The Four-Letter Word We All Need Right Now

CW: Judgments, references to child abuse, politics, and the Keurig situation, naughty language

There is a lot of messed up stuff going on right now. Case in point: I am now going to clarify, publicly, that I do not support grown men having sex with 14-year-old children. Because, apparently, it’s not a given that everyone in our culture believes that an 8th grader cannot give meaningful consent to a grown adult who is capable of wielding power in our society.

And this is far from the only issue like that in our society.

Why am I writing about this on a Pagan blog about magic and devotion? To some of us, “spirituality” is simply dealing with non-physical things in a morally neutral way. To those people, religion is about metaphysical beliefs and ritual practices. But I see us engaging in a different kind of spirituality in this turbulent era. I see Pagans and Polytheists discussing what is and is not appropriate conduct for people in their communities. I see an earnest effort to include not being a flaming bigot, being empathetic to the marginalized and the disempowered, and not violating or hurting others as a part of a Pagan or Polytheist identity. I could not be more in favor.

There are people in our country who want to hurt and victimize other people and are unable or unwilling to identify child abuse, exploitation, and violence as problematic. You may be at a loss for words when trying to describe your disgust, your horror, and your confusion. I understand. I have words for you: immoral, unethical, malicious, cruel. And I have a four-letter word for you, too: Evil.

If that last word makes you uncomfortable, it should. It’s a word that should be considered a step beyond pigfucker. But I promise you, in these circumstances, when people are being murdered for no other reason than hate, when people are being wrongfully imprisoned, when the most vulnerable are being deprived of their basic needs, and there are people celebrating these turns of events, evil is the right word to use.

If you think there is no such thing as evil, it’s probably a reaction to American Christian culture (as opposed to Christianity itself). As one writer put it:

They taught that all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage was equally wrong. So yes, rape was punishable by eternal hellfire. But you know what the punishment was for having consensual intercourse before marriage? Also eternal hellfire. Premarital handjob in the back of a car? Eternal hellfire. Oral sex at any time? Eternal hellfire. Homosexual sex? Eternal hellfire. Masturbation? Eternal hellfire. There was no gradient to the sins or punishments — everything was black and white, and virtually everything in the black category was totally consensual. Two people “consenting” to perform a sinful sexual act was no different from two people conspiring to rob a bank.

[From: This Article]

Without gradations and nuances in discussing morality, the entire notion of good and evil goes up in smoke. If everything is evil, then nothing is evil. The word “evil” loses its potency. The word “sinful” gets applied to everything from murder to chocolate cake. It practically becomes an approbation. Embracing a proper conception of good and evil means rejecting this way of thinking, which has proven itself to be ill-suited to producing decent, compassionate people.

But why that particular word? Why specifically “evil?” Because, unlike our other go-to words, it isn’t a condemnation by comparison to innocent and often marginalized populations.

Why not “mentally ill?” Some of the best and most moral people I know suffer from mental illness. I have a mental illness, and I’m not trying to hurt, exploit or destroy innocent people. Having a mental illness does not make you inherently cruel. You don’t choose to have a mental illness. Following your incentives in spite of the harm you do to your fellow humans, by contrast, is very much a choice. I don’t feel that I deserve to be compared to a man who thinks that any person who lacks his skin tone isn’t a real person, just because of how my brain is wired.

Why not “stupid?” Why can’t we use that word? It’s ableist. Do you really want to be stating that a person whose brain is different than yours is automatically malicious, cruel, unfeeling, or a monster?

Why not “ignorant?” It’s awesome that you had the opportunity to get an education. Not everyone has that opportunity. Not having read Shakespeare doesn’t cause you to want people to starve to death or die of preventable diseases. A lack of a degree doesn’t fill a person with malice. In fact, Doug McMillon, the CEO of Wal-Mart, a company whose employees are often so poor that they need government assistance to eat, graduated from the University of Arkansas. So no, education is not a magic bullet that turns you into a decent human. Saying this is classism.

But Thenea, you might ask, why do we need to label things? Because that is how your mind works. We use language to think with. If we fail to label things, we mentally erase them. If you fail to label evil as evil, if you don’t see it, you cannot fight it.

Social discernment requires, in the words of the ancient Greeks, calling a fig a fig and a trough a trough. Assault, exploitation, slavery, hatred, violence, and malignant greed (as opposed to the desire for financial safety and stability) should be condemned in the strongest of terms, without trashing and alienating innocent people.

Every human being has the capacity for both good and evil. We have the power to help, the power to harm, and some of us have the privilege of choosing to look the other way and not judging the choices of those people who choose the latter. If ever there was a time for condemnation, it is now. Use your four-letter words to do it.