Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God – Part Three


This is the first draft of part three of my forthcoming work, Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God.
NASA/JPL/CalTech - Messier 104

Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God

Part Three

Religion, Law, and The Reformation of Individuals

The overview in parts one and two of how, in my view, good and evil are understood in the culture of pathei-mathos and by early Christianity and Islam presented several musings, based as that overview was and those musing are on my experiences, study, and reflexion, over some forty years. One of my musings was that, in the case of Islam and Christianity – two of the most influential spiritual ways of life in the last two millennia – the understanding of good and evil was not originally of some dogmatical and theological abstraction divorced from human life, but a more directly personal one related to the behaviour of individuals, with the promise that good behaviour – as outlined in the gospels and in the Quran and Sunnah – would most probably be rewarded with a place in Heaven or Paradise, and that the powerful and the leaders of governments are accountable to God [1].

In the case of the culture of pathei-mathos, it not only provides, as does the modern State, a perspective (and a teleology) unrelated to the judgement of a supreme deity and the promise of an after-life, but also points us toward answers rather different from those provided by proponents of the State, of liberal democracy, and of a jurisprudence concerned with international law and codifying and criminalizing what politicians, and/or some political theory, ideology, dogma, or agenda, deem to be bad. For what that culture provides is an understanding of how all forms – be they considered political [2], or codified ideologically [3] or in the form of a dogmatic hierarchical religion – have caused suffering, or do cause suffering sooner or later, because they are judgemental, supra-personal; and that such suffering is unjustified because it is individual human beings and indeed the other life with which we share this planet who and which are important; and that to alleviate and to prevent and remove the causes of suffering is necessary because a manifestation of what is good; that is, a manifestation of reasoned, balanced, compassionate, personal judgement, and of that learning, that knowledge, the insights, that personal experience of conflict, war, disaster, tragedy, havoc, violence, hatred, and pain, have taught and revealed to individuals for some three thousand years.

Thus it is that this culture contains the judgement, the insights, and the experience, of people as diverse in their origins, their life, and in some of their views, as Lao Tzu, Sappho, van Gogh, Solzhenitsyn, and Mohandas K. Gandhi. Sappho, for instance, moved by personal love, wrote over two and half thousand years ago that:

For some – it is horsemen; for others – it is infantry;
For some others – it is ships which are, on this black earth,
Visibly constant in their beauty. But for me,
It is that which you desire.

To all, it is easy to make this completely understood
For Helen – she who greatly surpassed other mortals in beauty –
Left her most noble man and sailed forth to Troy
Forgetting her beloved parents and her daughter
Because [ the goddess ] led her away […]

Which makes me to see again Anactoria now far distant:
For I would rather behold her pleasing, graceful movement
And the radiant splendour of her face
Than your Lydian chariots and foot-soldiers in full armour… [4]

While Gandhi, motivated by a desire for communal change and a vision of the future, more recently wrote that civilization, correctly understood, does not mean and does not require cities and centralized government and vast industries – and thus a modern State – but rather means and requires a certain personal moral conduct, a “mastery over our mind and our passions” [5], non-violence, the simplicity of village life [6], and communities voluntarily cooperating together in pursuit of collective, and personal, development.

Which two examples illustrate what are, perhaps, the two main answers that the culture of pathei-mathos offers and has so far offered to the question, posed in the Introduction of this essay, of what, if anything, can or perhaps should (i) replace the answers of religions for those who do not or cannot accept such religious answers and the theological perspective and guidance so offered, and/or (ii) replace the answers offered by the jurisprudence of nation-States and the political theories of governance of such States for those who adjudge that the suffering such States cause is, on balance, unacceptable [7]. These two answers – founded on or inspired by the insight of a personal rather than an impersonal, dogmatical, good and bad – are the internal one of a personal life, focused on personal love (and/or on Art, music, and so on), and the external one of seeking change by means such as the non-violence of passive resistance [8] and through personal example.

How to choose? What criteria, moral or otherwise, to use to judge these two answers, and the other answers that over millennia and by pathei-mathos, have been lived and/or proposed? The criterion of the reformation – the development, the change – of the individual? If so, a change from what to where? Or, perhaps, the criterion should be personal honour? Indeed, should there be, or can there even be, some suprapersonal judgemental criteria that others may employ?

Given the nature of pathei-mathos [9], and the nature of a criterion, I incline toward the view that there is no criteria beyond the very individual, the reasoned, the personal, non-transferable, and fallible, judgement which derives from our own pathei-mathos, our own empathy, our own experience, our own life, and our own understanding of the causes of suffering.

Good, Evil, and The Criteria of Progress

To formulate some standard or rule or some test to try to evaluate alternatives and make choices in such matters is to make presumptions about what constitutes progress; about what constitutes a ‘higher’ level – or a more advanced stage – and what constitutes a ‘lower’ level or stage. That is, to not only make a moral judgement connected to what is considered to be ‘good’ and ‘evil’ – right and wrong, correct and incorrect – but also to apply that judgement to others and to ‘things’. To judge them, and/or the actions of others, by whether they are on a par with, or are moving toward or away from, that ‘right’ and that ‘wrong’.

This is, in my view, a veering toward hubris, away from the natural balance, and thus away from that acknowledgement of our fallibility, of our uncertitude of knowing, that is the personal virtue of humility. For the essence of the culture of pathei-mathos, and the genesis, the ethos, of all religious revelations and spiritual ways before or until they become dogmatical [10], seems to be that we can only, without hubris, without prejudice, judge and reform ourselves.

For what the culture of pathei-mathos reveals is that we human beings, are – personally – both the cause and the cure of suffering; and that our choice is whether or not we live, or try to live, in a manner which does not intentionally contribute to or which is not the genesis of new suffering. The choice, in effect, to choose the way of harmony – the natural balance – in preference to hubris. But how, if we choose the way of harmony, are we to live? Are we to try and judge the lives and works of those who in the past have so chosen, or seem to us to have so chosen, or whose life and works seems to manifest a certain harmony or a particular numinous understanding which resonates with us? Are we then to try and judge and compare the passive resistance of Gandhi to the life and works of William Penn to the poetry of Sappho to the life and work of van Gogh to the influence of Lao Tzu or Jesus of Nazareth. Who are we to do this, and why? Does non-violent activism toward and in the name of ‘progress’, and/or a message of spiritual reformation and redemption, have – or should have – a higher value than poetry or Art or music or a life lovingly devoted to a partner or to cultivating Wu-Wei?

Or do we see the empathic, the human, the personal, scale of things, and our own human limitations, and accept that we do not need to so judge and so choose because we incline toward the view that all we can hope to do without veering toward hubris – toward upsetting the natural balance of Life, and thus causing more suffering – is to gently and with humility to try and personally alleviate some suffering somewhere in our own small way by, for instance, being compassionate and honourable in the immediacy of the living moment? With thus little or no concern for, or presumptions about, what others believe constitutes some-thing termed progress, and with little or no concern either about the promise, the reward, of an afterlife or about some supra-personal human manufactured form, such as a State, that in some shape or other exists during our own brief mortal life? If so, then what – if anything – is the meaning, the purpose, of our so brief human living?

David Myatt


[1]  “For what can a Man give in Exchange for his Life, as well as Soul? And though the chiefest in Government are seldom personally exposed, yet it is a Duty incumbent upon them to be tender of the Lives of their People; since without all Doubt, they are accountable to God for the Blood that is spilt in their Service. So that besides the Loss of so many Lives, of importance to any Government, both for Labour and Propagation, the Cries of so many Widows, Parents and Fatherless are prevented, that cannot be very pleasant in the Ears of any Government, and is the Natural Consequence of War in all Government.”  William Penn. An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe. 1693 CE

[2] By the term politics is meant: (i) The theory and practice of governance, with governance itself founded on two fundamental assumptions; that of some minority – a government (elected or unelected), some military authority, some oligarchy, some ruling elite, some tyrannos, or some leader – having or assuming authority (and thus power and influence) over others, and with that authority being exercised over a specific geographic area or territory; (ii) The activities of those individuals or groups whose aim or whose intent is to obtain and exercise some authority or some control over – or to influence – a society or sections of a society by means which are organized and directed toward changing/reforming that society or sections of a society, either in accordance with a particular ideology or not.

[3] By the term ideology is meant a coherent, organized, and distinctive set of beliefs and/or ideas or ideals, and which beliefs and/or ideas and/or ideals pertain to governance, and/or to society, and/or to matters of a philosophical or a spiritual nature.

[4] From fragment 16 (7th century BCE), the full text of which, from P. Oxy. 1231 and 2166, is, with square brackets indicating conjectures and missing text:

ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον οἰ δὲ πέσδων,
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ᾿ ἐπ[ὶ] γᾶν μέλαι[ν]αν
ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιστον, ἔγω δὲ κῆν᾿ ὄτ-
τω τις ἔραται·
πά]γχυ δ᾿ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
π]άντι τ[o]ῦτ᾿, ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περσκέθοισα
κάλλος [ἀνθ]ρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
τὸν [   αρ]ιστον
καλλ[ίποι]σ᾿ ἔβα ᾿ς Τροΐαν πλέοι[σα
κωὐδ[ὲ πα]ῖδος οὐδὲ φίλων το[κ]ήων
πά[μπαν] ἐμνάσθη, ἀλλὰ παράγαγ᾿ αὔταν
[ ]σαν
[ ]αμπτον γὰρ [
[ ]…κούφως τ[             ]οη.[.]ν
..]με νῦν Ἀνακτορί[ας ὀ]νέμναι-
σ᾿ οὐ ] παρεοίσας,
τᾶ]ς <κ>ε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα
κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω
ἢ τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα κἀν ὄπλοισι

[5] Hind Swaraj, part 13. 1909 CE

[6] Letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, October 5, 1945 CE

[7] The argument here is along the following lines. That nation-States accept both the primacy of a codified law based on the maintenance of internal order according to that law, and the need to ensure the security, the interests, and the preservation, of the nation-State, both of which often necessitate or have necessitated the following: (i) the killing of and/or the use of violence against human beings in their own lands, and/or elsewhere by means of war or otherwise; (ii) the imprisonment/persecution of human beings both for deeds/dissent deemed illegal and for ‘crimes against the State’; (iii) actions which cause pain and suffering and hardship to others, such as internal economic policies and/or external economic/trade sanctions; (iv) the commercial exploitation of the resources of this planet and of the other life with which we share this planet.

[8] “Passive resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering, it is the reverse of resistance by arms. When I refuse to do a thing that is repugnant to my conscience, I use soul-force […] Passive resistance, that is, soul-force, is matchless. It is superior to the force of arms.” Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, part 17. 1909 CE

Concerning governments, he wrote, also in Hind Swaraj, that: “They do not say: ‘You must do such and such a thing,’ but they say: ‘if you do not do it, we will punish you’.”

[9] qv. my The Way of Pathei-Mathos – A Philosophical Compendiary.

[10] As William Penn wrote in his tract The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience Once More Briefly Debated and Defended, published in 1670 CE:

“They overturn the Christian Religion: 1. In the Nature of it, which is Meekness; 2. In the Practice of it, which is Suffering.”

cc David Myatt 2013

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