Evil   /   Summer 2000   /    Introduction

The Difficulty of Thinking about “Evil”


From the Editors

Evil is popular with philosphers and filmmakers, though for very different reasons.

The “problem of evil” has kept a large proportion of theologians and philosophers occupied for centuries. At issue in this problem—often formulated in the question, “if God is all-good and all-powerful, why does evil occur in the world?”—is whether or not God exists, whether or not God is all-good and/or all-powerful, and whether or not what appears to us as evil really is evil. The stakes are as high as they can be in philosophical discussions, but the language used by the participants is often beyond the grasp of those of us not trained in the finer points of philosophical and theological discourse.

Evil is popular with filmmakers because, among other reasons, it sells. Whether it be a psychological thriller focused on the internal workings of a mass murderer’s mind, like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs; or a good-guys-against-bad-guys movie, à la James Bond; or a step into the world of “the bad guys,” as in Pulp Fiction— movies about evildoers fascinate us and draw us into theaters by the millions. Some of these movies challenge us to think about evil, as does, for example, Slingblade, in which the main character, Karl, is at once, and unsettlingly, a convicted killer and a sympathetic older brother figure. But many more movies stage a battle between good and evil, a battle where nothing real is at stake, and the good guys are sure to win, and precisely because of this the audience can sit back and safely enjoy it. These movies theatricalize evil, making it glamorous or so foreign that it is unlike anything or anyone we know. They leave us with little in the way of resources as we think about the evil around us in the world and may even encourage us to misuse the word “evil” by all-too-quickly finding someone or something to which to apply it.

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