Friday, May 12, 2006

Evil, sin, the demons and the devil

If there are any readers left after the very bleak coda of my last post, I’d like to proceed with trying to explore how the traditional Christian symbols of evil in its different forms can give us some kind of access to these difficult questions regarding the decline of our culture and the environment.

I have to admit that I think this is one of the most exciting areas of the Christian tradition. Although I think I can understand the reasons why, I still find it strange that sin has become almost an obsolete concept in the not-so-fundamentalist churches. This is despite the fact that at least some modern theologians have done some very valuable work on the area. At some point I will give you a short review of at least Tillich’s and Rahner’s concepts of sin, because these I have studied a bit.

There are in the Christian tradition a range of symbols that describe different aspects of evil. These are: Original sin, sin (depending on which tradition you follow these two are either separate from each other or not), concupiscence, demons, the devil and death. There are others as well, as the Greek concept of passions, that have entered Christian theology by way of the ascetic theologians such as Evagrios of Pontos. Seldom all of these symbols are used together but if one tries to get by on only on of them, or try to translate them all with one term, you end up with a rather anaemic teaching.

As I said these form a range that do blur into each other but still cover different aspects of the problem. The devil is more or less outside the person, and symbolize evil that is not at all controlled by the person, evil that is “superhuman”. Demons are somewhat closer to the person, they are “tempting” the person, in the sense that they connect an outside event to some aspect of the personality of the individual. Concupiscence is the evil inclination of the person, it is a part of the personality of the individual. However, it is central to remember that this is not the “innermost” part of a person. Concupiscence is caused by original sin, that is, again an external factor, but it is not, like a demon, a specific event or thing, but it is the sum of the cultural and historical factors that affect the individual.

I will have to address all of these symbols somewhat at length. I think by doing that I will be able to gain a greater understanding of how we as individuals can relate to situation we are in as a culture and as humanity. I will do this in my upcoming posts. I would also very much like to hear what other people think about these symbols, and maybe hear some thoughts on why it is so difficult to use them today.

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