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The Transformations of Evil and Suffering

David B. Morris

Illustration by Gustave Doré for Milton’s Paradise Lost; Wikimedia Commons.

Exploring the postmodern bond between suffering and evil.

Evil Modern and Postmodern

Evil has been transformed by postmodern culture. It doubtless constitutes a truism of contemporary thought that evil has shared in the same loss of credulity suffered by the comprehen- sive explanatory systems or—as Jean-François Lyotard famously calls them—“metanarratives” that formerly explained or contained it.11xJean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 34–37. This truism is surely accurate, if incomplete. Paul Ricoeur in The Encyclopedia of Religion, summarizing and extending his earlier work, describes four dominant myths worldwide that have addressed the origin of evil: chaos myths, myths of an evil god, myths of the exiled soul, and myths of a lost paradise.22xPaul Ricoeur, “Evil,” The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (New York, NY: MacMillan, 1987), 200. Ricoeur’s text is based in part on his well-known study The Symbolism of Evil, trans. Emerson Buchanan (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1967). Myths of origin fall among the metanarratives that come under suspicion in postmodern thought, but in Western cultures the most powerful and still intermittently persistent myth describing the origin of evil is doubtless the vision of a lost paradise.

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