find the “thing” they need to make them happy and sane rather than letting other sick, but powerful, influential people tell them lies about what they need and we can even help those people as well.


I am sure I will be accused of making excuses for crime and criminal behavior, but I am not making excuses, I am providing a real reason, rather than attributing it to the catch all know as “Evil”.

The main cause of criminal activity and poor behavior generally is the brainwashing of society into thinking that certain things will make them happy when in fact they will not. Instead help should be given to all in order that they can find the things that truly do give them piece of mind.


As far as I am concerned saying something happened for “Good” or “Evil” reasons is as silly as saying “God did it!”


I think it is time society woke to the true consequences of maintaining these extreme religious attitudes within a supposedly none religious law and order regime.


Its time to stop believing in “Good” and “Evil” and start believing in ourselves.




Tags: Evil, Good, Psychology, behavior, crime

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Replies to This Discussion

I agree... however, there does still need to be some element of "punishment" for misdeeds. It's very important that, while we can have understanding & empathy for someone's motivation, individuals need to understand that actions have consequences.

For example, there was a woman in Colorado who recently killed her six month old child because she was convinced he had autism. As a postpartum depression survivor myself, I highly empathise with what her state of mind was, and that this tragedy was caused by a definite mental illness. That being said, we cannot just say "Oh, she was sick", and let things go. Don't get me wrong - I am *livid* with the people who are all but calling up a lynch party to crucify this "monster" for her "evil" deeds. Time in an institution will be better for her & for society than time in incarceration. It's still a punishment, though. She's not allowed to just go about her life.

I think the root of your argument can be boiled down to the rehabilitation vs punishment balance. In some cases, I do believe that segregation from society will be the best for all involved. Sociopathy is a great example. As much as we can be understanding that the person has a mental illness, and is just WIRED to have no sympathy for others, we cannot allow such a person loose in society. Chronic repeat offenders (when I say offense, I typically am referring to violent crimes that cause harm to others. A pot head or even meth head with multiple offenses isn't on the same level) are another example of someone who needs to be permanently segregated from society. If an individual doesn't learn & adjust from the past consequences of their actions, they forfeit the right to be able to make their own decisions.

All of this is very high-level thinking. How do we implement this sort of system in the real world? I have no freaking clue. How do you prevent people from abusing the rehab vs punishment system by faking their mental illness (have ya seen Primal Fear?)? I don't know. But I definitely agree that our current justice system is not working well.

The biggest problem in all of this is that changing an established system is incredibly difficult. Nevermind resistance from those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, implementing a new set of rules without wiping out the old & reverting to anarchy in between is nigh on impossible. We only got our great nation because some very motivated people LEFT their established systems, and started from scratch. Overhauling an albatross of a system is just incredibly complex.
Punishment is for evil deeds. Since here is no evil we do not need punishment.

I think the big problem is that when someone presents an argument such as I have it is often mis understood.
You have said I advocate saying :

"Oh, she was sick", and let things go.

This is not what I advocate at all. I have observed that all crimes are committed for a reason. The reason is either desperation, mental illness or a combination of both. We must address the cause rather than punish the action. If it's desperation what can we do to help?
If a person is so sick that they are they are dangerous to those around them we must isolate them from society and try to help them there. If they cannot be helped they also cannot be freed to inflict further suffering on those in society.
Currently we do not even do this. Child abusers are a case in point They are very obviously mentally ill. Yet we punish their illness with set terms in prison. The ridiculous thing is when the term is completed we then releases then again. As if the punishment can cure their illness. We do the same thing to virtually all criminals.

My argument is not even about rehabilitation vs Punishment.
It is basically this.All forms of crime are forms of Antisocial behavior and not the the result of Evil. Antisocial behavior is either caused by mental illness or it is the result of desperation. Once this is accepted we can begin to solve the problems.

How do we address this, well I suggest we start with our selves and our families and move from there.
We all at some point in or lives suffer from some form of distorted thinking.Though there are case where serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia, and psychosis have complex causes for the most part self esteem is the key to the vast majority cases which lead to anti social behavior. This is what the media and in fact religions and other social control organisations attack in order to manipulate us. If we can learn to solve our own self esteem issues we will no only become immune to the attacks from the social control freaks but we will never feel the need to behave antisocially. Current research seems to indicate that the best method of solving these issues is through the use of behavioral cognitive therapy. This sounds complex because of the name, but is in fact a very simple method of therapy, that can be learned very quickly. Basically it teaches one how to stop and prevent negative and distorted thinking. Once learned it can be applied as self help whenever the need arises.

I feel it is something that should begin to be taught in the home and in school almost from the first day. But as you say the old guard have a vested interest in a population with self esteem issues. So we have to do it for ourselves and educate our friends about it in order that they can apply it in their lives too. Hopefully in this way we can create a system of growth in mental health that will eventually make the "Old Guard irrelevant"

Every journey begins with one step.
Good and evil are very real, but they're man made. It would be more accurate to say that, in many situations, the determination of what is "right" and "wrong" is relative to one's culture or situation. But to say there is no good and evil? No, just because the words may have had a religious origin, that doesn't make the concept bogus.

I actually love what a religious TV show did with this idea once. This guy was interviewing a college student about moral relativism. The guy was walking along with him, explaining that there's really no such thing as right and wrong, it's just a matter of our culture and how we interpret it, etc, etc. Well, they get to where the moral relativist has left his bike chained up to find it gone. It's been stolen. "Dude, this is wrong!" were the first words out of the relativist's mouth. Hilarious, but the point was well made.

Sure, cultural norms and ideas of "right" and "wrong" do change, but that doesn't make good and evil not real. Fashion changes too, but that doesn't make clothing unreal (I know, clothing is physical, bad example).

I suspect that if you asked someone who's lost a loved one to a vicious and pointless killing, they'll tell you that evil is real. If you ask an Iraqi whose house and family were blown away by either Insurgent or American bombs (doesn't make a difference to them, their family's gone either way), they would tell you that evil is real. But, I also suppose that if you asked a spoiled rich kid in a gated community about evil, while he floats in his pool, he'll spout off something he learned at college about morality being relative and evil being just a label we apply to things we don't like.

So I guess maybe it IS relative after all. Or at least the knowledge of it is relative :)

Really, it just a label.
IF you are going to say "good"and "evil" real Then I am sorry but you must give me some evidence of this. Some a example of indisputable Evil and an example of Indisputable good.
I am betting you cannot, because just like God they do not exist. They are simply ideas left over from our religious days.

The examples you cite are meaningless since those attitudes are the result of distorted thinking n the first place.

Good and evil are like all religious terms, simple catch all terms for things (in this case behaviors) we do not understand, and in the case many are too lazy to look into.

I really think you should look deeper into it.
Well now, the examples you request would first depend on what you would consider an indisputable good or evil. But I'll give it a shot.

Indisputable good: Habitat for Humanity. There is no negative aspect to building a home for someone who does not have one.

Indisputable evil: Brutal rape and murder of a child. There is no positive aspect to such an act.

Now, sure, if we had some great omniscience to see all possible outcomes like a god supposedly can, then maybe we could define such acts as being disputable. For example, the first act could be seen as negative if we know in advance that the house built will be used as a crack house to cause pain and suffering to others. The second act could have a positive spin if we knew in advance that the child would've grown up to be the next Hitler. But without foreknowledge of future events, we have no way to put any opposite spin on the good and evil acts I listed. I would think, actually, that this is a stronger argument against the religious idea of good and evil, since God WOULD have the foreknowledge to spin any good act as evil or any evil act as good, making any god's definition of good and evil moot.

What you should understand is that I am not defending a RELIGIOUS use of the terms. I am defending HUMAN understanding of good and evil. You dismiss the concepts out of hand because of their religious origins. I say they are useful without religion.
It appears to me that the terms good and evil are confusing, difficult to define and cloud judgment.
You would define a good act as something that has no negative aspect. Thats again a very broad term and fairly meaningless other than the religious connotations attached to the word "good"
I think a better description would be a socially positive act.
This way we remove the supernatural implications and give more clarity to the definition.

Your example of evil.
Well okay we can define it as an evil act.But again it has all those connotations linked to the supernatural and religion and tends to bring out the lynch mob instinct in us.

A person who voluntarily commits such an act could not possibly be defined as sane so surely a more accurate term would be an insane act?

By removing the silly supernatural implications within the descriptions of the acts we are able to look more rationally upon them and treat them accordingly.
The insane person can be put into a place where they can harm no body. They can be treated for their sickness and studied with the object of at some point finding a way to cure such disorders while at the same time keeping the general populace safe.

I do understand what you are saying. But I feel the Human understanding of such terms is intrinsically linked with the supernatural. Its programmed in to us by society. Movies speak of good and evil, Comics, Novels and so on. We cannot avoid those connections without rejecting the use of those terms and redefining them more accurately.
This is one of the most insidious infiltrations of religious thinking into everyday life. It is powerful because it creates an unconscious acceptance of supernatural influence over everyday life. Every act can be defined as good or evil therefore every act can be defined as being influenced by the supernatural.
This is my concern.
I agree, Judging people on the basis of superstition is not a very sensible idea and certainly not a humane idea. The sooner we accept that there is no such thing as Evil or Good the sooner we can improve all of our lives.
Thanks for the positive response. :D
I've thought a lot about this. And though many atheists consider "Sin" to be a silly idea, they never seem to think about these fundamental concepts.
I would like to change that if I can.
Nothing is black and white. Nothing at all. Good and Evil are very black and white concepts and so lead intrinsically to poor judgement calls.. The sooner we all realize this the sooner we can make the world a better place.
With regard to your family. I am very sorry to hear this. But there is no need to become separated from them.
You know the truth now and you are free. Declaring it for all the world to hear is not necessary and can be harmful to many of your relationships.
I am assuming you wish to help your family and I can give you some guidance on this from my own experience.
First of all the very worst thing you can do is take an adversarial stance with them and declare their beliefs to be silly idiotic and so on regardless of the reality.
Before you try anything I suggest you read a book called "feeling good" by David burn. It teaches you all about behavioral cognitive therapy. It sounds like a very complex thing but in fact it is pretty simple stuff. The book at first glance appears to be aimed at dealing with depression, but it is much more. It teaches you how you deal with your own distorted and negative thoughts.. for example you may be thinking:
" I will never be able to get through to my family, they will always hate me."
In fact this is a distorted and negative thought. A thought like this has to be answered rationally and you are encouaged to write down a rational answer. The following is how I would answer this thought.
How do I know this? I cannot know. The best thing to do is to try and talk with them. I know I can't just challenge their beliefs and ideas without upsetting them, but what I can do is find a way to communicate with them that will not be as disturbing.
Also saying they will aways hate me is silly since they do not hate me at all, They simply do not like the idea of my atheism but this is because they do not understand it. With enough time and gentle discussion I am sure I can get them to understand. I must remember that they love me regardless of their beliefs."


The book also teaches you how to deal with people who have irrational ideas, aggressive temperaments and so on. It is incredibly insightful and helpful and I can honestly say it changed my life.

You can pick a copy up on Amazon second hand for a couple of dollars. and I recommend you do.
Until you have read it and practiced the techniques it teaches I also recommend you avoid difficult encounters with your family and if it were me, I would pretend I had regained my faith. Why? well quite simply you wish to be able to have a dialog with them. If they believe you have no faith they are very likely to not want to listen to anything you have to say. Don't worry about this lie since you are doing it with the best intention. You are doing it in order to help your family. If you cannot bring yourself to lie then simply say nothing about your beliefs or lack of them.

Once you have read the book and studied the therapy (and hopefully applied the techniques taught to yourself as well) you will be in a much better position to help them not only come to terms with your position but possibly to change theirs too.
Always keep in mind that they are the victims of mind control and programming. Their thoughts and ideas are not their own when it comes to much of their religion. However when it comes to God most people have one thing in common. They have their own idea of who he is and what he is like and this is what you can take advantage of.
Most of the faithful do not think of God as a the wrathful, Jealous, vengeful psychopath that is depicted in the bible. No they generally believe he is an all forgiving, all loving , father and you can use this to your advantage when you begin your attempt to deprogram them. You can begin to discus their idea of God with them fist of all. Once you have their picture clearly in your mind you can then hold it against some of the morality that they are supporting within the religion they are a part of.
For example they may subscribe to the idea that god is constantly disappointed by their sins and is made sad by them and are filled with guilt because of this. This is something that my own sister was once cursed with. My approach to help her with this was to question her very gently a then ask her this . If God made us all as we are, then he knows and understands our imperfections and failures. Do you really think he would be angered because you exorcised the free will he gave you and made poor decision? I do not. I suspect he would be pleased that you had the courage to make a decision even if it were the wrong one. And afterwards he would be even more pleased that you recognized the error. Like any good father he will love you for who you are since he made you that way anyway.
You can use this approach to almost every moral dilemma the bible presents. You can use it to discuss science. Making observations of all the good science has done by making life so much better and safer for most of humanity. Medicine being the strongest example.

It will take time. Perhaps even years but eventually their ideas will change because their own idea of god and morality will not match what their religion preaches. The more you can encourage them to think the more they will question what they have been told to believe.

It really does work and it means you do not have to sacrifice the love of your family for your ideals. After all there is no God to judge what you do. You are your own moral guide. So why sacrifice the love of your family and your chance to help them just for the sake of a label. Surely that is an immoral act? Especially since it is a label that with enough time and patience they will wish to wear as well.
I could not agree more especially regarding sin.
Oh and any advice I give is not intended to offend, only to help. In the end it is only my opinion and can be taken a such :D
I'm sorry about your family's reaction! Hopefully, once the "shock" wears off things will settle down. If you are a talking family, you can discuss it. If you are not, sometimes it's best (for them, anyway) if they just pretend you never said any such thing and continue to love you and interact with you as before. Families can be very funny. The main thing is that they are your family and they most likely do love you very much. They hopefully won't let your lack of religious belief interfere with love. If they do, remind them that it is their Christian duty to love you unconditionally, because by golly, Jesus would want it that way. :o)
I agree that therapy and/or medication at an attempt for rehabilitation is where I'd rather my tax dollars go than capital punishment and imprisonment. Therapy could be in-patient and required by courts just as imprisonment now is. It would be much more productive all-around.

I also believe that some people are beyond rehabilitation. Not because they are "evil," but because their brains are wired differently or they suffered horrible abuse at fragile and malleable ages, etc. I still feel that these people can be put into a lifetime of therapy on a required in-patient basis so they are not a threat to society. Not as punishment, necessarily, but to broaden their self-awareness as to why they behave the way that they do, to help them find peace in themselves, and to protect others. It is necessary for people to realize that certain actions will bring about certain consequences, but sticking people in prison with other people lacking appropriate opportunities/upbringing/moral compasses is not always the best way to accomplish that.

I do not believe that any one person is either "good" or "evil." We are biological beings full of inner struggle all the time. We've all done things we are ashamed of. We've all had "bad thoughts" at one time or another. Granted, there are degrees of "bad thoughts." We have all also done beautiful and meaningful things. We have perhaps changed someone else's life for the better. I'm just saying, no one is perfect and no one is all despicable. We are a blend. We are human.

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