Evil People

Task: Can we ever say that people are evil? What causes people to do evil things?

Task: Are we more a product of our nature or our nurture?

Task: Do good people do bad things? Read this article and explain why you think that good people sometimes do bad things.

The Holocaust: From 1933 – 1945, Germany was ruled by a political party called the Nazis. Their leader Adolf Hitler wanted to eliminate Jewish people and transported Jewish people to concentration camps. There, they were forced to work in horrendous conditions, not fed adequately, or executed. During this time, six million of the nine million Jews living in Europe were killed.

Adolf Eichmann was a senior Nazi and he was in charge of organising the most efficient way of transporting Jews from their homes to the concentration camps. Whilst it is believed that he didn’t personally kill an Jews, he organised the transport and therefore led to the death of millions.

He fled to Argentina after the war, and lived secretly for many years, until he was captured by undercover Israeli police and was put on trial in Jerusalem in 1961.

This is Hannah Arendt. She was a German Jewish philosopher. She fled the Nazis at a young age and moved to the USA. She attended the trial of Adolf Eichmann, as she wanted to understand why a man would do such an evil thing.

She used the phrase ‘the banality of evil’. This means that evil can result from ordinary, thoughtless behaviour.

Hannah Arendt claimed that in a society where the killing of Jews was the legal and commanded thing to do, there is no reason why he would have felt guilty or thought that what he was doing was wrong. In fact, both his conscience and the laws of Germany confirmed to him that he was doing what was right.

Eichmann claimed that he was innocent throughout his trial. He believed that he was an administrator, a train-timetable created and following the orders that he was given.

Task: Watch this video.

Arendt thought that Eichmann’s actions were undoubtedly wrong, evil and deserving of punishment. However, she believed that his intentions were not evil and therefore she did not see him as an evil person. She argued that had Eichmann not lived in Nazi Germany, he would not have committed such evil acts, because she thought that as long as our morality is socially acceptable, we will not question it.

Task: Answer the following questions.

  • How did Arendt explain Eichmann’s actions?
  • ‘Arendt’s views on both Eichmann and why evil happens are unconvincing.’ Discuss

Many Christians believe that evil is the result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. God punished Adam and Eve for their actions, and the punishment was to endure suffering in life. This is known as ‘the fall’.

Some Christians believe that all people inherited the tendency to sin from Adam and Eve. This belief is called original sin. According to this belief, all humans are born with a tendency towards evil and the ability to cause suffering.

Task: What does this quote mean?

…the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.

Genesis 8: 21

The Qur’an teaches that evil originates from the refusal of Shaytan (Satan/the Devil) to bow down to Adam when ordered to by Allah. Shaytan is also called Iblis.

For his disobedience, Iblis was cast out of Heaven by Allah. He vowed that in revenge he would spend eternity trying to tempt humans to do evil. Allah said:

‘O Iblis! What is your reason for not being among those who prostrated themselves?’ Iblis said: ‘I am not one to prostrate myself to man, whom Thou didst create from sounding clay, from mud moulded into shape.’ Allah said, ‘Then get thee out from here; for thou are rejected, accursed. And the curse shall be on thee till the Day of Judgement.’

Qur’an 15:28

Task: Explain the origins of evil according to Christianity and Islam.

Task: Is a God who allows evil and suffering a God worth worshipping?

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