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Posing a provocative question that is easy to answer

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With the case of the shootings last week and over the Memorial Day weekend, a writer on the internet was prompted to ponder two things:

Does evil exist?

Are some people just plain evil?

The short answers to these questions are Yes and No, respectively. Christians do believe that evil exists, as we can read in C. S. Lewis' funny and profound book The Screwtape Letters. But we believe that nothing was evil in the beginning.

Lewis' argument, which appears in another book, is this: in order to be evil, one must have existence, intelligence and will. But these things are good in themselves. Whether the Old Testament tells the story of ancient extraterrestrials meddling with Planet Earth or a legendary version of human history (or both), Christians have come to believe that evil is fallen goodness, or goodness gone bad.

The ancient extraterrestrial argument goes like this: interplanetary visitors created human beings by mixing their genetic material with that of primitive hominids. They intended to use these creations as work animals, extracting minerals from the ground and possibly other tasks.

One or more of the extraterrestrials felt sorry for the newly-engineered humans, and began to help them out. The story of Prometheus may be one such ancient memory. Eventually an all-out war occurred, resulting in the removal of some of the visitors from the mainstream of the extraterrestrials, and they took to living on earth.

The others left at some point, and those who remained behind either were absorbed into the human community or left themselves, later. Obviously, aliens from other worlds were not immortal, so any aliens who remained on earth after this whole theoretical episode reached the end of their lives.

As this series of events became embedded in myth and legend, it evolved into theology, even as extraterrestrial traits settled into the human genome. Everything else was lost; mines have been discovered, for example, that date from thousands of years before humans are even known to have existed. We don't know who built them. But when you compare that to the Middle Eastern stories of the Anu-Naki, the Star People who came to earth and created humans to work for them, it's kind of a striking coincidence.

The liberation of human thought from that of "gods" to the concept of one God was not limited to the Hebrew people; the Pharaoh Akhenaten came up with the same idea, although it failed in Egyptian society. But when the residents of his city Amarna were brought back to the mainstream of Egypt after his death, they undoubtedly encountered the Hebrews and compared notes on their concept of the nature of God. This validates the mention in the Book of Exodus that Egyptians went with the Hebrews when they followed Moses towards the Promised Land.

But the Jewish idea persisted: God made the heavens and the earth and pronounced them good. Evil there may be, but evil is weaker than good, because evil is failed or perverted good. Hence Christians ought not to be Dualists, believing in an equal good-versus-evil confrontation of opposites that are inherently equal. Evil is not as strong as good.

As for human beings, we cannot believe that a person is "pure evil," because human motivations are never pure. The shooter in last week's case was angry because he was rejected while seeking love, which is definitely unacceptable but not incomprehensible. People have lived and died who are much more evil than that young man, but even they have tried to justify their actions with claims of good behavior. The Nazis claimed to be acting to improve the human race and glorify their heritage; various high officials and military officers claimed patriotism and obedience to cover their behavior.

Lewis also pointed out that many evil behaviors come out of sexual perversion, that is, the person who commits them gets a sexual kick out of doing it. But then again, sex is a good thing; perversion is called that because it is a distortion of that good thing.

So while we can believe that evil exists on an exalted and superhuman level, we can't get lazy and believe that humans are beyond hope--not even vicious and violent humans.

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