Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Let love be genuine; abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good — Romans 12:9

The other day, James reflected on Bram Stoker's Dracula. He observed:

I can't help but feel disappointment at the way the archetype of the vampire has been so watered-down and indeed neutered of the power it packed in Stoker's day. I think there's still a lot of punch left in vampires but most of that punch comes from contemplating their status as thralls of Hell (whether literally or metaphorically) rather than as forever-young demigods.

In the discussion that followed, I made this particular comment:

Rather than a symbol of our own alienation, our recent love affair with vampires, serial killers and even zombies is a symptom of our own inability to distinguish good from evil.

Based on the comments that followed, I think it useful to actually look at what the word evil means, especially from a scriptural point of view.

There are a couple of ways to go about defining evil. The first is to look at the words in Scripture that mean "evil." In Greek they are poniros and kakos. Poniros derives from the Greek word for "pain" and has been used as a title for the devil — "the Evil One." In fact, this is the word used in the last line of the Lord's Prayer and can be and has been translated as both "evil" and "the Evil One." Kakos simply means "bad" and is less significant to the Scriptural understanding of evil than the words adikia (wrong-doing, injustice) and amartia (sin).

Note that both adikia and amartia have the prefix of "a," indicating an absence of something — adikia meaning an absence of righteousness or justice and amartia meaning missing the mark. This suggests that an apophatic approach — looking at what evil is not — might actually be more useful than looking at poniros and kakos themselves.

  • Good and upright is the Lord — Psalm 25:8
  • O taste and see tat the Lord is good — Psalm 34:8
  • Give thanks to Him; praise His name; for the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting — Psalm 100:4-5
  • Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For his mercy endures forever — Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1
  • Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good — 135:3

I quote all these statements in context of the name of God revealed to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). In English, the name of God is often rendered I AM. In Greek it is the One Who Is. In other words, the very name of God is a sentence begging for a predicate. Throughout Scripture, the titles of God are those predicates: Truth, Righteousness, Longsuffering, Love, Life, Good, etc.

Thus, God is Good. As such,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth — James 1:17-18

All that is good in the world comes from God because God is Good.

Evil, then, when understood apophatically as an absence of good, is actually the absence of God. Sin is that which separates us from God — we miss the mark, who is God. Further, God made us in His image and likeness. When we sin against another human being, it is a failure to see and acknowledge the image and likeness of God within that other person. Murder, for example, is the attempt to eradicate the image and likeness.

Our secular society has done its best to remove God from all aspects of life. In the absence of all that is good — God — how can we expect to be able to determine what is good or evil? Yet, human beings are wired for God and we yearn for Him and for His eternity. Without Him, this yearning produces watered-down bloodsucking eternally young demi-gods that we fail to see as monsters. For another take on this, see Fr. Barron's commentrary on vampires.

In terms of role playing, this is why I prefer understanding monsters as physical manifestations of sin and the dungeon as part of the mythical underworld. Metaphorically, it mirrors the monastic's struggle against demons in the wilderness. XP for gold spent represents characters improving themselves for their next battle against demons and sins. Conquering land in the wilderness to build a stronghold represents the process of sanctifying part of the fallen world, of winning it back from the devil and his angels. Failure to recognize a monster as a monster becomes a failure to recognize sin. A failure to recognize sin is a failure to recognize not only how far off the mark we are, but a failure to recognize the image and likeness of God within ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. Our secular society has done its best to remove God from all aspects of life. In the absence of all that is good — God — how can we expect to be able to determine what is good or evil?

    Opening yourself up to to the debate that fueled the renaissance, reformation, and enlightenment. ;)

    Aside from that I agree with the basic premise of your post. The fundamental conflict of my own Majestic Wilderlands, is the demon's rejection of the One (God) plan for creation. Although my setup is more akin to Tolkien than Christianity. The "gods" of my setting are immensely powerful beings sent by the One to teach the children races how to care for the Wilderlands and each other. The rebellion of the demons changed everything and while the loyalists won they were irrevocably changed because of the conflict. Even the most powerful were effected as they don't have perfect knowledge.

    After the demon were imprisoned in the Abyss, the "gods" came to the conclusion that direct contact with the children races was not a good idea. Plus as a group they could no longer agree, so they withdrew and decided to operate by faith, and revelation to fulfill the purpose the One placed them in the Wilderlands to do.

    My whole system came about because I wanted true evil, rejection of creation, but I wanted shades of gray in religion. In my reading I know that "evil" religion don't exist in reality. There are religions abhorrent to other cultures, cults that florish for a time. But over the long haul a religion has to be good at it core for a culture to embrace it. For example human sacrifice needs to be for a reason rather than as an instrument of terror against the populace for a religion involving human sacrifice to adopted wholesale by a culture. Even then the darker aspects seems to be mitigated over the centuries until they are replaced entirely although there can be reversals.

    So with these considerations I developed the idea that Demons are considered evil by all the "gods" of my campaign. That there are ten main gods, that they teach universal philosphies, and they manifest differently to individual cultures. That of the ten, three are considered evil or unpleasant at best. They are Set God of Order and Tyranny, Kalis, nature blood goddess of revenge, and Hamakhis, Judge and Lord of the Death. Of these three, Kalis is only worshiped by cults. Cultures dominated by Set are a medieval version of a totalitarian state.

    The one cultures dealing with Hamakhis practices human sacrifice although in many there has been a reform movement in recent centuries to return to the older form of worship in his aspect as Judge of the Dead.