What is the origin of evil?
According to the Bible, evil streams from three main
sources: (1) The ‘Original Sin’ passed down from Adam to all his
offspring, which results in a sin nature resident in our human flesh (Psalm
51:5, Romans 5:12, Ephesians 2:3); (2) Sinful choices that we, as human
beings, make (John 5:14, James 1:13–14); (3) Demonic powers that
are constantly tempting the inhabitants of this planet, seducing them to
commit evil. Most biblical theologians believe evil spirits (demons, devils)
were originally righteous angels until they joined Lucifer (Satan) in his
rebellion against God in the beginning. (See Isaiah 14:12–19, Ezekiel
28:12–19, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, Revelation 12:1–9.) Events
that result from their influence cannot be attributed to God, since they do
not work in submission to his will. The Bible clearly states that God is so
holy that he "cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt
anyone." (James 1:13 NIV) Logic dictates that if God does not
"tempt" human beings, he certainly did not "tempt" the
angels to turn against him in the beginning. Neither did God purposefully
create demonic powers with an evil nature. The true Creator would never
influence demonic beings to do anything evil. Instead, their evil nature is
a result of their original free-will choice to oppose the Creator and his
In Eastern religions, evil is primarily the product of
illusion or maya. It is considered essentially unreal. (See Question
#21.) Liberation consists, not so much in conquering evil, as it does in
conquering ignorance. Experiencing Ultimate Reality enables one to be free
from the domination of that which is unreal, including the evil that abounds
in this world.
Buddhism especially emphasizes that to experience Nirvana, a person must
ignore evil and suffering, because these things are alien to the
consciousness of true existence. Years ago I met Satguru Sivaya
Subramuniyaswami, a well-known leader in Hinduism. He explained the Eastern
View, "There is no intrinsic evil. All is good. All is God. No force in
the world or in man opposes God, though the veiling instinctive-intellectual
mind keeps us from knowledge of Him."1 The New Age Movement
has inherited this mindset from Hinduism, its spiritual parent. An avid New
Ager, Shirley MacLaine, quotes her spirit guide as instructing, "Until
mankind realizes that there is, in truth, no good and there is, in truth, no
evil, there will be no peace."2
Strangely (yet logically, if the related concepts of
monism and pantheism are to be upheld) Brahma, the Creator god in Hinduism,
is identified as the Source of both good and evil:
"Formerly, all creatures were virtuous, and by
themselves they obtained divinity. Therefore the gods became worried, so
Brahma created women in order to delude men. Then women, who had been
virtuous, became wicked witches, and Brahma filled them with wanton
desires, which they in turn inspired in men. He created anger, and
henceforth all creatures were born in the power of desire and anger."
The perspective of Taoism, with its yin-yang
theory, also maintains that evil is a manifestation of the Tao (the
Universal Force). Both evil and good stream from the same Source, the primal
Cause of all causes. Evil flows from the yin aspect (the negative
principle) of the Absolute, while good flows from the yang (the
positive principle). Because the Tao is eternal and ultimate, the
harmonizing aspects of yin and yang are eternal and ultimate
as well, necessary for spiritual equilibrium in the universe.
Though accepting the story of the fall of Adam and Eve, neither Islam nor
Judaism promote the concept of the "Original Sin" being passed on
to the offspring of these parents of the human race. In these two religions,
man is intrinsically good, and able to live a righteous life if he so
chooses. Only Christianity admits this inherited spiritual dilemma facing
the inhabitants of this planet. One scripture warns, "through one man
[Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin…" (Romans
Kabbala, the esoteric offshoot of Judaism, proposes something altogether
different. In the Zohar (the "Book of Splendor"—one of the two
main sources of Kabbalistic doctrine), it is "implied that the evil in
the universe originated from the leftovers of worlds that were
destroyed."4 In Scientology evil
originates in the ‘reactive mind.’
With regard to demonic spirits, most religions admit their existence, but
they differ greatly concerning the origin of these dark entities. According
to the United Church of Religious Science (Ernest Holmes), the
"devil" is not an actual entity; "the only devil we shall
ever know will be that which appears as the result of our negative
thinking."5 It is "anything which denies the unity of
good, the allness of Truth, or our oneness with Spirit."6 In
Ernest Holmes’ belief system, evil spirits are reduced to "discordant
and chaotic thought patterns consciously retained which tend to influence
the conscious faculties negatively."7 In a similar way, the
Bahá’í faith dismisses the idea of Satan and evil spirits as mere
superstition. Any reference to something being ‘satanic’ is
metaphorical, not literal.
According to Hinduism, evil spirits came forth from
Brahma’s side, created with an evil nature—or they could possibly be
human beings who lived evil lives or failed to follow their dharma.
According to Zoroastrianism, their existence is traceable to Ahriman, the
god of evil, who possesses the power to create. Taoism teaches that evil
spirits (kuei) may actually be disembodied human spirits: those who
suffered violent deaths, or those who were buried without the necessary,
prescribed rituals. The Qur’an of Islam teaches that these corrupt beings
were created out of fire. Only the Bible relates the origin and nature of
evil spirits correctly. Much of the ministry of Jesus involved casting out
evil spirits and delivering people from their diabolical influence. So it
should be still in the ministry of a true man or woman of God.
Thankfully, it is also foretold in Scripture that all
demons will ultimately be exiled forever from the presence of God.
1 Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, How
to Become a Hindu (Himalayan Academy, sec. ed., 2000) p. 243.
Gardner, "Issues is Her Business," New York Review, 1987;
quoted in Kenneth Boa, Cults, World Religions and the Occult, Wheaton,
Illinois: Victor Books, 1990, from Shirley MacLaine, Dancing
in the Light.
3 See "Christianity" under The
Origin and Nature of Man, pp. 68-69.
4 "Kabbalah," Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem,
Israel: Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 1971) vol. 10, column 583.
5 Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind, p. 584 (page
citation is to reprint edition).
6 Ernest Holmes, A Dictionary of New Thought Terms (Marina
del Rey, California: DeVorss Publications, 1991) p. 34.
7 Ibid., p. 41.