WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Evil, Ordinary & Extraordinary

April 1992By William J. O'Malley

The Rev. William J. O’Malley, S.J., was the last face you saw in The Exorcist, and teaches theology and English at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx. This article is adapted with permission from his book, Converting the Baptized (copyright 1990 Tabor Publishing, a division of DLM Inc, Allen, Texas)

James Joyce was right. Truth pops out from the most unexpected places. My best definition of evil came from M. Scott Peck’s eight-year-old son: “Daddy, evil is ‘live’ spelled backwards.”

Evil is anything radically opposed to life. If the difference between human life and an­imal life is that we can grow in our ability to know and love, then evil is anything that degrades us — makes us less able to know and love. Evil is killing — not just the body, but the self, the spirit, the soul. And it need­n’t work fast; slow, small, and steady is just as effective in the long run.

We don’t talk enough to our young about evil. They are willing to accept that there is evil, but it’s “out there”: war, exploitation, drugs. But it is difficult to convince them that they are themselves capable of increasing the flood of evil. Especially with kids brought up on Jesus, the Warm Fuzzy, it’s no easy task to make them accept that casual character assas­sination negates a human being, that shunning ugly kids or unathletic kids is the same bigotry as the Klan’s. Petty evil is still evil. We’re in the same business as the Mob, but the Mob has a broader perspective and more guts.

Broadly, there are two brands of evil. Physical evil is destructive of life — tornadoes, cancer, drought, death itself. But physical evil occurs most often through no human fault. It is something we have to lay at the feet of God, and defending God against the endless litany of “Why-would-a-good-God…” charges is an enormous task I can’t get into here.


You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.



Back to April 1992 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
Be the first to comment on this story!