Monday, November 23, 2015

The Beneficence of Evil 1910

THE BENEFICENCE OF EVIL, article in Current Literature 1910

See also The Philosophy & Study of EVIL, 100 Books on DVDrom [Theodicy]

IN A book [Life's Beautiful Battle, Or, The Human Soul Before Pain By J. William Lloyd] that John Burroughs greets as "heroic" and that Joseph Edgar Chamberlin, of the New York Mail, pronounces "unique in literature," Mr. J. William Lloyd, of Westfield, New Jersey, lays down the thesis that evil is a necessary and benevolent part of the universal scheme. He tries to show that the world could not get along without it — that "everywhere evil compels good, and ever a greater good, and is the parent, the foundation, the root and beginning of good." He stands as a sort of mediator between the old-time theologians who maintained that man is born and conceived in sin, and present-day Christian Scientists who deny that there is such a thing as sin. "Evil," he declares, "both is and is not. When we prove all evil good, some one triumphantly cries, 'Then there is no evil!' and the words are very true. Nevertheless, we are obliged to affirm evil, even if it is only the evil of the error of believing in it. Sin there is, even if it is only the mistake of turning back."

In the sense in which Mr. Lloyd conceives it, evil includes "all obstacles that oppose and defeat us, frighten, pain or pollute us." He finds it omnipresent, as tho provided with exquisite care. "Turn where we will, do what we may, the serpent is always in our Eden, the due dose of poison in our cup, the needed pain and peril come punctually to the moment. Or if to-day is all sunshine, to-morrow is thick with clouds and bewept with rain; if the years stretch on in smiling peace, suddenly comes calamity, swift and awful, with the agony of cycles in the snap of an eyeblink." And humanity is always striving to escape from its evil, feeling often, in its depressed as in its most exalted moments, that evil represents a kind of cosmic mistake and ought never to have been called into being at all. Again and again the argument has been advanced that God can not be omnipotent and all-loving, or He would not have created a world so full of evil, pain and disease. Again and again exponents of pessimistic philosophies have fallen back upon this argument. But according to Mr. Lloyd, the true view is that evil is not an enemy, but a friend. Its purpose, he urges, is to bring out the best that is in us. We ought to regard it as a champion regards his coach, a pupil his teacher.

"When the boxer is exercising with his trainer, there are hard blows given, hard falls taken, painful tasks assigned, stern restrictions exacted. To the careless eye the trainer is the enemy of the athlete, a brutal master, a capricious tyrant. But the athlete knows the trainer his friend, and his best friend, indispensable to the attainment of his ideal. He knows that every blow makes his flesh firmer, every trip and push and struggle of opposition has given skill and strength and wind, has made him more handsome, mature and perfect in manhood. And as he steps forth into the arena, superb and beautiful in conscious strength and challenging pride, and hears the ringing plaudits of the thousands assembled, he loves this friendly adversary, who has beaten him, thrown him, opposed and denied him, as the truest comrade of his success.

"Again, evil is like the adversary in a game of skill, who opposes every move you make, is always with you and always against you, but the whole pleasure of the game, the whole pride of your victory, depend upon that presence and antagonism.

"Without him the game is not, the victory is impossible."

If good were the only thing possible to do, there would be no credit in doing it; we should be automatic. The possibility of doing evil puts us on our mettle. "If we understand it rightly," Mr. Lloyd says, "it is to us a ladder let down, a flight of stairs by which alone uplift becomes possible." He elaborates this idea:

"Every evil is a step by which whosoever puts his foot on it, with springy determination, rises a grade higher in the scale. And this is no exception, but a universal law. Survey life as we may, we shall everywhere see, before everything and every creature, a ladder of evil let down by which it may rise, if it will, by which rise it must, and by which alone can it rise. The evils are multitudinous and infinite in procession and form— heat and cold, drouth and flood, fire and water, starvation and surfeit, tooth and claw, blow and cut, open enmity and smiling treachery, pride and shame, hate and lust, toil and indolence, force and craft, disappointment and satiation, ignorance and misinformation, cowardice and recklessness, indigestion and fatness, the stupidities of asceticism and the nerve racking of excess, temptations of beauty and repulsions of ugliness, privations of poverty and repletions of wealth—the list goes on interminably, until it is perceived that every embrace may strangle, every caress hypnotize, every food poison; that every thing is potentially evil, needing only the wave of a wand to change it from white to black."

Evolution, Mr. Lloyd goes on to point out, is but the illustration of this truth. The evil of the past has built up the good of the present. Nature everywhere showers her rewards on courage and industry, her curses on cowardice and inaction. Savagery preceded civilization; all foundations are laid on stones and dirt; there is mud and slime at the bottom of all clear water; every seed germinates amid decomposition; and every reform has had to fight its way up through martyrdom and persecution. Each upward step declares an evil overcome by some concentration or change of forces or finesse of action. Each characteristic, power or beauty, reveals the same conquest, become easy and graceful by repetition. Thus, "the eye is a conquest over darkness, the ear over silence, speech and expression over dumbness, courage over fear, love over loneliness." The argument proceeds:

"The whole history of man is but a commentary on the same truth. He has come up to his present glory by availing himself of an endless and ever varying procession of opportunities guised as evils. All these, overcome by fighting or forgiveness, strength, skill, fierceness or love, boycotting or accepting, destroying or assimilating, have given him his dauntless heart, his iron will, his marvelous brain, his muscular mechanism, so perfect in beauty and use, his moral conscience, his spiritual intuition, his control of Nature's forces, his weapons and his tools, his infinite versatility in things mental and material.

"Without evil we have no proof that gain has ever been, even to the millionth part of the thread of a hair.

"There always comes first an evil, producing pain and a prayer of longing that it be overcome, taken away or avoided; then resolution, action and struggle, endless till victory, for 'nothing is ever settled till it is settled right,' that is, till the baffled, defeated soul has attained final and complete conquest and put its enemy and obstacle forevermore under and behind it."

From this follows the at first startling conclusion that evil men are just as necessary as good men, and should not be hated. When a man is under evil, he feels that he must fulminate against it; but when he rises above evil, he recognizes that it is only a make-believe enemy after all, and he stops his fulminations. "At any given period of time, or phase of existence, past, present, or future," Mr. Lloyd remarks, "there is enough evil in a man's environment, if he chooses only to see that, to sink him into misery and despair, and enough of joy and the material of joy to make him cheerful and glad if he will but wisely appreciate it." Mr. Lloyd adds: "Those whom we call wicked are simply good men whom the others of the age have outgrown. They are behind the times. They are just what we all were once, and their acts were once counted the foremost virtues. On the tiger-plane the tiger who can best throttle a man is the most virtuous, but when the tiger becomes a man he denies the tiger virtues and calls them wicked."

But will not this doctrine, involving as it does the assumption that, from the universal and divine viewpoint, no act is, in itself considered, wrong or evil, lead to moral laxity and degeneration? Does it not remove some of the incentive to good? Mr. Lloyd replies, in effect, No; because a good man is no more ready to surrender his goodness than a skilful man is willing to surrender his skill. Such a one recognizes that good is being continually achieved; he has learned what he knows in the battle of life. Moreover:

"He will work without despair, knowing certainly that his labor will bear fruit; and he will fight without hate, knowing truly that his enemy is his brother, as sincere as he, and as helpfully and helplessly a tool in the Workman's Hand. He will not be conceited, knowing that the truth he now so vitally sees will some day enlarge and change, or fade and be absorbed by its opposite, or a greater. He will condemn, but with undertones of approval; he will strike, but in the spirit of the surgeon; he will preach, but realize that his words can reach only those fore-ripened for them."

The struggle between good and evil, Mr. Lloyd intimates, will never end, but is destined to be carried to higher and higher planes. "After all," he says, "nothing so awakens our admiration as to see the fire of courage kindle in a dauntless eye, and great obstacles steadily and skilfully overcome. No sybaritic idlesse, no dolec far niente, can ever so allure. In the past the world's worship has gone to the victor and the pioneer and it will be so to the end, only on ever higher and more spiritual planes. The old battles of club and gun, of blood and brawn, will die out, but soul will struggle with soul, and self, in sublime agonies of stress and sacrifice, of enlarging liberty and uplifting ideals." Mr. Lloyd writes further: "In other words, perfection is not perfection, unless it includes infinite growth and transmutation into the finer, into the ever-more-satisfying beautiful. The battle of life with its ever-recurring, ever-increasing thrill of victory, is the eternal and most fundamental law and characteristic of the divine life."

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