In my second year of university I took a course with Professor Elmer Griffin called Psychological Theories Of Evil. Professor Griffin was notorious for dismantling any and all previously conceived notions the student might have. I was no exception. During the course of the class I found myself floundering as Professor Griffin deconstructed notions of good and evil that I had always felt were absolute. We read about the situation in Rwanda and Burundi, discussed Hitler and the Nazi doctors, as well as the infamous Milwaukee-an Jeffrey Dahmer. We took apart the notions of good and evil to the point where the entire class realized that both good and evil were constructs, created by a Judeo-Christian ethic that needed to pit one against another.
The course shook my very foundations to the core and it was years before I was able to think about concepts of good and evil as concepts that do indeed exist. However, to this day it is not without a sense of irony that I refer to good and evil. After that course, rattling my foundations became key in the choices I would make about which professors’ classes I would take at university, and I sought out every single one who would also be able to help me deconstruct and reconstruct all of my preconceived notions. That was my introduction to critical thinking.
My final year of university, I was with a dear friend when she was murdered by gang banger. Although I knew all of the theories of structural violence and racism in Los Angeles, how gangs were necessary for minorities to feel they had respect and how necessary it was for them to promote fear in the face of their disenfranchisement, I felt I had come face to face with evil. The sensation got worse as when testifying against Wendy’s murderers, their defense attorney kept me on the stand for an hour and a half trying to imply that it was our fault that the gang member pulled a gun and shot Wendy in the head. The defense attorney, with her frizzy hair and 80s-style glasses, her cheap shoes and bad suit, became a defender of evil.
Still, deep down, I had the seed planted by Professor Griffin which still whispered that good and evil don’t really exist. Even though, paradoxically, I had looked into several faces of evil and seeing the destruction left in their wake, I knew they were real.
Years later, and still with that inherent sense of irony when dealing with concepts of good and evil, I’ve begun thinking about angels and demons, and how humans can be possessed by both types of entities. Everyone knows someone who embodies truth, justice, selflessness, and love. This is a person who sacrifices themselves for the benefit of others and doesn’t even think twice doing it, it’s in their angelic nature.
Everyone also knows someone who embodies the spirit of negativity, selfishness, destruction of their self and others, and who are unable to love anything or anyone. These are the people who are never happy even when they have everything and they seem to make it their mission to make everyone else as miserable as they are. These individuals embody demonic natures, and quite possibly they even have a demon lurking inside them. It might not be their fault, just like those possessed with angels maybe didn’t choose that either. Still, I tend to think that there is some kind of spiritual pre-disposition to one or the other.
My friend Vesper recently wrote a phenomenal blog that was the inspiration for this post: The Universe Is Not Here For Our Wish Fulfillment: Whipping Boys, Superstition and Twinkling Things. Among many things she eloquently discusses what I will call the Versus Syndrome. This is the desperate need of so many people to pit one against the other, black against white, Christian against Muslim, man against woman, and so on. Vesper asks, “Can a person hold two seemingly opposing views at the same time?” Yes, I say, but not without the ability of critical thinking.
Since I was 19 years old and took Professor Griffin’s course on theories of evil I’ve lived with the understanding that every human concept is a construct. But you can’t really live like that can you? We as humans need to believe in something, whether it’s a religious dogma or an addiction. Without beliefs, without faith in something we cannot live a full life.
So now, I choose to believe in Angels and Demons. I choose to believe in good and evil. I make an active choice to believe in these concepts because they help me understand the world I live in. These concepts let me know where I’m at, doing my best to be in the embrace of Angels, yet still allowing me to tiptoe over to the side of Demons, scream my frustrations and anger, purge my hate, and stride back to the Angels with head held high. The great thing about Angels is that they don’t judge. They give me space, they trust me enough to know I know what I need, and they know I will always come back to their side.
What paradox do you live with?