The Knowledge of Good and Evil
In the last chapter, we were thinking of an idea intended to make sense from the perspective of a principle of pure infinite spiritual goodness. We tried to forego discussion of an opposite to infinite goodness. We also put off questions raised by any sense of the negative. These issues need to be addressed.
Looking around, it is clear that we do not always experience the conditions of sublime existence enjoyed by the idea of infinite goodness. Instead of harmony and infinity we might sometimes experience discord and limitation. Instead of goodness we might sometimes sense an opposite, things we might call evils. Our presumption is that we would like to see and experience more of infinite goodness and less of limiting evils. If we postulate that consciousness filled with spiritual goodness experiences sensible good, what story do we have to account for troubling limitations, discords, evil?
If there is a spiritually mental energy responsible for bringing good into our lives, is there one we can count on to prevent evils? Can beliefs in evil simply be displaced by knowledge of infinite good? Would anyone ever think it might be good for evil to exist? If it were ever good to cause evil, would that then be a type of good? If something is good for you and evil for me, is that good? Is all this starting to sound like nonsense?
If we want to correct or prevent some untoward occurrence, a first question we are likely to ask is, "What makes this happen?" We intuitively sense the importance of causation, that understanding causation is closely tied to prevention and cure. When the cause of an untoward thing is discovered, insights and strategies can be developed so the causative factors can be avoided. Antidotes are more easily devised when the origin of something is known, because one knowing about the essence of a problem can often get into its core and undo it.
For the purpose of this discussion, let us loosely group causes for any negative sense under the term evil. A beginning definition might be to say that evil is anything we might wish to prevent or cure. One may question this definition, and some reasons for questioning it will be addressed. The term evil can mean the obvious, the actual phenomena of what we might call evils on the human scene: murder, cruelty, misery, brutality, terror, suffering, starvation, inhumanity, wretchedness, torment, and so on. The word evil can also be used to address ethical, moral, spiritual, or mystical concepts. Definitions for evil may vary among individuals as much as would their ideas about what is truly good. For the sake of our current discussion, let us just use the term evil as is.
If we are thinking of something we might wish to prevent or cure, the most fundamental question about its cause might be a generic question about the origin of evil. Such a question may include some presumptions, because we have not established that there is any such thing as evil, and we have not established that it is something actually caused. For this reason, we will address the question of whether manifest evil has legitimate origin, and then we will see what happens after those conclusions.
If you have made it this far, you realize this analysis is focused at a fairly high level of abstraction. In asking about evil, we are not questioning whether there is any such thing as a train wreck. Rather our question is, is there anything of mental or spiritual substance or essence behind things that give us the impression that they are evil?
Thinking about the origin of evil initially presents to the human mind a series of dilemmas - what might appear as equally unacceptable alternatives. Few of the answers seem just right, and some of the questions are not much better. Let us wade into a series of dilemmas and take them on one at a time. We will try each time to choose a conclusion that is slightly better or more correct or more desirable than its alternative.
Progressive human thinking must often employ the selection of successively less objectionable evils. Our choices in this and the next chapter will illustrate this, for we will be considering the relative merits of imperfect choices.
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Can events be objectively evil or is it the thoughts behind them that make them seem evil to us? Is cruelty more evil than an earthquake? Are some untoward events values-neutral? If a meteorite hits my apartment, is that evil or just bad luck? Religious theories have contributed much on the subject of evil. One religious view might consider the physical world and its sensations to be an evil discordant influence. A secular view might see religion as an evil of limitation that would separate people from full life experience through fear and superstition.
When we are drawn to wondering about the origin of evil, it is sometimes not because we want to know the answer, but because we seek relief from the mental perplexity that arises when the subject comes up. It may be a natural inclination of our minds to wonder about the origin of the world, of existence itself. Maybe we feel that knowing where the world comes from might help us figure out where it is going. At any rate, wondering where things come from has to do with causation and origin.
We know that eggs come from chickens, or is it the other way around, and we know that warm days are caused by sunshine. One could cultivate the view that everything around us comes from something - it all has origin or cause. We could see everything in the world of observation as the effect of something. This is not to say what our world might be the effect of, but simply that it could be seen as the effect of something. Our concept of causation might be physical, statistical, natural, mystical, whimsical, religious, spiritual, metaphysical, or some combination.
We will begin our examination of causation with its negative. What if creation, the noun, never resulted from creation, a verb? What if it just happened? This could have been an accidental occurrence, a chance, nonessential, incidental physical event, a physical universe coming into being without intent. This view looks at effects and sees in them causes; it involves the coalescing of everything out of nothing and nowhere. The theory has its merits.
If the world and the universe are entirely physical phenomena, the concept of causation can be categorized simply: all causation is physical and material. In this view, there is no divine creative impulse, no design or plan. In this view, it is natural to conclude that the universe and our world appeared through a process of spontaneous physical evolution. If you think the occurrence of reality is a statistical phenomenon, it will be reasonable to accept good and evil in accordance with the predictions of statistics.
In a purely physical universe, evil is defined in relative terms. Good is a term for things that feel good and promote survival. Evil is a term for painful things and things adverse to survival. In this case, animals might be as justified as us in having a sense of good and evil. A wholly material view of evil might use the word just to categorize things that seem bad. From this point of view, the word evil has no depth of rational meaning. Evil is simply a term for randomly occurring untoward events. The word might occasionally seem to be important when we have an emotional stake in issues of survival, but we will be practical rather than profound in seeking antidotes. Based on this purely physical point of view, good and evil are just words that describe relative experiences in the physical world. They have no transcendent meaning.
In this material view, physical laws are inherent in the matter and energy they govern, or they exist in some other medium apart from matter and energy. In the physical world, as in the spiritual, man's first rational understanding of creation may have to do with recognizing its laws. The wholly material view of universal origin can be exalted to a kind of physical pantheism where material laws of science are viewed with reverence. We can look for the secrets to forever by discerning truths from minute particles as they disappear.
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Let us next consider the idea of a creator, that is, of some creative intent. Postulating the existence of a creator delivers us from the enigma of having an elegant effect with no recognizable cause. But this is only the beginning of our enigmas. The slightly transcendent thinker may face more puzzling questions than before. If creation is the outcome of a great Architect or Lawgiver, how does the concept of evil fit into the creative process and into the creation? If the creator is good, where does evil come from? And if the creator is not wholly good, well, what then? These seem like fair questions.
We could imagine that creative powers reside in nature, in departed spirits, or in the sun and moon and stars. If we are content to accept answers that are not supposed to make sense, we are open to the wide realm of mysticism. We can be spared the influence of rationality by wandering into the mystical, finding nonsense answers for all our serious questions. This attraction may not be altogether frivolous, but it is not on a rational path.
If we view the universe and man as being the result of a creative act rather than a random happening, we are bound to begin considering mental factors in the equation of creation. That may be due to an intuitive awareness that mentality is the primitive arena of creativity. If we imagine a creator, it is hard to imagine a creator without a mind. Is it in the mind that creative intent is first seen? If what we see as creation has not only a physical but a mental aspect, it is reasonable to consider that the idea of creation was originally conceived in a mind. One could hope there was a vision. Understanding the mind of the creator should help us bring some understanding to our idea of the creation and to our sense of the negative.
Since we are used to thinking of what we call our own minds as minds that were created rather than as minds that reflect creativity in any bold sense, it is natural for us to begin thinking of the creative mind as a mind wholly apart from ours. We usually begin conjectures about the possible nature of a creative mind by considering it to be a separate supernatural or transcendent being. The premise that this mind is a being totally separate from ours is initially helpful. It makes qualities we might want to attribute to the creative mind only remotely associated with our own sense of mentality. We can then cultivate better beliefs about the creative mind that we would initially be unable to believe for ourselves.
Once we have postulated the existence of a creative being, we can suppose things about the creator and test our suppositions against standards of logic and sense. We can ascribe to the creator the attributes we would like it to have and then see if those seem reasonable. We can suppose that the creator is just, benevolent, all-powerful, and infinite. Or it could be capricious, malevolent, equivocal, and limited. Or somehow both. Which would you choose?
If we ascribe to our idea of the creator the utmost of good, questions about evil will naturally arise when we examine the local scene. Thinking about this brings on the dilemmas. The first one is, if there is a creator, either the creator created evil or it did not. Which is it? If we reason that the creator created manifest evil for no right purpose, then the creator has some explaining to do. We have laws against such mischief.
If the creator did not create evil, who did? If we decide the creator did not create evil and that something else did, then we have at least two players in the primal cause business - we have two creators, a creator of good and a creator of evil. All these conclusions do some injustice to the idea of a creator that is benevolent, all-powerful, and infinite, a sense toward which at least a portion of the mind seems logically and dispositionally inclined.
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One antidote to this dilemma is to suppose that the creator is simply one for whom issues of good and evil are not important. Much like the earlier view of the physical accidental universe, perhaps this creator set things in motion and then stepped back, either to watch or to go elsewhere on some other project. Due to its absentee status, this creator could be regarded as an indifferent creator. The universe having been created, we were then left to our own devices. Looking around, it might sometimes seem reasonable to conclude that the creator has fled the scene. If the creator has been watching us, one might conclude that this creator is either powerless to help us or is not so disposed. We do not hear too much about the theory of the indifferent creator, because believers in an indifferent creator are likely to be indifferent to their creator in return.
The indifferent creator is not interested in ethical or moral distinctions. Whether pleased or not, this creator is finished with us. There would be no reason for us to expect any providential influence in the daily affairs of men. Having provided physical laws, biological driving forces, and ordering principles, and perhaps having given us the concepts of right and wrong as social survival aids, the creator has finished and left.
One problem with this theory is that any human suffering or misery we might experience must have been a possibility inherent in the creation as it was established. The creator is to some extent responsible for this. To create such a creation and then leave us would not have been a nice thing to do. I could not in good conscience set up and then forsake a situation where the rules of the game allowed for misery and suffering with no apparent reason, purpose, or intent. It would be cruel.
Call me an idealist, but I have to think that the creator of the universe is at least as nice as I am. I suppose this could be debated. No doubt it could be damning by faint praise. The idea struck me as intuitively obvious some years ago, and I have used it as a major principle ever since. I hope it makes sense to you. It is important to the resolution of our dilemmas.
Based on this principle, I will naturally disbelieve the idea of an indifferent creator as soon as I realize I would not act like that myself. This illustrates an important point: our acceptance of progressive concepts about the creator of the universe, with the laws and beliefs that accrue, is closely tied to our recognition of the same attributes expressed in ourselves. Having proceeded to this point, we know we are at least not completely indifferent. Our consideration of causation, so far, has not given us much insight into the nature of evil, that is, unless you think indifference is not a stellar quality to have in a deity.
The next theory, which appears in the beginnings of religion, in pagan and materialistic worship and elsewhere, is that good and evil are defined, but they are somehow natural, intermingled, and undifferentiated. The resulting theories identify groups of deities, spirits, or governing forces - sometimes good and bad, sometimes competing among one another - or they might describe a slightly confused deity. Such early religious leanings are based on temperamental deities and indistinct transcendent sentiments. The concept of evil at this level is arbitrary and mischievous rather than related to any ordered sense of cause and effect. Such beliefs are mostly mystical and pre-rational. They precede the useful levels of spiritual action.
The mystical view is mentioned here for completeness, but not because such ideas have any relation to rationality. Awareness of them is useful in analyzing thought, however, because the intermingled and undifferentiated character of these beliefs can be seen by degrees in some prominent religions. As spiritual awareness begins to dawn, before we have made any rational distinctions, we are confronted by a sense of the whole. This beginning sense of the spiritual dimension can be comprised of hopeful, mixed, and malevolent sentiments without the reliable means to separate them. While the quasi-spiritual nature of this phase of thought can intrigue us, it can sometimes offer up to us the sting of malice or spite. At its best, this level of human thought is characterized by tendencies toward the good and transcendent without any settled sense of spiritual law, faith, or understanding.
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Let us move on to the idea of creation from a rational creator. Here we have to consider the possibility that the creator created evil for a reason. Why would anyone want to create evil?
The first answer might be so it could be used to enforce spiritual law, for punishment, to exact payment for wrong doing. Were this the case, our experiencing of evil could always be correlated with our doing something wrong, with some violation of law. Another reason for creating evil might be for contrast, to make life more interesting, because one had too feeble a sense of good for its merits to be obvious without comparison to an opposite. Whose idea was that? Talk about a good idea gone bad.
If evil befalling us is legitimate punishment for wrongdoing, it will not appear to be invoked arbitrarily by the creator. If a rational creator is anything at all, it is just, for that is the essence of the relationship between cause and effect. The law describes the relationship. The relationship defines the law.
While in this frame of mind, evil's occurrence will be correlated with laws being broken, with punishment being sentenced as if by a judge. The concepts of law and justice are the first things we discover when coming out of mysticism and considering a rational creator. Such a realization of spiritual law will be of genuine comfort to us if we have been fearing capricious punishment. We will finally have a sense of order and justice in our lives. If we correlate the existence of evil with law and punishment, at what we will for convenience call level one of rational spiritual development, it will be natural for us to believe that when laws are no longer being broken, evil will no longer be visited on us.
The progression here illustrates some of the evolution of early religious systems. Some religious belief systems with older historical origins are built on ritual observances and obedience to spiritual law. Rituals come from the pre-rational level, and obedience to spiritual law comes from the first rational level. When these two are combined, taking the form of obedience to rituals, it is hard to keep them straight. The pre-rational level brings with it the undifferentiated character that is naturally intermingled and confused.
A belief system that relates evil to divine punishment will make its adherents feel guilty for their sense of the negative. Even if we are not the ones breaking the rules, we can still feel guilt by association. Some religions are big on this. Someone broke the rules, and now we are all subject to punishment. This is not a very happy thought.
As long as I do what I think is wrong, it will be natural for me to regard evils that befall me as just and proper punishment. I will regard evils happening to others likewise, as their just deserts. Even if I stop doing what I think is wrong, if I stop breaking what I think are the rules, I may still be liable to the idea of associative guilt.
But associative guilt is not fair. If I am not dealing fairly with others, I will not expect to see fairness in my creator. If I am relating to my creator through an agent or a group, collective guilt will seem reasonable to me. When I take spiritual responsibility for myself and relate to my creator as an individual, that will awaken in me the expectation of fair treatment as an individual. When I refuse to be unfair to others, when I lift from my fellows any blanket sense of condemnation for the negative, my major principle will come into effect. My creator is at least as nice as I am. If I am trying to be fair to the individual, I know my creator is at least as fair as I am.
When I am striving not to do wrong, and when I have refused to be unfair to others, I will not be able to believe that untoward events happening to me are just punishment from a loving creator. That will simply not make sense to me. If we seek out a benevolent creator and practice obedience to spiritual law, we will gradually disbelieve that we are under a sentence of divine punishment. At this point, any evil we might experience will not look like punishment to us. We will have obsoleted that belief for ourselves. Then we are naturally set to wondering again about our sense of the negative, about what evil is and where it comes from. When we have obsoleted the just punishment theory, we can go forward or lapse backward. When our hearts and minds are ready to embrace the concept of a loving law, we will move beyond a merely legal and mystical sense of spirituality.
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If I accept the idea of a creator that is good, and strive to obey its laws, this will bring my beliefs and my behavior under the general influence of goodness. If belief in goodness is the greater part of my spiritual ideal, my expression of loving kindness will go with it. Eventually merciful wisdom will win out over simple justice. At this point, I will not condone my doing evil intentionally, and I will not condone meting out evil to punish someone else. I will have little instinct to exact payment from another by making them suffer. I might want to forgive them instead. I could no longer justify an act where I would be actually creating evil, suffering, or misery for another. To act out revenge will be unthinkable.
When I can find no legitimate reason or disposition to intentionally cause evil, my beliefs about my creator will be at least as good. I will not believe my creator would do something that would be beneath my ideal.
I might grudgingly admit that evil, suffering, misery, or punishment might have some temporary justification or value on the human scene. I might consent to the idea of a temporarily necessary evil. I might reason that although I would not create evil, others are free to do so. I might concede that others should be able to express their free will to choose. Having evil around might somehow show forth the triumph of good over evil, as people make more enlightened choices. But all that would be a grudging acceptance, not a willing participation, on my part. I might allow that people create their own evil, and this naturally provides negative reinforcement to lessen evil. One or more of these reasons might lead me, not to create evil myself, but merely to consent to the idea of it, just to allow for the possibility that manifest evil might have some value. Or I might not like evil one jot. I might just feel powerless to do anything about it. And in my powerlessness I might somehow rationalize evil's existence.
Some significant theological evolution has moved, as we just did, from the idea of evil being directly caused by the creator to the idea of evil being allowed by the creator. The idea is that some subsidiary portion of the creator's work went awry and caused evil, and the creator allowed this or was powerless to prevent it. The theory says that evil exists because the creator allows for free will. This allowance permitted an adversary to come into existence within a creation that was originally intended to be good.
At this level two of rational spiritual progress, our conception of creative principles has evolved from strict justice to now include benevolence. Our personification of this moves from a supreme being who is a stern lawgiver to belief in a benevolent personal savior. With the creator now represented to us by a loving spiritual person who would not create evil, we can put our trust in good, strive to embody the ideals of forgiveness and merciful love, and wait for our deliverance.
To have less evil in this scenario we must continue to strive to follow the rules. We must make sure that we exercise our free will correctly. But now, instead of simply needing to follow spiritual laws, we have come to realize that what we believe is important too. Now we seek to believe more of the primacy of spiritual goodness, even as it goes beyond simple justice. Because beliefs are source constrained, addressing what we believe is soon translated into determining who we believe. For symmetry with our benevolent information source, our sense of the negative is now personified as a malevolent adversary who is trying to trick us into doubting our beliefs in goodness and breaking the rules we had hoped to obey. Since the source of our problems is seen as an adversary, it is natural for us to look to an advocate to deliver us. The creator itself is somewhat above the fray, watching the advocate and adversary compete for our souls. The creator is allowing this situation for its educational or corrective value, or maybe it is outside the creator's jurisdiction or power.
It seems that we made our lives more complicated when we decided the creator did not directly create evil. We selected the lesser of apparently imperfect choices. Now it may be too late to go back. One who has come this far in their spiritual thinking and being would be unlikely to go back to believing the old way.
Let us now say that we find ourselves in a situation where we see someone suffering from their own ignorance, stubbornness, or stupidity. If we consent to this in our hearts, allowing for the educational value of their suffering, we will be comfortable thinking of our creator as having the same point of view. However, if we find ourselves moved by merciful compassion to reach out and do what we can to deliver those suffering even through their own venality or stupidity, our embodiment of that quality of love will push us toward the next level of belief.
This struck me once when a canine neighbor of mine was causing herself grief due to what looked to me like stupid willfulness. After I tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to persuade and drag her out of her predicament, I got fed up and walked away. She was not in any real peril, but it wasn't an ideal situation. My last thought was that it was her own fault, and maybe the suffering would teach her a lesson, and I'd come back later anyway. As I walked away, the question came to me: How would I like God to treat me if I were being that dumb? I went back and lifted this large, rambunctious sheepdog up in my arms and carried her away from the problem.
When we find ourselves motivated to confer merciful deliverance on the ignorant or undeserving, we are in a position to realize, again, that our creator is at least as nice as we are. At this point, we know that our creator has the will to confer, even on the most seemingly unenlightened of us, merciful deliverance from all suffering. When we withdraw our mental consent from the idea that people need to suffer until they get smart enough to stop sinning (breaking whatever we or they think the rules are), then we will no longer believe an intelligent and loving creator would establish a creation that allowed such a process as a legitimate part of life.
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Our human progress is not unlike the inchworm's. Reaching out far ahead and stretching our thoughts toward our ideal, we then bring up the rear as close as we can. This simply positions us to reach out again. Our rear never catches up with our reach, but we keep making progress anyway. When our spiritual ideals are well ahead of our beliefs, they can help us realize progress in our thinking and being. When we realize some of the progress we seek, our deepest beliefs about ourselves and others, and about the creator and creation, will progress with us.
As our embodiment of justice and obedience wins exemption from belief in evil as punishment, so our commitment to forgiveness and universal love does away with belief in evil as a divinely allowed educational tool. When our love, at least in theory, knows no legitimate grounds for exceptions, then our love begins acting like a principle. If our spiritual ideal acts like a principle rather than a person, it takes on the aspect of being an absolute, principles being more reliable than persons. At this point, our concept of the creator evolves from a supreme being who is a divine person to one that is a divine principle. If we are thinking of the creator as a benevolent person, we can imagine that person being opposed to the existence of evil, but powerless to prevent it. If we look to the creator as a conscious spiritual principle from which creation springs, our idea of the creation will be its reflection.
At this point, we again encounter the situation where our conclusions have rendered obsolete our old theories and beliefs. Through exemplification of our spiritual ideals, we have come to the point where we cannot believe the creator would create or allow evil. We do not believe there is more than one creator. We believe the creator must have enough power and jurisdiction so that something neither created nor allowed by the creator would not have been actually created. So now we are ready to ask again: Where did evil come from?
We are ready to move to the next level of belief and to confront a new series of dilemmas. Our conclusions so far have followed from the progression of our thinking and being, but what do they mean? How can we interpret them? Is there any context in which these latest conclusions can make any sort of sense?
Looking from the viewpoint of the principle of pure spiritual goodness, from the previous chapter, our conclusions at this point are just starting to make sense. If the creator has the attributes of a spiritual principle, a divine Mind rather than a divine Person, then legitimate creation could be wholly spiritual. We have, for the first time in this discussion, begun to consider a belief framework that is nearing compatibility with an idea of absolute goodness. If we conclude that the creator, acting as a creative principle, did not create evil and does not allow it, then there is no evil defined for our creator or its logical creation.
Looking around, however, we make some observations. The world, it is the old world yet. What do we do with our sense of the negative? It may still seem quite real to us. At this level, we may see through the lens of our beliefs that the physical world does not look to be completely good. The world of our senses still appears to be detached and physical rather than subjective and spiritual. It may even be that sometimes our identification of ourselves, our thoughts, beliefs, or actions, might not promote a sublime world of goodness. Is there any way to reconcile our spiritual ideals with practical appearances in a way that fits our conclusions?
We arrive at this point by reaching out to the creator as a loving divine Principle, going beyond a personal sense of goodness as a benevolent savior. We can continue to proceed rationally from here when we define legitimate creation as spiritual and are willing to question the reality of our sense of the negative. After all, isn't that the only problem here? Our problem with the creator is pretty much solved. Having no complicity in the creation of evil, the creator is no longer any part of the problem. At this point, our only sense of evil is a sense of the negative appearing through material sensations. If we define these to be unreal, haven't we solved our logical problem?
Knowing that the creator acts as a loving principle brings the realization that manifest evil was neither created nor allowed by it. At this point, we no longer revere a sense of the reality of the external negative more than the supremacy of the internal positive. Now we seek to believe in the reality of our spiritual sense of good more than any material sense of evil.
When we have sufficient sympathy for spiritual goodness acting as a principle, its primacy will dominate our sense of what is real and unreal. Reaching out to the creator as a divine Principle, beyond a personal sense of the divine, we can for the first time have a vantage point for understanding that conscious spiritual goodness is the basis for true conception.
When we glimpse the truth of the supremacy of spiritual goodness, logic initially compels us to view our material sense of the negative as an error, as an unreal sense. If there is only one creator, only one divine Mind in which the spiritual man exists as reflection, image, or idea, then a mentality that experiences evil through the senses will be seen to be outside that Mind and therefore mistaken, a false sense of mentality or selfhood. At this level, the problem of evil appears to have its roots only in the selection of the mind we identify as our own.
It seems that the closer we get to understanding the infinity of goodness, the more abstruse our theories about evil become. The more good makes sense to us, the more incredible become our explanations of evil. This is the way it should be. As the mind knowing only the reality of spiritual goodness is increasingly identified as our conscious mind, any seeming reality to our negative sense of things fades away.
If we give no legitimate place to evil in the mind of the creator, evil cannot be part of reality, as far as the creator is concerned. Evil is then without legitimate origin. In this sense of reality as spiritual, a sense of our thinking apart from goodness is not considered to be right reflection of mind. It is viewed as falsity, as error, as mistaken belief. When we think of the mind of the creator as the principle of goodness, any sense of the negative, whether of mentality or feeling or experience, will not be believed to have been created, in any legitimate sense. From the standpoint of a creator who is the mind of spiritual goodness, we will have to say that anything out of harmony with spiritual goodness stems from an unreal sense of things.
If we are exercising spiritually disciplined thinking, like we did in the last chapter, this approach can bring our thinking into peaceful accord with our spiritual ideals. At this level, our problems may remain to our human senses, but they are less frightening, since we no longer see them as divinely ordained or allowed.
We attain this level three of spiritual progress by seeking the creator as a divine Principle rather than as a benevolent divine Person, and by demonstrating our identity as the reflection of that Principle, through the practice of spiritually minded thinking. Affirming the truths of spiritual reality and denying the suggestions of material falsities brings out conception of the spiritual idea and elimination of its opposite. This combination of seed and soil results in the spiritual idea understood. This involves us in the progressive redemption of our beliefs, from the standpoint of the spiritual idea of wholeness.
Our statement of the problem of evil at this level, where we say it is unreal, defines evil as a problem to be rid of more than as a problem to be justified or explained. If we have a really good explanation for evil, perhaps we will be stuck with its effects forever, which is certainly not our goal. At this level of belief, one is inclined to keep conscious thoughts in line with spiritual principles and to correct contrary beliefs. One would come to see the good things in daily life as representations of spiritual ideas, while untoward things would be seen as representing false beliefs needing to be corrected and replaced through spiritual understanding.
When you spend time thinking about a divine Principle and its spiritual idea, and it makes sense to you, your new resulting sense can supersede your old sense of things quite literally. The cultivation of spiritual sense, the mental apprehension of wholly spiritual things, through spiritual reflection, can gradually attain more value in your thought than objects observed through the external senses. This happens as reasoning from spiritual principles is brought to closure in regenerated beliefs and actions.
At this level, the antidote to a sense of the negative is found in recourse to an absolute sense of spiritual goodness. This says that any intrusive sense of evil is an unreal sense, not really being sensed at all by your true being, by your true mind. Interestingly enough, you can bring this out in practice.
Now we have come to view our sense of the negative as less menacing than before. It is no longer a legitimate part of creation but an unreality, a false belief we are gradually able to dispel. As we would expect from symmetry, however, our sense of wholly legitimate reality may now seem similarly ethereal. At level three, we are willing to be somewhat detached from the good offered by our human senses so we can conceive the spiritual idea and realize the promise of dramatic freedom from our sense of discord. As far as evil goes, we would like to leave it as an error, as a false belief being vanquished, and not give it any further justification or credence. It has too much as it is.
With the creator as a divine principle, and spiritual creation coming from a principle beyond persons, we can peacefully reflect on our spiritual thought of creator and creation. Our practice is based on spiritual thinking and being, on putting off the old mind and putting on the new, rather than on blind belief in spiritual persons, justification through laws, or adherence to repetitious rituals.
But something in us wants to ask the familiar question. Even as abstract as this new sense of evil's essence is to us, we must still ask, "Where did it come from?" The right answer here, if we are being faithful to the principle of spiritual goodness, is that it doesn't exist, and so it did not come from anywhere. This answer is consistent with where we are going, and its acceptance, perplexing as it might be, is vital to our being able to function effectively at level three, where we are striving to mentally reflect the creative divine Principle. Successful practice at this level can brook no exception from the supremacy of Spirit. Once we have accepted another answer, we are stuck with believing in something we wanted to be rid of.
But to be intellectually honest, to satisfy our legitimate need to be comprehensive, we will make the least out of this that we can and still satisfy human logic. Since this sense of evil is an error, not even created, but simply supposed, we will call it that, simply a false supposition. Did we do the false supposing? No. It happened before our watch. Were Adam and Eve the first false supposers? No. It was even before that? An original false supposer itself is a false supposition. We could leave this as an original false supposer and false supposition, an ethereal adversary at best. Or we can just stop supposing and walk away from this. For now.
In this chapter, we have followed the progression from physical, remote, and mystical theories to three rational levels of human belief corresponding to the first three levels of spiritual action - obedience, belief, and understanding. At each level, we can have some sense of spiritual efficacy. Obedience connects us with spiritual laws of cause and effect. Belief is converted to faith through trust in good and the exemplification of love that transforms our beliefs. Spiritual understanding is wrought out through spiritually minded thinking, putting consciousness in resonance with the reality and supremacy of Spirit.
Copyright 1994, Jim Chapman
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