In addition to being a “privation of the good,” I see Evil as a force or energy related directly to the Via Creativa, to creativity and misuse of imagination. As Denise Levertov names it, a “failure at imagination that leads to compassion.” This is sometimes called the “sin of omission” which Aquinas says is always about injustice.

Evil often causes us to lose our ability to have foresight. We lose our ability to be connected. Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.

Evil turns its back on goodness but can also be a force of energy and creativity in its own right that leads to the opposite of compassion, death, destruction and suffering. Witness the war on Ukraine today.

So I see Evil as “a privation of the good” and a misuse of creativity, using it for destruction and not compassion and building up. Death, not Life. Otto Rank is wise for having named the centrality of creativity to our very nature as human beings but also to our complicity with Evil.

What he calls the “artiste manque” haunts us. If we don’t deal with our creativity well, it will lead to self-destruction and other-destruction. It leads to our neurosis not just as individuals but as societies and communities. It is deadly. A “mortal sin” therefore that spreads death elsewhere.

Seeing the dual dimension to Evil assists, I think, our struggle against it in self and others whether we are talking today about an unjust war in Ukraine or the unholy war against Mother Earth. Evil is both a privation of the good and a misuse of creativity. In that way it is a demonic power, a negative and dangerous spirit among and within us. The opposite of Jesus’s teaching that “the kingdom/queendom of God is within and among you.”

Evil tries to delude us into believing that we are not creative beings of compassion and intelligence. Evil blocks our ability to recognize the sacred already within us. Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash.

Another naming of Evil that Carl Jung employees frequently is shadow, especially an unexamined shadow. Shadow for me denotes the omnipresence of evil—Evil is not “out there” somewhere exclusively, it is everywhere like a shadow is everywhere. And it is directly related to the Light. There is no shadow sans light. Light and light and shadow walk together.

Summarizing the past three DM’s, I would propose a Trinity of Evil that in some ways parallels the Trinity in the Christian tradition. Thus it constitutes a kind of anti-Trinity:

1. Evil as privation of good (privatio boni) vs. the “goodness” that God and existence are. (See Genesis 1)

2. Evil as a force or energy among us that is the opposite of liberation or redemption promised by Christ and other spiritual teachers. Thus, an anti-Christ.

3. Evil as shadow. A presence in our midst that needs attention. Not a Holy Spirit but an unholy spirit or spirits.

See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in So

ul and Society. 

And Matthew Fox, “Otto Rank on the Artistic Journey as a Spiritual Journey, the Spiritual Journey as an Artistic Journey,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 199-214.

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

Banner Image: On the edge of mystery. Photo by Juan Davila on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Can you recognize Evil as a three-fold reality as proposed in this meditation? Have you had personal experiences of Evil?

Recommended Readings

Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.

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12 thoughts on “Three Understandings of Evil”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you sum up your meditation with three points which you relate to an “evil trinity” :
    1. Evil as privation of good (privatio boni) vs. the “goodness” that God and existence are. (See Genesis 1)–“Forgive me for those things that I have done, and those things I have left undone.”
    2. Evil as a force or energy among us that is the opposite of liberation or redemption promised by Christ and other spiritual teachers. Thus, an anti-Christ.–In this sense, I can see that this is the spirit of anti-Christ
    3. Evil as shadow. A presence in our midst that needs attention. Not a Holy Spirit but an unholy spirit or spirits.–and I see that you are saying that “Evil as a shadow” = unholy spirit(s).

    So today our Queries for Contemplation are:
    “Can you recognize Evil as a three-fold reality as proposed in this meditation?” Yes, I can as stated above.
    “Have you had personal experiences of Evil?” I use to think so, but in light of what we have been studying, I feel I have experience wrong things, but nothing so bad I would call it Evil. I can see that they have happened on the world stage, but not to me personally.

  2. Avatar

    Dear Matthew,
    In my years of study of Anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner, I can confirm that he too sees evil as a trinity. His definition of each aspect would differ somewhat from yours but I see them as complimentary but they are not just a force or power or at worse a metaphor but a Real Cosmic Beings. Your first evil principle he would call Lucifer, who seeks the good in a totally self-centered way, Your second evil principle is the Anti-Christ or Ahriman, the spirit of materialism, who seeks to reduce us to machines under his control. And the third evil principle is the irrational and blind forces of destruction and hatred called the Azuric Beings. I wish to thanks you for introducing the three faces of evil. They cannot be defeated with their own weapons but only through the healing remedy of Divine Love… Love. And even they can be redeemed… through Love.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Father Harmon, Thank you so much for your comment. It gives us another perspective to look at this important subject with!

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    As Mathew has mentioned in today’s DM, “Evil is complex, with many angles.” Another angle of the Trinity of Evil, to consider in addition to Mathews, is one that I see, through engaging with “The Course In Miracles”, which I sense corresponds with Mathew’s angle of the Trinity of Evil.

    1. Fear vs the Love of God that is in the existence of all.
    2. Illusion of Separation and Sin vs Reconciliation and Atonement through
    the redeeming Love and Mercy of God.
    3. Miscreation of the unnatural force of the will and thoughts of the Ego vs
    the Creation of the natural essence and presence of the will and
    thoughts of the Holy Spirit, incarnate within the soul.

    This is another angle that I see, as apart of the three-fold reality proposed in today’s DM. Looking at the complex angles of Evil offered in both Mathew’s teaching and the Course in Miracles… awakens my attention as to how this Evil operates in its temptations upon all of humanity and plays itself out in this world. As well, I am also offered glimpses as to the pathway of deliverance from these.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Thank you for your additional perspective on Matthew’s evil trinity. Father Harmon wrote his comment in view of Anthroposophy, and you from the perspective on A Course in Miracles. My only problem with the courses approach to evil, is that it teaches that evil is ultimately an illusion. Here however, from on our plain, and within our personal experience, it is very real–especially now, for those in Ukraine.

  4. Avatar

    Matthew 15:15, Jesus said, “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel but on a candlestick.”
    It seems that we all have access to the LIGHT [good] but we have the option to choose darkness [evil].
    We all live at the intersection of good and evil.

  5. Avatar

    Matthew, thank you for your deep reflection on the mystery of evil – inner and outer/ personal, social, and spiritual. Carl Jung also reflected on it deeply, as have others as mentioned by Fr. Harmon and Jeanette in their comments. I look forward to one day reading your book, “Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh,” for further insights.
    In the meantime, as part of my own spiritual journey and faith, I remain consciously open to God’s Spirit of Love~Light~Life within and around us with others as multi-dimensional beings and co-Creators within God’s ongoing Creation~Evolution in Compassionate action in the Divine Love and Sacred Process of the Eternal Present Moment ….

  6. Avatar

    Humans are created in the image and likeness of God… created in the image and “light-ness” of God. God being light energy. All matter is coalesced light, we like God, are beings of light energy. We are sustained by light energy that permeates all Creation, the Cosmos.

    Let us remember that we are in the Sacred Presence of God, as God is within our very presence in Creation.

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