The Myth of Evil

The Myth of Evil

The Myth of Evil

The Myth of Evil

Synopsis

The Myth of Evil explores a contradiction: the belief that human beings cannot commit acts of pure evil, that they cannot inflict harm for its own sake, and the evidence that pure "evil" truly is a human capacity. Acts of horror are committed not by inhuman "monsters", but by ordinary human beings. This contradiction is clearest in the apparently "extreme" acts of war criminals, terrorists, serial murderers, sex offenders and children who kill. Phillip Cole delves deep into our two, cosily established approaches to evil. There is the traditional approach where evil is a force which creates monsters in human shape. And there is the enlightened perspective where evil is the consequence of the actions of misguided or mentally deranged agents. Cole rejects both approaches. Satan may have played a role in its evolution, but evil is really a myth we have created about ourselves. And to understand it fully, we must acknowledge this."

Excerpt

Speaking of the Devil

This is a book about evil. More precisely, it is a book about human evil, and its central question is whether there can be a secular conception of evil, whether that idea can tell us anything about the human condition, explain anything about what human beings do, in the absence of its more familiar territory of the supernatural and the demonic. In seeking to understand human evil it asks the question whether evil exists at all, and one possible answer I take very seriously is that it does not. That this is a book about something that may not exist is, of course, a puzzle, and it may be more accurate to say that this is a book about the idea of evil, for that undeniably exists and has for thousands of years. But still, in the end this is not simply an exploration of the history or coherence of an idea, although that is clearly an important aspect of what follows. It is primarily concerned with the metaphysical problem of the existence of evil in the world. Although the first aspect is perhaps the most complex, this second metaphysical aspect is the deepest and most urgent, especially during what are troubled days for the 'civilised' world. After the horrific destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001, carried out by the alQa'ida group, the leadership of the United States of America has identified an 'axis of evil' and has launched military attacks on, at the time of writing, two independent nation states, Afghanistan and Iraq, and overthrown their governments in the name of destroying that axis. Iran, Cuba and Syria remain on the list. They have been supported in this to varying degrees by other nations, such as the United Kingdom, partners who have been more reluctant to employ the discourse of evil to justify their participation, but who are now deeply engaged in what is a global 'war on terror' . . .

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