Martha Graham said, “Every life has its mission and some demand all that we can give.” Her mission was to dance, and she danced for most of her ninety-six years. The mission of St Francis of Assisi was to serve God as expressed in nature. Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking, were driven to explore the reality beneath. The mission of others is to strive for wealth or power, collect art, or stamps, or beer cans.
The fundamental mission of life is to live, and social creatures like humans seek others with whom they can fulfill it. We need to be among our own kind, as do elephants, among the most intelligent of non-human species. And just as elephants produce loners who become “rogues,” so do humans. Rogue humans—an Adolph Hitler—can produce such deep harm we call it Evil.
Social groups develop a sense of right and wrong. Some thinkers claim that right and wrong is only defined within a social order—a relative morality. Others believe it is absolute, and that some rights and wrongs transcend all group identities. Anthropologist, Colin Turnbull, lived among an African tribe—the Ik—whose survival mechanism seemed to abolish love. Margaret Meade discovered an island people—the Mundugumor—whose society, based on war, head-hunting, and cannibalism considered stealing and murder perfectly ethical when turned against other tribes.
Some believe evil is a spirit—the Devil—who can capture souls. Others say it is a lack of mission, lack of connection, something provoked by the soul’s loneliness. Florence Nightingale felt a call, became a nurse, established the very concept of nursing, and searched battlefields at night, “The lady with the lamp,” looking for wounded soldiers. It is astonishing that the human species can produce such extreme embodiments of Good and Evil as Florence Nightingale and Adolf Hitler.
Deep thinkers ponder good and evil, which doesn’t mean you, or I, or anyone else cannot. During WW2, I believed that humanity was engaged in an absolute clash of Good with Evil. Sixty years later, I still do. And I ponder now what drives those who seek raw power, unbounded wealth, and act in ways that diminish the lives of others. Are they well intentioned but wrong, or have they begun to enter the dark territory where evil begins?