11 March 2019
‘There is a lot of evil in our world.’ It’s a commonplace observation which usually follows the publicity of some unbelievable crime. People are quick to make judgement and use the word evil as if to explain what has happened.
When Aaron Campbell was found guilty of abducting and murdering six year old Alesha MacPhail on the Island of Bute, the sixteen year old was immediately described as an evil monster who should rot in hell. Someone even suggested he was born evil.
When the British Government was asked to repatriate one of its own British citizens, the heavily pregnant Shamima Begum was immediately vilified in the press as an evil monster who had sold her soul to the Isis devil. Sajid Javid refused to allow her to return to her British home.
When Pope Francis met with a hundred and fifty senior bishops recently to discuss the scandal of child abuse perpetrated by priests and religious, he summed up the findings of the conference by talking about the ‘mystery of evil’ calling the abusers ‘tools of Satan’.
How helpful is this language of ‘the evil monster’ and ‘the tools of Satan’? Does it actually help us to understand why a sixteen year old would commit such a vicious and barbaric crime? Or why a fifteen year old girl should be attracted to participate in acts of brutal terrorism perpetrated by Isis?
Or does it explain why so many priests and bishops have abused their power and the trust placed in them to perpetrate sexually motivated crimes against children? Or offer us some deeper understanding why twice as many paedophiles are to be found in the priesthood than in the population at large?
The language of evil, the devil and the monster is unhelpful for two reasons. Firstly, it estranges us from our common humanity. It fools us into thinking that the perpetrators of such crimes are not really human beings afterall and certainly not human beings like us.
Secondly, it removes the responsibility for such crimes from the person who perpetrates them to some malign force which has influenced them almost by chance thus turning the criminals into victims who are more to be pitied than vilified in our press!