Someone posted on their Facebook the other day a question about evil. More specifically, what is evil. I wanted to answer the question, but I realized that, off the top of my head I didn’t really have an answer other than anything outside of the will of God. Which is true. But I think there is much more the the question and the answer than just that. Though it is technically the answer, I’m sure she was searching for a secular answer. That is a much, much harder nut to crack because it’s hard to define something if there is no objective foundation on which to base your answer.
The Catechism says this about morality:
THE MORALITY OF HUMAN ACTS
1749 Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil.
I. THE SOURCES OF MORALITY
1750 The morality of human acts depends on:
– the object chosen;
– the end in view or the intention;
– the circumstances of the action.
The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.
1751 The object chosen is a good toward which the will deliberately directs itself. It is the matter of a human act. The object chosen morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good. Objective norms of morality express the rational order of good and evil, attested to by conscience.
1752 In contrast to the object, the intention resides in the acting subject. Because it lies at the voluntary source of an action and determines it by its end, intention is an element essential to the moral evaluation of an action. The end is the first goal of the intention and indicates the purpose pursued in the action. The intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned with the goal of the activity. It aims at the good anticipated from the action undertaken. Intention is not limited to directing individual actions, but can guide several actions toward one and the same purpose; it can orient one’s whole life toward its ultimate end. For example, a service done with the end of helping one’s neighbor can at the same time be inspired by the love of God as the ultimate end of all our actions. One and the same action can also be inspired by several intentions, such as performing a service in order to obtain a favor or to boast about it.
1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving). (Cf Mt 6:24)
1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.
II. GOOD ACTS AND EVIL ACTS
1755 A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting “in order to be seen by men”).
The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.
1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.
1757 The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the three “sources” of the morality of human acts.
1758 The object chosen morally specifies the act of willing accordingly as reason recognizes and judges it good or evil.
1759 “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means.
1760 A morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its circumstances together.
1761 There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.
The problem with evil in modern society is the “dictatorship of relativism”. We refuse to acknowledge objective truth and therefore all morality is relative. The problem with that is that it not only excludes the idea of evil, but essentially makes a mockery of the concept of doing something wrong. Right and wrong are subjective terms that change their meanings daily within a person, and at the whim of whichever majority is in charge of making rules. With no objective basis from which to judge things, nothing is ever wrong to do. Murder, lying, stealing, etc. have no meaning. Sure, there are core beliefs that, for the most part, are shared throughout humanity, but they still mean nothing if we hold that truth is subjective. I’m venturing back onto the slippery slope here, but how long before we start seeing murder as okay and legal so long as it meets and end we want? We already do by with abortion. Some countries are already running down that path with euthanasia. When will it become the moral norm in society to euthanize our parents because it’s cheaper than taking care of them? This is one of the reasons I believe so much in the Catholic faith. There is objective truth, a truth that points out the dignity of the human person and thus recognizes, objectively, that murder is evil, regardless of when you are murdering the person or the circumstances (granted, there is just war theory, but that’s a different topic).
In the end, relativism not only lacks substance, but it is irrational. A rational reading of truth and morality would recognize that there is some objective basis on which we as humans base a truth in morality. This rational and objective basis has to recognize the dignity of the human person, otherwise humans become nothing more than a means to an end. And the end will keep changing based on whomever is in power.
I think I’ve rambled enough for now.