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Is Evil Weak and Brittle?

“Badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good,” wrote C. S. Lewis. “Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. Evil is a parasite, not an original thing.”

In this week’s Good Faith podcast, my co-host David French and I discuss the inherent weakness of evil.  

If you watch too many horror movies, it’s easy to overestimate evil’s power.  But it’s also easy to give evil too much credence simply by observing normal life.  We see bad people prospering, greed creating wealth, and vice penetrating even our most cherished institutions.

What are we to do about it?  How do we fight back?

Our perception might be off: we frequently overestimate the power of evil and underestimate the power of good.

In this week’s podcast, we use the war in Ukraine as a launching pad for a conversation about good and evil and apply lessons about modifying spiritual perceptions to our daily lives.  

Specifically, we talk about:

  • What the war in Ukraine can teach us about spiritual dynamics;
  • Why we overestimate the power of evil;
  • Why we underestimate the power of good;
  • What role the “virtue of a cause” has in the efficacy of military strategies;
  • How to stand up to evil even if it means being socially ostracized;
  • How evil manifests itself in our political discourse and national politics;
  • Why fear-based motivation doesn’t last;
  • How fear catalyzes atrocities;
  • How overestimating evil can diminish all aspects of your life;
  • How evil demolishes trust;
  • Why the allure of evil inevitably wears off;
  • And why Karen Swallow Prior is wrong about Lord of the Rings.

DAVID FRENCH: As strong as evil can seem in the world, is there something about it which is inherently brittle and weak? We’ve just seen some really dramatic military developments in the Kharkiv region in the northern part of the occupied area of Ukraine that has resulted in a surprising collapse of Russian forces.

Now, we’re not making a proof for the brittleness of evil from a momentary tactical defeat, even if it turns into a strategic defeat. Good military forces have broken and run in times past.  However, what is being revealed during the course of this war in Ukraine is that there is a brittleness, a weakness, within this Russian authoritarianism.

Ukraine’s surprising battlefield results are due, in part, to their level of resilience and moral courage, which the Russian troops do not possess.

This war is a launching pad for a conversation, not a proof of a concept.

Curtis, why did this question come to your mind?

CURTIS CHANG: I’ve been obsessed with following the Ukraine war ever since it began back in February. Some of this has to do with the fact that, David – like you – I’m a military history buff. We’re seeing history being made. I have obsessively gotten briefings on what I would call the material balance of forces.

I go on websites like the Institute for the Study of War, which provides an excellent daily summary of various factors, such as a comparison of the weaponry of the two sides, how the force generation is stacking up, who is favored in the geographical balance, as well as the an evaluation of the two sides’ ground lines of communication.

I’ve been fixated on the material balance of forces and how that is affecting likely outcomes.

But as much as I love military history, I’m a rank amateur. I have much more confidence in theological matters. In looking at the Ukraine war, I may have overemphasized the material balance of forces and underestimated the spiritual balance of forces.

That’s because the spiritual balance of force can also significantly affect outcomes. This war, in particular, is a helpful case study in the influence of the spiritual balance of forces for two reasons.

First, because the spiritual contrast is so stark in this war.  It really is, unlike so many military conflicts, a very stark case of good versus evil. 

Second, pretty much every military expert, by looking at the material balance of forces, predicted a relatively quick Russian victory.

In other words, we missed a hidden dimension in calculating likely outcomes. The spiritual balance of force has to at least be one of those missing factors.

Here’s the question, David, I’d like for us to explore together: why do we underestimate the spiritual power of good and overestimate the spiritual power of evil?

Listeners, you may not care about military history or war. But hang with us, because I want to invite you to think about the nature of evil in the context of the Ukraine war as a parable. It’s a lesson for the nature of evil in all realms of our life: politics, culture, in our own organizations, even in our own relationships.  

We are prone to overestimate the power of evil, because of evil’s three common qualities:

  1. It lies. 
  2. It violates boundaries.
  3. It relies on fear as a motivating factor.

All three of these qualities can make it seem like evil is powerful, because “good” seems hamstrung by constraint.

While it’s true that, in the short term, those characteristics give evil a certain power that good seemingly lacks. But here’s the thesis, David: in the long run, those qualities end up becoming self defeating.  In the long run, they contain within themselves the seeds of their own defeat.

There’s a brittleness to evil.

This is not just true in war, it’s true in all aspects of life.

[This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.]

HOSTS: Curtis Chang and David French

PRODUCER: Kris Carter

The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash of Prosperina, who was abducted by evil dark world god Hades, who was in love with her and knew her mother wouldn’t give him her hand. He succeeded, brought her into the dark world, but Zeus made him return her.

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