The Quest for Life

Part II. Evil

Unde malum? Whence is evil? This question, asked by Augustine in his Confessions, is pertinent in any age, and particularly in our own. Much as we may place our trust in the power of reason, progress, democracy, technology, goodness, or the pursuit of happiness, there is always the outrage of evil. Few things in life affect us as deeply. Dostoevsky’s stories form a psychology of evil, but also of guilt. Who is like Job? Who knows no evil? All those who have been unable to resist the temptations of evil must ask themselves: how can we best deal with such transgressions?

What is the function of justice, and what is the value of conscience? What meaning, if any, do guilt and atonement still have in Western society? Anyone who has ever been tested by fate will know the questions of Job. Why this evil, this injustice, this suffering? The curse under which we must live is not so much the suffering as the senselessness, ‘the lack of an answer to the question “why?”’, as Nietzsche shrewdly observed. Must absurdity have the final word, or can we find an answer, a meaning? Should we rely on Faustian man, on a society in which we fully control our own lives, where we solve our own problems, with an unconditional faith in the possibilities of science?