The problem of evil is one of those Christian hangups that can confuse anybody. First they posit that evil exists and then go on speculating about its source and why God allows it and all that follows. Untangling this knot becomes nearly impossible because they force us to use their framework to explain it to them. I mean it’s pretty much like atheists demanding physical proof of God when God is beyond physical perception by definition. They will have no proof of God as long as they remain atheists. Similarly, Christians can’t solve their problem of evil as long as they stay Christians (in the current understanding of their philosophy).
The fifth episode of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman begins with meeting “evil personified”, a prisoner who raped more than two dozen women and murdered three of them, not to mention other “minor” crimes like burglary and robbery. He is serving life sentence, of which thirty years have already passed, IIRC.
Freeman gets a sitdown with him in the company of a psychologist who studies criminal brains for a living. As I said in the beginning, Christians believe that evil is a thing but when Freeman talked to this man evil seemed to be absent. The man confessed to all his crimes and when Freeman asked him why he did it he simply said he felt an irresistible impulse, plus other things fell into place so committing his crimes was practically unavoidable. When Freeman asked him if he wanted to be released he, as a matter-of-factly, replied that if he was released back into the society he would most likely commit more crimes because he is not like other people.
That’s where the psychiatrist agreed with him – this man is a certified sociopath even in the company of other sociopaths. His brain is physically different from other people. They’ve mentioned 99th percentile, whatever that means.
The discussion then shifted to the possibility of identifying such people early on, when they are still children, to better accommodate their growth and prevent them from committing crimes they seem to be wired to do. This was the point when Freeman should have questioned the existence of evil as a phenomenon. That, statistically speaking, it’s just a physical deviation from the norm. He wisely surmised that there’s a bit evil in all of us but didn’t go much further.
The Egyptian leg of his tour wasn’t very informative, though bright colors of Egyptian murals were amazing. The mural itself demonstrated how a person was judged for his good and bad deeds after his death. No biggy. A quip about heavy heart stopping one from a lift-off to heaven was witty but that’s about it.
The story of Zoroastrians wasn’t particularly enlightening either but what I liked about it is how they openly talked about influence of Zoroastrianism on early Judaism. We don’t normally hear that concept of evil, devil, Satan, etc was brought into Abrahamic religions from Zoroastrians, so that was a revelation.
What we didn’t hear is that Zoroastrianism is Hinduism gone wrong, that it has clear Vedic origins. It’s just that Zarathustra picked up a different side in the battle of [demi]gods and turned it into an existential good vs evil war. Maybe it was existential to him, as he broke the ranks with Vedic orthodoxy and naturally needed to justify his decision, but in the big scheme of things battles between demigods or even between suras and asuras are inconsequential and God is impartial to both of them. It’s uncanny how a minor squabble in Vedic pantheon led to modern absolutism of us vs them and language like “axis of evil”.
Another interesting thing about Zoroastrians is their motto – “Good thought, good words, good deeds”, in precisely that sequence. They, unlike atheists, understand that physical phenomena come from subtle reality and not the other way around. First we desire, then we think, then we talk, then we make things happen. If your mind is corrupted or out of control then nothing good will come out of it.
Indian leg of the tour was disappointing again because all they did was visit an exorcist temple. There’s one piśāca who got saved by the grace of Lord Śiva and who was ordered to protect people from other evil spirits in the vicinity. It all makes Hinduism look like some kind of idolatry because no one talked about underlying philosophy. Evil there was attributed to spirits of ancestors who needed to be pacified as a solution.
Come to think about it, there’s no such thing as “evil” in our philosophy. There are evil things and evil spirits, sure, but not “evil” as a category. All the phenomena in this world are manifested by three gunas and “evil” simply shows predominance of ignorance. Likewise, ignorance of the reality is the source of all “evil”, which becomes simply an unforeseen consequence. To the perpetrator it’s the same sense gratification as usual and, blinded by desires, he does not realize that it might create rather unpleasant reactions for his victims and for himself in the future.
Any spiritual progress begins with rising above concepts of good and evil and seeing them as perturbations of the material energy. They always follow one another and most of the time “evil” is a matter of perspective. Kin Jong-un, for example, is evil to the West but North Koreans do not see him that way at all. There are cultures in Asia where Rāvaṇa was as much a hero of Rāmāyaṇa as Lord Rāma himself. Lanka absolutely prospered under his rule and to its citizen there was nothing evil about that. People who get trapped into this dual mentality are not spiritualists, according to our philosophy, but it’s different in Christianity.
Freeman talked to a guy who grew up as a Neo-Nazi skinhead who hurt a lot of people during his “career” but when he got married and fathered a son it all changed. First he had an inner transformation and later his lifestyle and appearance followed. He removed all his facial tattoos, for example. To Christians it looks like a transformation from good to evil under the power of God but it’s just a change in predominating gunas and it was his karma all the way. He discovered that being with a woman and raising a child was a better quality sense enjoyment, that’s all. The underlying dharmic nature of his choice played its role, too, but it was still a selfish move and Christian God was there to justify it. I mean people taking up their varnasrama duties is not much of a spiritual progress.
All in all, I think Freeman has got it – evil is a part of our nature, can’t live with it, can’t live without it, but liberation as a solution hasn’t downed on him yet, let along taking up service to the Supreme, which is transcendental to all these illusory tribulations.