A Snippet For Discussion Purposes

     The following is a segment from my novel-in-progress, working title Ex Nihilo (yeah, yeah, again with the Latin):

     “Father,” Sarah Lydell said, “why is there evil?”
     It was the question toward which Father Raymond Altomare, pastor of Onteora Parish, had been building for five weeks. The group of seniors from Foxwood High included the most thoughtful of the teenagers he’d been tasked with introducing to the Catholic faith. Though their parents were more involved than average in their educations, they had refrained from engaging their kids’ questions about deeper things.
     Ray didn’t mind. It was his job, after all.
     “I’m going to do something terrible to you, Sarah.” Ray grinned. “I’m going to answer your question with a question of my own. Are you ready?”
     The girl nodded anxiously. Ray panned the other teens seated around the rectory’s kitchen table, priming them for the impact of what was to come.
     “What is evil?”
     No one spoke.
     “Can anyone say what it is? Categorically, I mean.” Ray panned the group again. “We can usually recognize an evil deed when it’s in front of us. I’m sure any of you could give me a dozen examples. But what’s the common element? What ties them all together?”
     Confusion was evident on the teens’ faces. Michael Markham turned to Bea Beckham, who shrugged and mimed ignorance. Donna Norris, the senior class’s outstanding beauty, appeared more upset than confused. Her eyes were pinched in dismay. Bob Oliver, the class president and front-runner for valedictorian, sat shaking his head. Sarah Lydell merely peered at Ray in dismay.
     “We have to be able to say why a thing is evil if we’re going to condemn it as such, right? We can’t just say ‘I know it when I see it,’ because somebody else might come along and say, ‘Well, I don’t see it, so explain it to me.’ What would we do then?”
     “That’s part of the problem, isn’t it, Father?” Bob Oliver said. “There’s no agreement on it.”
     “Mmm…not quite, Bob,” Ray said. “Let’s say there are a bunch of different ideas about it. But it’s obviously a big part of the Church’s mission to define evil and teach people what they need to know to steer away from it. So we have to wrestle with what it is and what it isn’t. And young people like you are at an ideal time of life to think about it.”
     Ray sat back and sipped at his coffee. “We’re not going to answer the question today. It’s too big, and as I said, there are some different ideas about it that deserve some thought.” He glanced at the wall clock. “What I’d like you to do for our next meeting is to put together two lists. On one list, put examples of widely agreed evils from history. We’ll talk about the commonalities among those things, and why they happened when they did. On the other list, put examples of things that were done to oppose the evils on the first list. We’ll talk about why those things were not evil…and in a couple of cases, why they were just as bad as the evils they were supposed to fight. Think you can come up with half a dozen things for each list?”
     Donna and Bob nodded. The others sat silent.
     “Okay then. Join me in a quick prayer?” Ray folded his hands and bowed his head. The teens did the same.
     “Heavenly Father,” Ray intoned, “be always with us as we strive to pursue truth and expose falsehood. These young folks are the future of our kind. Help them to grow in insight, wisdom, and love according to your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.”
     “Amen,” the teens chorused. Ray rose, and the teens did the same. “Till Wednesday next. Does anyone need a ride home?”
     Bob Oliver raised a hand. “I’ve got it, Father.” He gathered the others by eye. “See you next week.”
     Ray showed the group to the door and bade them farewell. Presently he was alone in his study, with a fresh mug of coffee and a legal pad.
     This is the tough part. This is where we really engage with the Faith. If I can get this across, I’ll consider myself a catechist.
     His mind filled with memories of Fountain.
     She and I never got to this point. She was so sweet natured and pure of heart that the idea of introducing her to deliberate evil was inherently repugnant. Even though she’d known evil at close range…closer than anyone has known it since the era of slavery.
     Fountain didn’t need to be taught how to recognize evil. She’d had firsthand experience of it. But it’s my job to bring these kids to grips with it, and to teach them how to deny it a place in their hearts. Hopefully, anyway.

     Ray’s one brushing contact with absolute evil, evil that had embodied itself in a human form, lurked at the back of his thoughts. As always, he forced it away.
     Buck up, Altomare. This is part of why you wanted to become a priest, remember? Getting past the rote repetition and grappling with the fundamentals. Getting in deep.
     Ray shook himself and set down notes from which to guide the discussion to come.

     This has been on my mind for decades. The Church has a hard time with evil as an intensively-definable category of events. So do a lot of laymen. Early in Thomas Harris’s blockbuster novel The Silence of the Lambs, his uber-villain, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, asks young FBI agent Clarice Starling if she can say that he is evil. She responds in a poignantly innocent fashion:

     “I think you’ve been destructive. For me it’s the same thing.”

     Lecter, a huge intellect who apparently lacks all moral constraint, replies perfectly:

     “Evil’s just destructive? Then storms are evil, if it’s that simple. And we have fire, and then there’s hail. Underwriters lump it all under ‘Acts of God.’”

     Ponder it. I’ll be back later.


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    • glasslass on February 6, 2024 at 1:46 PM

    For me evil has always been done with purpose.

    • Carol on February 6, 2024 at 3:36 PM

    Well, here’s my initial 2 cents:

    1. Evil is the deliberate, freewill choice to inflict harm on others for one’s own benefit…or worse, for the pleasure of seeing those others suffer.

    2. Evil is also the deliberate, freewill choice to take action towards one’s own benefit at the expense of others’ well-being.

    And now, I’ll add a question of my own:

    Do the insane truly have freewill, and if not, why does God ‘allow’ the evil which the insane do?

    (This question arises from the supposition that “Evil” exists due to God having granted all persons freewill, and thus it is that He is not ‘allowing’ evil, but rather, is ‘bound’ to honor freewill regardless the consequences.)

    1. An excellent contribution. I may use it as the Stimulator position.

        • Carol on February 6, 2024 at 5:01 PM

        I appreciate your appreciation 😉

        It’s a topic I could go into even more deeply – having survived nearly 40 years (since early adulthood) of recurrent, clinical, Major Depression and several associated Faith crises – questions of suffering and evil in relation to our Loving God have been endlessly pondered…especially after becoming a mother.

    • Jax Bungee on February 6, 2024 at 4:05 PM

    I believe that evil comes down to the deliberate interference of another person’s exercise of free will, which is the gift to mankind from the Divine.

    • Chris on February 6, 2024 at 8:13 PM


    My apologies, the “reply” button won’t allow me to respond when pressed.
    if interfering with someone else’s free will is considered evil, would you consider it evil to stop someone from committing suicide? To prevent a child molester from grabbing their next victim? Just curious.

      • Jax Bungee on February 7, 2024 at 3:22 PM

      Hi Chris (& Steve below),

      Preventing the child molester? Absolutely – he (or she) is demonstrating evil by interfering with the child’s own exercise of free will (to be free from such interactions).

      As for preventing suicide, that can get grayer. What is the motivation for self-harm? Encouraging health and healing is a great option. True evil would be to promote that suicide as a solution to what ails that person.

    • Steve on February 7, 2024 at 9:45 AM

    That’s weird, Chris, I wasn’t getting it to work either.

    The molester is easy. One is always supposed to oppose evil, and if there’s anything that should be in the evil camp, child molestation is it. Our Savior had his millstone around the neck story about those who lead the little ones astray.

    The suicide is more tricky. God’s perfect love allows us to essentially commit suicide of the soul, if we so choose. So what would God do in that situation? What He always does — tries to get us to see through our despair, but, ultimately, it’s our choice.

    I’m not sure “deliberate” is an essential element, Jax. We know the “nations” of the world are Satan’s demesne, as he offered them to Yeshua, and the book itself says He was tempted. It wouldn’t have been possible to tempt Him with something Satan couldn’t deliver.

    And the Prince of Lies makes such a strong case that whatever he tempts those who manage those “nations” that their ideas are for the common good.

    So, yeah, I believe the bureaucrats and politicians are all in for a rude awakening when they discover they were on Team Satan the whole while.

  1. I am so looking forward to this book.

    1. (chuckle) I’m writing as fast as I can, love! 😁

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