For a contented ego, all things big and small matter only with regard to their impact on me and whatever it is that matters to me . . . The God-Satan duality exists within our own being where there is a constant conversation going on between Self and ego, between what lies in the shadow and in the light. It is that conversation alone that transforms the dark shadow. The Rt. Rev. Larry Maze. “Ego-Self Conversations and the Problem of Evil,” The Rose (Athens, GA, Emmanuel Church, Vol.15 (winter-spring 2009), p. 27.)
Throughout this series I’ve written about the problem of opposites and the need for us to integrate both sides. By now you may be thinking: If evil is the opposite of good, and if we’re supposed to integrate pairs of opposites, are you telling me I need to condone evil as well as good? I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong!
This issue is a major stumbling block for every thinking seeker. Here’s the bottom line: The opposition of evil-versus-good belongs in a separate category all its own. Why? Because unlike the others, which are morally neutral expressions of naturally occurring energies, good and evil are dualistic judgments about the worth of these energies. Over the centuries patriarchy has judged the feminine side of many of these pairs evil and the masculine side as good. As philosopher Michael Washburn noted to me in a letter, “This is a horrendous category mistake, but it has successfully disguised patriarchy’s judgment of women by making it seem as if it were a fact about women.”
Okay, I get it that we can wrongly judge things evil that are not, but surely there is evil in the world, you might argue. And we know it when we see it. Isn’t there some standard we can all agree on that will help us overcome personal biases and think maturely about this?
Good question! Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg and Dr. Carol Gilligan of Harvard University have devised and tested theories about moral reasoning that should be of some assistance. The following is a condensed summary of their findings.
Three Levels of Moral Reasoning
Level I: Pre-Conventional
According to this theory, we all start out at Level I. Here we reason that bad is whatever gets us punished and prevents us from getting what we want, and good is whatever keeps us from being punished and provides what we want. To people who think like this, it’s okay to lie, steal, and cheat as long as we are clever enough not to get caught. This thinking is natural and normal in young children, but prisons are filled with adults who never grew beyond this immature, self-serving morality.
Level II: Conventional
The Level II emphasis is on the conventional values of our families and social groups. Bad and good start out being whatever gains the disapproval or approval of our parents. Then they gradually come to be defined by whether we do our civic duty or experience guilt if we do not. Estimates are that the moral reasoning of about sixty percent of the population is based on this way of thinking. It emphasizes the importance of gaining your family’s and society’s approval, having a conscience, doing your duty, acting responsibly, keeping laws, and making personal sacrifices for the good of your family and community. Some of us think of this as the highest form of morality, but there is more.
Level III: Post Conventional
For the approximately twenty percent who move on to Level III, moral reasoning transcends local rules and boundaries to enter a universal arena. People at this level don’t leave conscience, law, or duty behind. Rather, they use their maturing understanding to work out a personal ethic that is not prescribed or enforced by anyone else and applies to everyone and everything.
We enter this level when we come to see that others are persons too, and deserve fair and equal treatment. Bad then becomes anything that violates human rights and good is whatever affirms them. However, it eventually dawns on us that evil is even more than the violation of human rights going on out there: it is the absence in me of love or caring: it is when I do not respect the life, sovereignty, or significance of otherness. It is when I feel hatred. When I feel superior or more entitled. When I do not see the log in my own eye. Most of all, it is when I do not act with fairness and compassion toward every form of life.
The ultimate good then becomes whatever I can do to promote justice and engender love using the principle of nonviolence to create the most possible benefit and cause the least possible pain or harm to others. At this level of reasoning, morality is no longer about pointing out and destroying the evil in them. It is about cultivating genuine love in me and acting in accordance with this love in everything I do. This is a fulfillment of the noblest moral potential of humanity.
So in answer to my earlier question—Are we supposed to condone evil as well as good? Absolutely not! We are to integrate the evil within us into our awareness, which is the only way to defuse it.
This material is taken from Healing the Sacred Divide.
Art Image: St. Thomas Aquinas, Wikimedia Commons
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.