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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs