Dennis Prager

Decent people have sought to identify the roots of evil since the first indecent person inflicted cruelty on an innocent person. And people have come up with one or more of nine explanations, most of which are indeed valid.

1. The Devil (or whatever name the devil goes by in any given culture). I do not believe in a devil, but when one observes the seemingly inexplicable cruelty engaged in by some people, it is understandable that people have attributed it to some evil being that has taken over that person.

2. Genes. The contemporary term for devil is "genes." Just as with the devil, when we observe a person engaging in evil behavior for which we have no rational explanation, we speak of it as coming from the person's genes.

3. Parents. After genes, parents have become another popular explanation for much evil. "How was he raised?" we wonder when we read about evildoers, especially those who deliberately hurt children. There is no question that parental upbringing has both good and ill effects on children. But there are too many bad people raised in homes that did not abuse them, and too many good people who were raised in awful homes to allow us to make parents the primary explanation for evil.

4. Religion. Religion is a popular culprit these days. And it is undeniable that religion can be a source of evil -- it certainly is in the case of the true believing Islamic terrorist. And it was in the wars over theology that racked Europe for centuries. But two facts mitigate against regarding religion as the primary explanation for evil. One is that religion itself was often developed precisely in order to reduce human evil. Whatever evil individual Christians may have ever engaged in, it is hard to find advocacy of evil within Christian Scriptures. The other is that secular ideologies and regimes -- Nazism and Communism, for example -- have murdered and tortured far more people than any religion has.

5. Money. Money and greed are so widely regarded as causes of evil that the phrase "Money is the root of all evil" has become a cliche. And there is no doubt that people seeking what money can buy -- luxury, status, women and excitement, to name but a few things -- have engaged in much evil. But flawed human nature and a lack of self-control, not money per se, are the causes of evil in these instances.

6. Power. Like money, many who seek power will do anything, no matter how evil, to attain power. However, it is a relatively small number of people that seeks such power and commits evil in its pursuit.

Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”

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