This piece ran as a newspaper op/ed in early December, 2022
I believe we humans are “wired” to engage — with intensity – when we see something as “a Battle of Good against Evil.”
As evidence for that, I’d cite the fact that narratives depicting such battles are among the biggest blockbuster movies of all time: the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogies, and Avatar. People flock to the theaters to identify with heroes who enable them to experience vicariously the triumph of Good over Evil.
Perhaps it’s our culture that teaches us to enlist our moral and spiritual passions in such narratives. But my bet is that it is actually ingrained in our nature to rise up against a force we perceive as threatening to destroy what we value most highly.
Either way, people clearly will pay good money to engage vicariously in such a battle.
But our “wiring” can be shorted out by gaps in our worldview.
It has been remarkable to me to observe how many people who thrilled to identify with Luke Skywalker, and Frodo Baggins, and Sully fighting “Evil” in those blockbusters, then failed to respond like their fictional heroes when a similar Force arose in the real world right before their eyes.
For in our times, we’ve seen a Force arise that shows the same lust to dominate (as the Emperor with his Death Star), and the same greed-driven destruction of the sacred web of life (as the military-industrial complex that plundered Pandora to enrich itself with unobtainium).
So why do people who get inspired to engage the Battle Between Good and Evil in those fictional narratives failed to rise to bring the same passions to the real-world version of fundamentally the same battle?
Years of engagement with such people have persuaded me that the answer lies in ways that the secular worldview remains incomplete.
The “secular worldview” consists of a whole variety of ways of understanding the world that are used by people who no longer accept the received worldview of a traditional religion.
Those religious understandings, as they developed over millennia, accumulated ways of comprehending the major realities that people have been compelled to deal with.
By contrast, the secular worldview – as a major force displacing received religion in society – is of comparatively recent origin. So it is unsurprising that it would emerge with some important realities not adequately recognized or dealt with.
One of those realities is the existence, in the human world, of a Force that is reasonable to give the name of “Evil.”
Our religious traditions have long recognized the existence of such a Force, and have given people a way to conceive of it. But, as I’ve discovered, most people with a secular worldview, having abandoned that religious understanding of Evil, have been left with nothing to replace it.
It is said in baseball that “You can’t hit what you can’t see.” These times have shown, regarding a great many people with a secular worldview, that also “You can’t see what you have no way of conceptualizing as a reality.”
And so it is that a person can go to the movies and, suspending disbelief, allow the narrative to evoke all the feelings appropriate to the perception of “Evil,” something so ugly and destructive one is naturally inspired to fight and defeat it. But then that same person, when dealing with the real world, rendered by their worldview incapable of comprehending how there could be such a Force of Evil, fails to engage their moral and spiritual passions as they did when they vicariously joined their heroes in their fictional Battle of Good Against Evil.
The secular worldview operates with another disadvantage when it comes to understanding a reality like “the Battle Between Good and Evil.” At its best, the secular worldview arrives at truth through a careful interpretation of evidence using reason. As such understanding does not get developed overnight, generations of work will be required to include a variety of important realities not yet included in the secular understanding of the human world.
I’ve devoted much of my life to filling in some of those missing pieces. Like “the reality of something reasonable to call ‘a Force of Evil,’” (defined as a coherent force that consistently works to make the world worse).
I’ve found two ways of showing the existence of such a Force:
- One way of seeing such a Force is through the connections formed in the dense network of cause-and-effect, where we can see how different forms of “brokenness” – conflict, hatred, injustice, greed, cruelty, lying, intrapsychic disharmony etc. — generate each other. We can see a Destructive Force (Evil) – pushing that “pattern of brokenness” through the human world– the way we “see” the wind in the swaying of the trees. (For more, google “Schmookler Discernible Force.”)
- A simpler way is provided by the rare emergence of an “actor” – it could be a nation, or a political party – that so consistently makes things more broken that one can infer that a Destructive Force (or Force of Evil) has taken control.
These are offered as a conceptual bridge over which people, with a secular worldview, can respond to the real world Battle Between Good and Evil with the morally and spiritually impassioned energies they readily bring to their vicarious participation in such battles in those blockbuster movies.