Carl Jung was ill at ease with understanding evil as a “privation of the good” and I tend to agree with him.  For I, like many, experience evil both as a distancing from the good but also as a kind of force or power or malicious intelligence in our midst. 

Sketch of Carl Jung originally posted by Arturo Espinosa to

St. Paul talks about how our struggle is against the “powers and principalities.” These are spirits or negative powers or “bad angels” called “evil spirits” in indigenous traditions.

I have frequently remarked that we don’t have to call evil spirits “Satan” or “Beelzebub” or “Lucifer.”  We can call them by their current names, Racism, Sexism, Anthropocentrism, Militarism, Narcissism, etc.  They are spiritual because they operate in the realm of the spirit and because they possess a quasi immortality to them.  They keep coming back in each generation demanding their attention. 

They are intelligent and go where the power lies whether in religious headquarters or media or supreme court or pentagon or Kremlin or CIA or Wall Street…you name it.  Of course, it uses humans and needs them to spread the viruses of hate and lies, of power for power sake, of destruction and death.  “I put before you life and death.  Choose life.”

A bear paw medicine wheel. Both the bear and medicine wheel are common symbols of native teachings around living a good life. Originally posted to Flickr by Elijah van der Giessen.

This is why vigilance is always required and vigilance is part of being a spiritual warrior.  Be on the look out in institutions but also in self, because institutions are made of selves and all of us can be infected by such spiritual viruses. 

Another language used to speak of Evil is Christ and Anti-Christ.  The empire of the first century was named the Anti-Christ in the Book of Revelations for example.  But one needs to be discreet and not overuse such nomenclature as well.  When I interviewed Lorna Byrne about angels, and asked her about bad angels she replied very wisely: “I do not talk about them.  They are in almost all the headlines in the media and seek attention.  I choose not to give them the attention they are so eager for.”

See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Monochrome yin yang coffee. Photo by Alex on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

What is your experience of evil spirits in society and/or the self? Do you agree that evil as “privation of good” is not the only way to talk of evil?

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25 thoughts on “The Dual Nature of Evil”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, I too can say, “I, like many, experience evil both as a distancing from the good but also as a kind of force or power or malicious intelligence in our midst.” As you write, St. Paul says : “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, (like Putin) against spiritual wickedness in high places (like the Kremlin)” (Ephesians 6:12). Here, I see the demons of war and the spirit of warmongering–and we can never forget the God, Mammon or money. But your questions for today are:
    1. “What is your experience of evil spirits in society and/or the self?” Though I tend to see “demon possession” as a problem for the realm of psychiatry. However, I have also been involved in two exorcisms. and some really unusual things happen that are very hard to explain. I also tend to look like you do Matthew at the cultural and religious demons that we experience in our selves and in society. Demons like patriarchy, racism, sexism, and greed.
    2. “Do you agree that evil as “privation of good” is not the only way to talk of evil?” AMEN !!!

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    “I think, that there’s more to evil than just the privation of good.”
    Thank you Matthew. You bring clarity to the be-devil-ling subject of the reality of evil. Human beings have personified this dark force in their evolving mythologies and theologies. I wonder if Jung considered evil as a separate archetype with the same active attributes as others he posited. As you have shown previously, Hildegard did personify evil in her art. A classic human attribution shows up in the popular saying “the devil made me do it.” What about the ‘mythic’ name “Lucifer” originally a light bearer who falls into ‘temptation’??? What force turns a spirit of light into a dark force of destruction actively seeking others whom ‘he’ can destroy??? I think of Jesus’ warning: You are either for me or against me. This seems to suggest that there is no static neutral ground of ‘privation of good’ while we live and breathe.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, Today in speaking of Lucifer “the light bearer,” you ask: “What force turns a spirit of light into a dark force of destruction actively seeking others whom ‘he’ can destroy???” I believe the force was “choice.” In the book of
      Revelation it says that “the great dragon (who is also called the Devil and Satan) took a third of the angels with him. And so they chose to be on Lucifer’s side in the war in heaven. I know that this is all mythical language, but it shows how important our choices are–as was the fatal choice of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

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    Jeanette Metler

    The very last words that Mathew spoke in today’s DM, “The opposite of evil is not just the good, but rather is the sacred”, is a statement that actually expands one’s perception and understanding of what evil is. When you allow yourself to see evil, within this context, it somehow makes it much easier to identify the many masks that evil wears… at least for those whom are consciously awake and aware to that which is beholden as sacred.

    Whatever evil is reflected and mirrored in society… is the same potential for evil within self… as there is no separation between the two. The only difference of this evil expressing and manifesting itself is determined, as Mathew has aptly stated, by the individual choices each one of us makes. We either choose that which gives life or that which brings death. We either choose to honor, respect, nurture and respond to that which is sacred… that inherent goodness and the beauty, the light of this sacred essence and presence of God… whom is Divine Love… in the all and the everything… and the all and the everything in God… or we choose to dishonor, disrespect, oppress, suppress, reacting fearfully towards this spiritual reality. The words “Fear the Lord your God”, has never really resonated with my soul… however the words reverence, awe and wonder does.

    Thank you for expanding my awareness in understanding evil, as so much more than just the lack, or absence of the good… beyond the limited labels humanity has called it to be, and named it, in its religious context.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Check out my comment on Gwen’s comment. It also speaks of the important role that choice plays in the grand scheme of things…

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    Dear Mathew, thank you for sharing great Wisdom. Thank you being a Light ?️.

    I have a question about evil and a prior sharing from one the daily meditations. Eckhart shares” All things praise God, even evil”. Does this mean that a situation is so aweful (full of Awe) that it leads us to the Divine?

    If I have what you shared about the Yes to life, the mystical and the prophecy being our No to life (evil), is your prior sharing about “even the No comes wrapped up inside our Yes” to life the same message as Eckhart’s? Do I see this clear? If no, can you help with this message?
    Thank you ❣️

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Karen, You are wondering about the true significance of Eckhart’s quotation which says, ” All things praise God, even evil”. I’m not sure what Matthew would say to this, but what comes to my mind are St. Paul’s words that in the end, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord.” In other words, there will come a time when there will be no doubt that evil was evil!

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    Most mystics hold us responsible for our own evils, not an external source. Some say that evil exists only in rejection or lack of awareness of good, or to balance good in the apparent dualities of this life…not in unitive eternal life.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Ron, You’re right. In the end it all comes down to what we choose. But what we choose is not just the absence of good. It is something that is active and which we participate in…

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    I read only yesterday of one spiritual leader who, when asked what he thought of the actions of an oppressor, said, “He meant well.”
    I don’t believe he meant well. I agree with Matthew. Evil is a force in itself and it roams among us searching for willing and cooperative people who will house it and do its will. I do not believe for an instant that Putin “means well” in the vile murder of innocents for the sole purpose of conquest and personal glorification—his hope to become a modern tsar restoring the historic Russian empire. I don’t believe that the Losing Candidate “meant well” when he encouraged the attack on the US Capital building, nor do I believe that those who did the attacking “meant well.”
    Such actions are embodied Evil with no well-meaning whatsoever. They may well be performed by non-thinking actors for personal gratification or a desire for fame, but they are nonetheless Evil.
    We acknowledge the Spirit in the actions of those accusing Judge Jackson of promoting the abuse of children; in the actions of those in Missouri who have made it illegal to relieve a woman of a tubal pregnancy which will otherwise kill her; in the actions of those who make long car rides in order to open fire with an automatic weapon in a mall known to be frequented by a race of people the perpetrator dislikes; in the greed of the wealthy that destroys Earth. I also believe we can speak loudly against these atrocities without encouraging the Spirits.
    I don’t find a dual nature in Evil. I find it uniquely singular in its purpose—the destruction of all that is Good that requires the perpetual opposition of decent people.

    1. Avatar
      Jeanette Metler

      Olive, your words today are written in the voice of an embolden prophet, whom exposes the truth and the “unique and singular purpose”, of evil present in this world.

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Olive, Today you write: “I don’t find a dual nature in Evil. I find it uniquely singular in its purpose—the destruction of all that is Good that requires the perpetual opposition of decent people.” And all I have to say to that is, AMEN !!!

  7. Avatar

    Thank you for another illuminating message. For years, I argued with a friend about the sources of evil and maintained that it was within us and spread from us, while she argued that it was also a force “outside” I have come to agree with her and with you that it is a powerful force that sometimes hides in ideas like patriotism, the “greater good” (for whom?), along with all that you have listed. It bills itself as “good” just as Putin is doing and just as all despots do. I agree that the opposite of evil is the sacred, and the sacred is the only way to deal with evil. I have been re-reading, “Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh” and am struck again by your teaching that Hitler created and successfully promulgated a new religion of “purification” that succeeded at least partly because of the total failure of the Church, Protestant or Catholic, to have provided spiritual nourishment. The Church became his willing partner, with some exceptions. He rushed into that vacuum. That seems to be happening today as well. But I am so encouraged by the spirit of the Ukrainian people and those supporting them and grieve that more churches are not boldly speaking out against Putin. This is the Holy Spirit, in my opinion, and nothing can quell it or kill it, even if the Ukraine is destroyed. In responding to the Urgent Actions for Amnesty International, I am constantly amazed at and grateful for the courage shown by so many people who stand up against the violation of human rights, no matter the great cost to themselves—-too often in torture, imprisonment and death.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, You write today: “I don’t find a dual nature in Evil. I find it uniquely singular in its purpose—the destruction of all that is Good that requires the perpetual opposition of decent people.” This is something we will have to return to again and again…

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    Jeanette Metler

    What has also come to mind, is these words from the Jesus Prayer…”Lead us away from all temptation and deliver us from all evil.” Cleary, Jesus was well aware of the many temptations, the many distressing disguises, the masks that evil wears in this world. He knew how evil can even disguise itself as an angel of light, or as a wolf in sheeps clothing. And yet, he feared not facing such evil… taking a stand with, in and for God… in what at first appears to the human mind to be incomprehensible, illogical and irrational in its ways.

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    The primary power and principality in my opinion resides in corporate boardrooms where it is required that profit is the only consideration according to corporate bylaws. Capitalism and asset accumulation is what we must name and resist first and foremost. Naming Putin as evil is not going to cut it. Capitalism is the Antichrist in my opinion. It is at the root of this war. It drives grievances because it defines our relationships as dominating, competitive, and comparitive. It is dangerous to refer to Putin as evil without naming the evils as well of the America empire that are well documented because then we are playing into the Cold War which we already see beginning to manifest. We are about to be thrust into a new Cold War that is going to be very destructive for the countries and the world. Yes Putin needs to be stopped (not regime changed) but so do other much more prevalent forces like capitalism, militarism, etc in order to promote peace and save the planet.

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      I agree Edward.
      Unregulated uber capitalism and unchecked militarism is the breeding ground for rampant corporate corruption that has no borders. The result is degrading security worldwide. Wars and rumors of wars abound.

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Edward, You write today: “Capitalism and asset accumulation is what we must name and resist first and foremost. Naming Putin as evil is not going to cut it. Capitalism is the Antichrist in my opinion. It is at the root of this war.” You make a good point about Capitalism, but I look at it differently from you. For me, the U.S. is a Capitalist country. And so it seems that how we fight (at least in this case) is by punishing with embargos and other things that will hurt Putin’s pocketbook. Putin however is not a Capitalist, he is a Communist, and the way were doing it is like speaking to someone who s peaks Russian but we speak to them in English. If you want to communicate with Putin you have to speak to him in a language he will understand–and it isn’t capitalism. Your second point however, that Capitalism is the AntiChrist, is just not biblical. It does speak of the AntiChrist in the New Testament but it has nothing to do with capitalism, which didn’t even exist in biblical times…

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        Hi Richard, Putin is not a communist. He is a capitalist autocrat. Russia stopped being a communist country when Yeltsin took power and all or most of its assets were privatized in the hands of oligarchs. American capitalists like Larry Summers who were called “the Harvard boys” came over and advised him and helped rig the election so Yelsin instead of a democratic socialist would win because he was friendly to American oligarch and neoliberalism. Putin was Yeltsin’s man.
        Jesus had many things to say about wealth accumulation. That is fundamental. Maybe it was not called capitalism but he was very critical of elitism and wealth accumulation.

  10. Avatar

    Kia ore e Matthew. Greetings of good health and well being from Aotearoa (New Zealand). While I was listening to your morning talk today, something I enjoy each morning, it seemed that you were subscribing to a dualistic worldview and that you actually believe in a reality you call evil. For me, “evil” is a normalisation, and abstract noun that has no real existence and whose function is naming behaviours that do not enhance health and wellbeing. “evil” is a convenient way of naming something we do not like. Evil has no real existance, unless one subscribes to the belief that there is actually a malevolent being(s) roaming the Planet. This may seem like semantics, but when I work with couples, I encourage them to turn their lives into a verb. So the question is not “How is our “relationship”? which is just another nominalisation and doesn’t in fact have any real existence, but “How are we relating?” We ought to focus on transforming our behaviours that are eroding a way of life that is in tune with the law of life, which is the law of relating, and the whole cosmos is relational. Believing in “evil” as a concrete reality often results in thinking there are evil people; an unfortunate and judgmental attitude leading to the demonisation of people whose behaviours are problematic. The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem and we have to draw on our creativity to resolve the problem. If no cooperative approach is possible, we just have to take actions that avoid or stop the harmful effects of problematic behaviours. Good and evil is just another duality that creates separation among us, much like the dehumanising effects of Roman Catholicism in its institutional and dogmatic form. Thank you for your consideration.

    Peace be with you,

    Te Ruru

  11. Avatar

    Matthew–I think I heard you say at the end of the video that the opposite of evil is the Savior. Could you expand a little on how you mean that? Thank you!

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