“At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity - idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious and political idols.” A. Huxley
Good and evil – this is the most fundamental pair of opposites in humanity’s spiritual and social cognitive perceptions. The notion of good and evil, as all things in our human cosmogony and existentiality views, initially developed from a quite trivial distinction that Homo Sapiens began to acknowledge tens of thousands of years ago. This was the most simple perception that death, pain and injury were bad things for a human to experience, thus everything that brought about any of these was naturally perceived as bad, treacherous and evil. There are no living beings that perceive death and pain as something good indeed, but Homo Sapiens had a marvelous brain that allowed us to develop these basic perceptions into complex cognitive models situated at the base of our spiritual views and human mythology.
Death has always been an unexplainable part of life that both drew people into its mysterious nature and scared them away with its inevitability. Archaeology and anthropology observe burial rituals as the earliest evidence for ritualistic behavior of ancient human tribes tens of thousands of years ago. Death and the unseen side of reality associated with it was the very first spiritual cult that laid the beginnings of human spirituality. Long before religions began to occur, humanity’s spirituality revolved around shamanism and the purpose of shamanistic practices were to communicate with death ancestors, whose spirits lived in nature and animals.
Death has not been considered evil by that time, the way much later religions considered it and was not associated with evil demons, but rather it was perceived as a transition from this world to another invisible aspect of reality that humans communicated with through shamanistic practices. The belief that ancestral spirits lived in animals was prevailing for long time and later influenced much of human mythological concepts and religions with zoomorphological deities, like Egyptian and later Greek and Roman mythologies where we see human and animal images in a symbolic symbiosis. It is interesting to note, that our notion of angels and demons is also fundamentally influenced by these ancient spiritual concepts of supernatural deitification that was symbolically perceived as a fusion between human and animal – that is why angels have bird-like wings and demons are often depicted with goat and bat body parts. Of course, the visual representation of christian mythology was established and dogmatized mainly by medieval artists like Michelangelo and Da Vinci.
Long before major religions today were conceived and established, humanity began to develop and expand their spiritual views, filling the world with invisible spirits and supernatural forces that were behind everything inexplicable.
The forest was a dangerous place to be for the primitive human, especially at night when human eyes were of no use. Darkness was especially frightening for the ancient humans, because in the dark you cannot see what lurks near by and danger can stalk you unprepared.
Gradually, humans filled the forests with helping spirits who guided the hunter and traveler by day and ill-intentioned, delusive spirits that wandered in the forests by night. The psychological division of good and evil began to take root in human spiritual interpretation of the world around. The most fundamental division – that of light and dark was naturally the very first mythologized human perception, driven by the most pragmatic reasons.
The duality principle is present in every aspect of the Universe and is no wonder that human spiritual perceptions are also based on it. Day is opposed to night, cold to warm, weak to strength, sound to silence, life to death and so on. The world seems to be entirely based on the cyclic balance between opposite states. Of all the opposites that surrounded humans, none seemed to be more chaotic and inexplicable than the opposite emotional states that were constantly taking place in the human soul. Humans are very emotional beings, perhaps we are more of an emotional beings than rational ones. And namely our uncontrollable and unpredictable human emotions that drive our behavior were a complete mystery for the ancient human mind. Primal humans, thousands and tens of thousands of years ago, were perplexed with their own selves and dazzled by their emotions that took such a strong grip on the mind that humans were simply left with no other choice but to obey whatever the emotion demanded. The uncontrollable and demanding nature of human emotions is very much the same today and humans are pretty much slaves to their emotional urges just as much as they have always been. Self-control is the domain of very few individuals who now and then were persistent and strong enough to tame and master their own selves.
For the ancient human mind the unseen and chaotic nature of human emotions were perceived as the very will of spiritual entities acting upon their souls. Thus the notion of spiritual and ghostly intervention that took place inside human minds began to take shape.
For it was the greatest mystery as to how come you feel well and happy at one moment and at the next heavy emotions oppress your being. How come emotional affection was suddenly unleashed and you fell desperately in love to such an extent that your whole perception of the world changes. How come anger kicked in so unpredictably and a human was simply unable to neither stop it nor control it. All these were questions that began to bother ancient people’s minds and answers were needed in order for an explanation to formed that had to serve as an answer to all the generations to follow.
We discussed lightly the genesis of religious thought here and there in previous lectures and another one dedicated entirely on this topic is coming ahead, so we shall not discuss it here, although it is a part of the story, just as human evolution also is. Every element must be observed and taken into consideration in order to grasp and understand the Big Picture.
Human spirituality evolved from the way humans perceived the world and themselves. Moreover, human spirituality is a reflection of our human souls. As obvious as this notion is, as if humans today still do not comprehend and realize it, considering all the religious zeal and fanatism that prevail.
It is just so obvious that evil is associated with darkness, fire, anger. All the things that bring fear and are beyond the control of average humans. Our perception of our emotions as “forces” that had a will of their own was so persistent that it integrated in our very language and expressions. Anger was perceived as something that possesses and puts you under its will, just as love, but in the negative scale of the evolving human morality. All emotions were perceived as possessions that had a life on their own. Thus it was not long until humans began to interpret their emotional states as interventions from the spiritual world. The negative emotions were assigned to evil spirits and the positive ones – to good and helping spirits. This perceptual separation was to become the very foundation of all religions that were to come.
Because from then on gods were destined to always come in pairs – good gods and evil gods, always inseparably together.
It is a known quality of human psychology to project its emotional states onto the surrounding world, thus quite naturally our mythological notion of evil was associated with everything that brought fear to human mind. Much later on, evil was to serve as an excuse for the lack of personal responsibility and rational actions. In medieval Europe it was enough to say that the Devil made you do it and you were free of guilt and responsibility.
Human beings are controversial creatures that are primitively aggressive and cruel, while in the same time loving and compassionate. Of all the mysteries in the world there is no bigger mystery than human mind. The emotional duality of human mind gave rise to the spiritual and moral dualities that became the foundation of human society.
Good and bad are simply part of life. You live your life in a precarious balance between your emotional controversies that also reflect on your relationship with the world. All human relations are haunted by ups and downs that seem to be beyond rational control.
Religion, just as human psychology, seems to also be beyond rational control. In our primitive past people explained their behavior with the influence of good and evil spirits acting upon their poor innocent human self. However, it is utterly shocking when you realize just how much contemporary humans continue to use all these ancient models and “understandings” to guide their life and views on the world.
Religion is old and modern humans are supposed to have advanced in their minds so that they achieve a deeper and more conscious understanding of themselves and the world we live in. Instead, we observe a complete mental stagnation and even degradation, which is quite a pitiful sight. What is even more disturbing, is that we seem to not be able to realize the very nature of this religion that chains the development of human consciousness. I mean humanity as a whole, because separate individuals with deeper insight were always present, unfortunately for them they were usually quite alone. However, the psychological mechanisms behind humanity’s need for religion go deep and involve profound factors that lie in the very base of human psychology. Just as a teaser I will mention the need for a parental, authority figure that forms in the child’s psyche and stays with it for life. Ponder that for a while.
Speaking of good and evil, let’s continue our exploration into the supernatural and see exactly what evil is, how it came to be and what it really signifies.
By our collective perception “Evil” is a wide term that addresses everything that causes harm particularly to humans. In time, the notion of evil has become a widely used reference in our everyday language expressions and cognitive perceptions.
In general, evil is not just a religious notion, but it is our perception of an act that causes harm in any way. However, there is an important factor that defines evil, that is evil signifies a deliberate and purposeful act with negative consequences. Now, in order for an act to be deliberate and purposeful this act must be committed by a conscious entity that acts autonomously by its will.
In our primitive tribal past people widely used to subject to deitification nature and natural phenomena like weather, volcanoes, earthquakes and so on. Most of these nature gods were perceived as treacherous, their actions expressed in terms of strong winds and rains, thunderstorms, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes were perceived as evil, purposed to harm humans. Another perception was that such nature gods were not solely evil, but angered otherwise good gods who had to be quartered for mercy and forgiveness via prayers or sacrifice so that the angry gods relax and seize their havoc.