How the Sacred Resurrected Evil

Incarnate evil is an illegitimate son--a strawman born out of the divorce between sacred and secular to provide humanity with a face to the enemy that was not their own.

Good and bad are usually understood as opposites. For example, vitamins are good and fat is bad. Or help is good, but hurt is bad. However, when you dig a little deeper, you find that both vitamins and fat are essential for nutrition, and sometimes hurt or pain is actually beneficial--as is the case with exercise. Which raises the question of whether anything can be inherently bad or evil.

For St. Augustine, evil was the absence or privation of good. This understanding prevailed for centuries as Christianity came to understand that God did not have a rival equal (i.e. the devil); rather, we desired to pervert our existence. But when evangelicalism came along, its Enlightenment education caused it to distinguish between good and evil by creating the categories of sacred and secular.

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The sacred was anything set apart to God. Like the Levites of the Old Testament, priests dedicated their lives and work to the church. But as the status of the church grew, so did the status of the sacred. And by the Middle Ages, sacred had grown to mean anything set apart from the world. Consequently, the sacred was no longer known by its association to God, but rather by its juxtaposition to the world.

This is how the secular was born. Originally a word that meant "temporal," secular came to refer to the lower, less eternal things. Or simply, worldly things. But just as the status of the sacred grew, so did the status of the secular which is why it is now synonymous with words like profane. Though it initially meant "nonreligious," secular has come to mean "anti-religious."

As the terms grew more polarized, they gave substance to immaterial concepts: the sacred was good incarnate and the secular was evil incarnate. What began as a false dichotomy of vocation had mutated into a tangible morality. A thing could now innately be either good or evil, depending on its relation to the church (e.g. Christian versus secular music).

However, morality isn't dependent on a thing's relation to the church; morality is dependent on will. Thus, evil is the abuse of something good, not the use of something bad. Which means that evil isn't in things, it's in us. 

Dividing the sacred from the secular, then, is a lazy ethic designed to keep God's people good through to-do lists instead of how-to lists. It's a clever way to acquit us from evil and abdicate us from thinking. Because it's a lot easier to avoid certain things than take responsibility for every situation, be considerate of every person, and recognize that everything we touch can be abused.

But it should also be noted that while abuse can create evil, redemption can create good. And this raises the obvious question: can evil that produces good rightly be called evil? To which I say, only God knows.

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