One of the lessons I have learned from writing my book on evil is this: the opposite of evil is not the good but the Sacred.  This means that we cannot have a conversation on evil until we have a conversation on the Sacred. 

“Ellie and sunlight: a sacred moment” Photo by Ellie’s mother Melissa Askew on Unsplash

If we are out of touch with the Sacred we are necessarily out of touch with how to deal with evil; we see only its effects, we don’t get to its essence and we don’t deal with it effectively therefore.  

We have been treating the Sacred in myriad ways throughout our Daily Meditations.  We are prepared therefore to talk about Evil.

Rabbi Heschel teaches that the Biblical answer to evil is not the good but the holy.  It is an attempt to raise man to a higher level of existence, where man is not alone when confronted with evil. 

Living in ‘the light of the face of God’ bestows upon man a power of love that enables him to overcome the powers of evil….”*

People’s Climate March 2017 in Washington DC. Ordained members of the Earth Holder Sangha wearing brown robes carry banner and practice mindful walking, on sidewalk near Senate Park. Photo by Dcpeopleandeventsof2017 on Wikimedia Commons.

 We are being reminded, from a man of great depth and prophetic spirit who walked his talk in so many ways, that Evil and the Sacred (or the “holy” in his words) operate in the same domain, the world of spirit. 

In this way Paul too talks about our struggle being against the “powers and principalities” which indicates the spirit world or angelic world.

Heschel assures us that we are not alone when confronted with evil.  Interdependence is a deep part of the world of spirit just as it lies at the ground of our existence as well.  “Interbeing” as Thich Naht Hanh puts it, is everywhere.

I do not use the words “Beelzebub” or “Lucifer” or “Satan.”  I don’t think we have to today. 

We have other words in our vocabulary that speak to Evil and its uncanny power to return again, to outlive us all, to be quasi-immortal or spiritual. 

“Sherrill Hogan Is Arrested During an Anti-Torture Demonstration at the Hart Senate Office Building, 1/11/17Photo by Justin Norman on Flickr

Words like Racism; Sexism; Militarism; Greed; Envy and the rest.  These are realities that confront the Sacred or the Holy on a regular basis. 

They are the grounds where our battles, both inner and outer, are fought.

We want to fill up on the Sacred or the Holy to dare to step into a struggle with evil.

Martin Buber teaches that we cannot wipe out evil but we can work to turn it into good.  There are lessons to be learned from the light we find in the darkness, lessons of wisdom and compassion learned from grief and suffering, loss and betrayal.  Darkness itself is a school where we re-visit the Sacred and the Holy.

*Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (NY: Harper and Row, 1955), 376.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society (2016 edition), pp. xxxvi-xxxvii.

Banner Image: Barren land after a criminal network illegally logged and traded trees from the Gurupi Biological Reserve and the Caru and Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Lands, in Maranhão, Brazil, 2016. Photo by Felipe Werneck – Ascom/Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, on Wikimedia Commons

Queries for Contemplation

Do you recognize the relationship between Evil and the Sacred?  And how, in Heschel’s words, the response to Evil is not from the good but from the Holy?  Meditate on that.  What follows from that?

Recommended Reading

Fox makes the point that religion has so often oversold the concept of “sin” that it has left us without language or power to combat evil. Through comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them.

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6 thoughts on “Evil and the Sacred”

  1. Avatar

    It strikes me as I reflect on interdependence and Heschel’s statement that we are not alone when confronted with evil, that I have assumed that humankind (me!) is responsible for overcoming evil. And that makes me feel overwhelmed and sometimes despairing. It may also reflect a human arrogance. It might be better to ask for the help of the other creatures on the planet in preserving the natural world or to recognize that they are helping–to assume that we are supported by other creatures on Earth, including the water people and the stone people, as we go about our business of working for environmental and other forms of justice. Just thinking of that allows me to breath a bit easier.

    1. Avatar
      Kimberly Kay Matt

      Hi, Michele! I felt a profound connection with your statement. I’ve felt very alone most of my life in confronting this Evil that is so entrenched in our society – it seems to be even embedded in our language, in the way we think. How do we rise above it without regarding ourselves as superhuman, with a “human arrogance”, as you say?

      I vision came to me of stars in the sky, which we are simply because we have an awareness of this problem. We are each shining a small amount of light upon it. Each of us amounts to very little. No matter how brightly we try to burn, we are not capable of shooing away this darkness. But the wise ancients drew pathways between the stars, pictures that the good people use to find their way through. That’s what we are. No matter how tired you get, never lose faith that you are making a difference for everyone around you, simply by being who you are, and shining your light. Whenever you feel alone, you can reach out and touch another star. Matthew Fox (among others) has drawn pathways so we can do this. I’m grateful for you!

  2. Avatar

    Why does Christianity, whether in its Theocratic Fascist form or Pacifistic, devolve into emotionalism and constantly stuck in dualistic thinking? In order for the Sacred to exist evil must also exist they are not separate. Even Hildegard recognized this as puerile and praised both in your previous post.

    Thank You
    RE Fisher

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Robert,
      Its helpful to remember Sacred and evil are not static, just like the rest of the universe. Each needs the other to exist, but they do not just stand against each other. Evil elicits the Sacred. The Sacred transforms evil. As the evil is transformed, more takes its place and the Sacred must address it. Everything is always evolving. So they can each be talked about separately, but they co-exist in a large context.

      This is one thing that distinguishes Matthew’s teachings. There is no one who is completely bad, and there is no one who is completely good. Neither are ideas, cultures, belief systems or groups completely good or bad. If they were, they would be boring. But instead they are always intriguing. THe Four Paths of Creation Spirituality describe how these natures co-create each other. And so we are off the hook, and yet right back on the hook…

      And no, this is not traditional Christianity. Authentic, but not traditional, shared with religions across the globe and throughout time.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  3. Avatar
    Kimberly Kay Matt

    Thank you for your words and for your presence, Matthew Fox! I’ve just found you!
    I’m thinking that merely being “good” is a hopelessly inadequate response to virulent Evil, because Evil feels no remorse – it regards itself as supreme and absolutely entitled to travel effortlessly down a road paved with these “good” souls. These souls that allow themselves to be trampled on lay themselves down out of the same “goodness”, and they are entirely worthy of salvation. They are merely mindless, sleeping. Reverence for the natural world, for its innocence and beauty, could be the key to waking them. I’m committed to reviving interest in indigenous cultures, because although devastated, they’ve never abandoned their role as stewards of the natural world. They will rise first, so I believe, and then all the GOOD people will rise with them.

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