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

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country 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.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid