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Since ISIS or ISIL burst onto the world’s stage last year, I’ve been trying to get my head around the subject of “evil.”  To me, it seemed that ISIS had taken the notion of evil to a whole new level.  Hitler and Stalin certainly killed more people but in a more mechanical and a somewhat less horrific manner.  ISIS seems to relish murder more than other “evil” men.  It seems more akin to a horrible aphrodisiac for them.  As an old soldier, ISIS truly frightens me.  Their objective is accomplished!

Looking for a definition of evil, I recalled being taught that evil was anything un-Christian and that the devil was a real supernatural being, a fallen angel even.  Then, I descended into a definitional purgatory and found more definitions of evil than I could ever comprehend.  Some were as simple as the absence of good.  Some definitions included thousands of words.  I even read the thoughtful Evil:  An Investigation by Lance Morrow, where I learned that different generations have different definitions of evil, further complicating acceptance of any one definition.

Then, I wondered if being evil was like being pregnant, either you are or you are not.  Are there degrees of evil?  In Islam, there is no concept of absolute or pure evil.  In Hinduism, there is no concept of evil people, only evil actions.  In Judaism, since evil is not part of God’s creation, it can only exist by the bad actions of people making bad choices.  Plus, evil is not personified by Satan, who was just another angel controlled by God.  Psychology giant Philip Zimbardo suggested people act in evil ways as part of their collective identity, not their individual identity.  This makes sense, except it doesn’t explain how collective identities become evil.

After wandering through definitional purgatory for months, I do believe that ISIS is the most pure evil I’ve ever studied.  But my biggest fear is that the savages of ISIS simply reveal mankind without the thin veneers of both civility and sensitivity.  Even worse, are they nothing more than savages pumped up on the steroids of religion?  If so, how do we destroy them with the dignity and decency they deny to others?

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