An important component of world religions is their discussion of good and evil. Consistent in many of the world religions is the belief that greater spiritual forces exist which guide human’s on a path of virtue and enlightenment. Holy Scripture assigns rules and beliefs that are expected to be followed in order to cultivate virtue from the temptations of sin and decadence. All forms of religious philosophy have one important end: discussing what it means to be “good.” Yet, even the greatest optimists admit that “good” is only one side of humanity. In a world with genocide, poverty, war, and mass suffering, denying the prevalence of evil would make any system of beliefs aloof and disconnected from real events. Although world religions often celebrate the existence of an all-powerful and loving God, the existence of evil in world religions form an important component of their beliefs. Many of the world religions present evil as being the absence of good. Yet, the form and ramifications evil has between world religions varies. Evil in world religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism adapts itself into various forms, although ‘evil’ is defined as a real entity rather than one of moral relativism.
World religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam stress the belief in only one central God, unlike a religion such as Hinduism which has hundreds. What these monolithic religions all state is their belief that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and Good. The argument that contrarians jump on is this belief that God is “good.” The belief that everything is according to God’s plan and is for the betterment of humanity is absurd to cynics of world religions. If everything was created by God and his intentions are always good, then how come evil is so rampant in humanity? The holy books actually do address this apparent contradiction. The Holy books offer their own interpretation of why this existence between a benevolent God and an unjust world is not as contradictory as it appears on the surface. And it offers an explanation for why these world religions view evil as they do.
In Islam, evil has a place in the Divine Will of Allah. Islamic faith is somewhat fatalistic as compared to more liberal forms of Christianity and Judaism in its rejection of free will in nature. Natural disasters, for example, are all apart of Allah’s plans. However, the Islamic holy book, the Quran, does emphasize that God gives free will to the people. Misfortune, death, and suffering are methods employed by Allah to test the faith of the believers. Evil does not come in the form of demonic spirits, but evil in Islam is the failure of good to rise to the occasion. Evil in Islam is necessary for the cultivation of spirituality of Muslims. If misfortune does spoil the spiritual development of the believer, then evil takes on very real form. Overcoming evil in Islam requires patience and self-restraint. Lacking these qualities compromises their spirituality in an often non-spiritual world, and thus they can become evil.
Although Christian theology has many schools, unlike in Islam where good and evil are coupled together, evil is divorced from the idea of good in Christianity. The Judeo-Christian doctrine towards evil concerns itself with the negative spiritual influence of Satan. Evil in Christianity is rooted in the story of a fallen angel who rebelled against God and seduced Eve into defying God’s command. In Christian fundamentalist attitudes towards evil, evil can take the form of anything that is not directed towards worshiping and respecting God. Evil is biblically equated to satanic behavior. In more liberal forms, evil in Christianity becomes a perpetual struggle of excess and spirituality. The struggle to do good and reject evils is more internal than external. Evil in Judaism takes on a similar form and shares similar attitudes towards evil. Unlike Christianity, it offers a less literal interpretation of evil than the presence of influential negative spirits. The Torah book stresses that the capacity to do good and evil is present in all of us. The prevalence of evil in the world is a result of a mass of humanity’s evils at work according to the Torah book. The most important function of good is to fulfill God’s will, not your own. Evil in Judaism is a result of abusing the free will God gave to you: evil and good become exercises of free will to pleasing and displeasing God.
Evil in religion signifies different things to believers of different schools of thought. Although many view it be a disheartening subject, perhaps it is encouraging that evil takes center stage in the discussions of world religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. As long as there is the possibility for unfettered evil, there is the potential for unfettered goodness in humans.