News / USA

Americans Debate Concept of Evil in Relation to Terrorism, Shootings

Americans Debate Whether Terrorism, Shootings Are Evili
X
May 09, 2013 11:47 PM
Many people in the United States - including the president - view violent events such as the Boston Marathon bombings and school shootings as part of a struggle between good and evil. This has led to a debate about whether that view helps - or prevents - Americans from understanding why these things happen. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Americans Debate Whether Terrorism, Shootings Are Evil
Many people in the United States, including the president, view violent events such as school shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings as part of a struggle between good and evil.  This has led to a debate about whether that view helps or prevents Americans from understanding why these things happen.

A few days after the marathon bombings, President Barack Obama spoke at an interfaith service in Boston.

"You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good," Obama said.

He is not the first U.S. president to use the word "evil."  

Ronald Reagan used the word to label the Soviet Union. "To ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire," Reagan said.

President George W. Bush used the word to describe Saddam Hussein's Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea. "States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil," Bush said.

During the recent National Prayer Day sponsored by groups from the religious right, devotees gathered on Capitol Hill and prayed to God to vanquish what they see as evil in Washington and the world.

"We can all do things that bring harm, and when you take that on a worldwide level, you have some pretty massive evil that can take place," said Dave Butts, president of Harvest Prayer Ministries.

But what about the religious left?  Evangelical pastor Jim Wallis, an anti-war activist during the Vietnam era, criticized the invasion of Iraq.  But, he says the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were evil.

"Evil is real.  Evil is very real.  How we respond to it can help overcome it, or just extend it and make it grow exponentially," Wallis said.

It may be correct to describe horrific violence as evil.  But some people worry that it prevents Americans from having a serious conversation about the causes of terrorism and gun violence.

"For me, evil is what I call a 'black hole' concept," said Phillip Cole, a professor of applied philosophy at the University of South Wales and author of "The Myth of Evil."

"It kind of blocks our understanding.  It prevents us from going any farther.  It brings the conversation to a halt," Cole said.

Some scholars say that evil as a category can be useful.  They say it can help the human mind know whether to respond to something it does not like with moral outrage or ordinary displeasure.

But Cole says when people attribute evil to an event, they mythologize it and turn it into a Hollywood-like epic struggle.

And that, he adds, can make perceived opponents appear to be monsters.

"Therefore, it's enormously dangerous to identify people as evil, because it opens the door to doing terrible things.  And very innocent people have been harmed by that," Cole said.

Cole says even in the Holocaust, the real horror was that it was carried out by ordinary people.

For many Americans, the more that becomes known about the two brothers accused of carrying out the Boston bombings, the more their motives seem to defy categorizing.

President Obama also referred to evil in a 2009 speech when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

"The general theme of the Nobel speech says that this is a dangerous world, where real evil exists out there," Obama said.

He later appeared on the television program PBS Newshour to explain his remarks. Critics said his defense of America's military response to terrorism in the Nobel lecture was the same reasoning his predecessor used to justify the war in Iraq.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More