Title: “perspectives about evil today: viewpoints of sixth graders”
Title: “Notions of Evil Today: Perspectives of Sixth Graders in Manila”
The 3rd SSEASR Conference in Bali, Indonesia
Theme: “Waters in South and Southeast Asia: Interaction of Culture and Religion”, June
The challenge of finding out the relevance of traditional religious notions remains
a fresh concern for the local church in the Philippines, a predominantly Christian nation in the heart of Asia. Enriched by its diverse religious traditions, the Philippines no doubt stand as a witness to the constant quest to find meaning about one’s faith. In general, there is the quest to find the relevance of faith practices within the daily grind of life. Within this picture, there is the search for religious meaning which is given life through inquiries that ask about the truths proposed in the Christian faith. The search for religious meaning is captured in the specific inquiry to make sense out of the growing demands and difficulties of life. Today questions about God and evil are raised to address the difficulties between the spiritual and the material. Traditionally, the question of God and evil are raised in the level of adults who raise the cry of pain or protest. Nothing much is heard, from a religious angle, about children’s notions for the simple reason that their mindset is too simple to handle such a delicate subject. How has the question of evil reverberated in the consciousness of the young pupils today? Hence, this paper seeks to address that issue by finding out how sixth graders interpret “evil” today. In particular, this paper wants to know how the sixth graders from selected public schools in Manila appropriate notions of evil today by evaluating their contemporary concepts of evil. This paper shall therefore describe the essential aspects of their notion of evil as gleaned from survey data from the students and shall analyze how emergent themes that are taken from their notions reflect particular popular mindsets.
The challenge of writing about evil rests on these framed limitations: (a) that it
had always been defined as a negative reality in Christian sources, (b) that most discourses if not all takes evil in terms of its relationship to God and the good, (c) that by these characteristics, evil do not enjoy an epistemological distinction as a reality. The first two difficulties reflect traditional theological and Christian discourses on evil. Of late, current attempts have tilted towards rational discourses. In particular, philosophical and ethical discussions have proliferated in academic circles and literature. Indicative of this are the recent works of some scholars in the ethical practice such as that of Susan
Neimaand Claudia Ca From the theological field, theological discussions remain anchored in traditional categories such as creatiod and spirituality.
For a long time, the problem of evil had been tied up with theological analysis.
An analysis of evil begins with either discourses on God or creation. With discourses on God, the contention is focused on articulations of the divine character. With creation, evil is linked with the fall of humanity. Later with the birth of process theodicy, evil is articulated in the philosophical plain and categories. Process theodicy was interested in the ever challenging question of human suffering viz a viz the principle of divine omnipotence and transcendence. It is by virtue of this pursuit that the problem of evil is introduced. Whether from a philosophical or theological plain, the issue of evil is related with the problem of human suffering. Regarding the first difficulty, evil is regarded as a negative reality. It is often regarded as an absence. St Augustine and later, St. Thomas Aquinas would render evil as a “deprivation of the good”. Later St. Thomas would look at it as the “absence of the good”. These categories are only offered as solutions to earlier problems encountered in theology hence, the theological rendering.
In relation to the second difficulty, notions of and about evil are given in relation
to evil’s relation to God and the good. Evil constructs are defined in relation to God. For example the Christian explanation to the problem of evil describes the place of evil in God’s creation. This relational definition presents evil as one that lacks in ontological meaning. This notion is influenced by theistic frameworks. The reality of evil is acknowledged by way of contrast. That it is opposite God and that which God stands for. It is a negative definition: by way of what it is ‘not’; Evil is not the good. Evil is contrary to the good. Arising from the second difficulty, the problem of evil in the third difficulty presents an idea of evil that cannot stand on its own, as something which is dependent of other beings. In the experiential level, evil is conceived in relation to human suffering. The experience of human suffering is evil.
Data from research studies intended to find out notions of evil among pupils in the
primary levels is not available locally. Much of available material in the primary level carries themes of methodological and cognitive nature. Other studies on youth such as those of McCann Ericksare limited to the upper age brackets (14-24 years old) and do not deal with notions of evil.
1 Susan Neiman, Evil in modern thought: an alternative history of Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2002).
2 Claudia Card, The atrocity paradigm: a theory of evil (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
3 Jose Morales, Creation theology (Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 2001).
4 McCann Erickson, Inc., The McCann Erickson Youth Study 2000: A Synopsis, (Manila: McCann Erickson Inc. 2000); McCann Erikson Inc., The McCann Erickson youth study: the portrait of a Filipino as a youth. The Youth Journal, 1 (1) 1994.
Philosophical discourses presents evil in a distinct manner. Distanced from
religious connotations, evil is conceptualized in epistemological terms. Before and during the medieval times, evil is contrasted from the good since morality was engrossed with discourses of the good. Evil is also taken up in ethical and moral philosophy. The theme of evil being an absence dates back to the time of Plotinus who used Platonic ideas which confirmed of only three principles in existence in the world e.g. One, intellect and soul and rejects the existence of evi Diverting from this old position, evil today is discussed with a different turn. Susan Neimaprovokes discussion of the problem in a re-appropriated manner. Taking a cue from the traditional question of human suffering Neiman assessed previous positions about God and evil. In her ethical evaluation philosophy reviewed the problem of evil in a new light. In a similar light, Claudia Ca recovered from her years of work on the subject a new framework emphasizing the deficiency of previous positions on evil such as those that defined evil in terms of its effects and those that conceptualize it in terms of the oppressor’s perspective. Both works endeavored to bring philosophical engagement with the problem of evil through a different scheme. This research similarly strives to pull together resources of new mindsets that appear to affect new cognitive patterns that have influenced human behavior.
Nietzsche’s response to the problem of evil in his time can be gleaned in his
objections to the categories of “good” and “evil” prevalent in his time by proposing a framework based on virtue. With these categories were the accompanying religious categories that paid tribute to delimiting concepts such as heaven or hell which often became the gauge of human behavior so that what is evil is dependent upon preset concepts and standa
Christian and Theological perspectives of evil
In general, evil is considered under the theme of creation. Specifically, its place is
defined in relation to human sin and its effects upon creation. Hence from a theological vantage point, no account of evil can be conceived apart from the fall of humanity in creation. Varying Christian traditions however impose different assignments to the meaning of evil. In general, protestant churches would minimize on the evil issue since focus of literature falls more on the task of divine redemption. The catholic position on the other hand, considers the dynamics of the fall of humanity to dwell on divine mercy. Hence, suffering in the catholic understanding is an essential component towards
8 Emmett Barcalow, Moral philosophy: theories and issues (US: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1998), 121.
understanding the graciousness of God. It is inevitable that evil in Christian sources is contrasted from the good, the essential element that constitute creation.
The concept of evil is intertwined across different frameworks. In this paper the
notion of evil is analyzed in relation to the following relevant clusters with their corresponding meanings: (a) Evil understood in Christianity- one traditionally portrayed as a force opposing God’s reign; a devious and ugly character that tempts everyone. (b) Evil theologically defined- as a non-being; as privation of something. In Thomistic terms, it is the absence of good. (c) Evil socially defined- as shown in actual people being engaged in wrong deeds in the social setting. (d) Evil biblically defined - portrayed as jealous about anything not oriented towards itself. This extreme love for self found in manifestations of an insecure self is an object of divine disapproval. (e) Evil in the physical sense- expressed through physical destruction and calamities caused by natural forces uncontrolled by man. And (f) Evil as a moral concept- one caused by malice that arise from wrong human intentions.
The Christian viewpoint treats evil in relation to biblical and theological sources.
From a philosophical and theological point of view, the problem of evil is tied up with the affirmation of the divine existence and attributes (God as an “all-good”, “all-knowing” and “all-powerful being”). Philosophically it is assumed in epistemological debates. In philosophy the problem is a logical difficulty wrestled in debates that seeks to resolve the tension between God’s existence and the undeniable reality of evil in the world. In the theological sphere the problem is tied up with theodicy which raises the question of human suffering despite the goodness of God and the supposed goodness of created nature. Metz’ theological treatis demonstrates the fundamental theological project to reconcile the existence of God and the reality of evil. On the other hand, Tambasc notes that theodicy is “a rational defense of God’s justice and omnipotence in the face of human suffering and the problem of evil In either framework evil is presented as a contrast, negation or opposite. The problem is generally explained in this manner: God exists; He is omnipotent and omniscient. Together with these expositions, human realities affirm the existence of forces that raise the stakes against the divine attributes. The attempts at resolving the question lead to arguments against the plausibility of the divine attributes. For instance, God’s omni-benevolence (all-goodness) is placed in doubt in each bad experience that individuals undergo. Tied up to divine goodness, God’s omniscience (all-knowing) is put to the test with every human disaster
9 Johann Baptist Metz 1997. “God and the evil of this world: Forgotten, unforgettable theodicy.” In, The return of the plague, Jose Oscar Beozzo and Virgil Elizondo, eds. John Bowden trans. Concilium 5, (London: SCM Press, 1997), 3-8.
10 Anthony Tambasco, ed., The Bible on suffering: social and political implications (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2001).
that befalls upon countless number of people. The ensuing tension gives rise to never-ending questions about the extent of God’s power and rule. The overpowering impact of calamities and disasters upon humanity inevitably relives the age-old question of God’s existence. As if conceding to the fact of evil in one’s life, one begins to wonder if God and evil can co-exist all together.
Evil is traditionally classified in terms of its nature: physical, moral, and
metaphysica Evil in these forms vary in terms of the extent of involvement of the human will. The agency of human will is necessary for moral evil to exist. Gregory of Nyssa would insist that evil has a moral dimension as it requires human agenc Thus one cannot speak of moral evil without somebody committing a decision to do an act or not to do an act. Social evil is grounded in moral evil. Social suffering is the consequence of social evil. Wilkinswork sheds light on the varied presentations that constitutes the fundamental challenge in addressing the contemporary problem of social suffering, a consequence of the human decision to act or not. One cannot conceive of social evil without some people involved in various degrees of decision making. Contemporary moral theology posits social sin as a new form of evil distinct from the traditional actual sins categorized in Tridentine theology. In contrast natural, physical or metaphysical evil do not require human decision to be realized. Even without human intervention natural and metaphysical evil take place in temporal forms. A basic character of evil is that it is essentially negative rather than positive such as an experience of deprivation of something essential. In terms of the human experience ‘deprivation’ is expressed in human destruction and manipulation, calamities, committed acts or omitted behavior. The classic Augustinian formula shares this thinking. There are positions that appear to trivializthe notion of evil. A host of varying insights is noted when the question of evil’s origin is raised. Confronted with the question of evil’s origins, the discussions immediately identify evil in the metaphysical plane rather than from those belonging to the empirical exact sciences. Schopenhauer as well as Von Hartmann’s works has contributed substantially to the forming of a body of literature which paved the way for a metaphysically defined discourse on evil.
This paper rested on the results of a descriptive quantitative survey research
aimed at finding out the pupils’ notions of evil. A researcher-made instrument was
12 Leonardo Mercado, Inculturation & Filipino theology (Manila: Divine Word Publications, 1992); A. Sharpe, “Evil.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909).
December 19, 2008 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05649a.htm
14 Iain Wilkinson, “The problem of ‘social suffering’: the challenge to social science.” Health Sociology Review 13(2), (2004), 113-121.
15 James Taylor, Sin: a new understanding of virtue and vice (Canada: Northstone Pub. Inc., 1997).
constructed and validated. Data from respondents was analyzed and interpreted using descriptive statistics. The 384 respondents were grade six pupils from at least six different public schools in four different locations in Manila and its adjacent city through stage sampling.
The samples represented pupils from different sections within the sixth grade
level hence representing different academic competencies. A fairly distributed condition is observed from among the youngest (29.2%), eldest (36.5%), and middle (32.8%) members in the family. An exception is noted with the low count for “only child” respondents (1.6%) who have neither brother nor sister in the family. This data reflecting the places of children in their families is consistent with the current picture of the Filipino family which is described to be normally large or extended. In the Philippines it is still not a common sight therefore to have families with only one child or no child at all.
Eleven year old respondents got the biggest share of the block with 45%. This is
followed by 12-year-old pupils who comprised 35.9% of the sample. At far third are the 13-year-old (6%) and 10-year-old (6 %) respondents. Eleven to twelve year old pupils usually are the ones enrolled in the grade six level. A ten year old pupil at grade six could have been promoted at this level via grade acceleration which is allowed in grade schools provided the student meets the academic requirements. On the other hand, thirteen year old respondents at grade six could have been due to either academic difficulties (case of repeaters) or financial difficulties (either the parents could not afford to send the child to school or simply need the child to help them earn a living). A handful of other data comprising about 7-8 % is represented by 14-17 year-old respondents.
The respondents understood evil primarily in the biblical sense (4.19). The devil
has the following negative attributes: a bad tempting creature, possessing malice, an enemy, a sinner, jealous, and rejected by God. Affirming God’s power, the pupils believed that God can do anything against the devil, an angel who rebelled against God. However, a significant affirmation of evil as a moral (3.95) and social (3.89) concept followed in close second. The significant place given to the moral and social notions of evil is worthy of mention as it provides some direction and meaning to the biblical connotation of evil. This is followed by their appropriation of evil in the theological (3.83), psychological (3.72) and Christian (3.68) understanding.
Of the seven clusters that describe the notion of evil, the children are uncertain if
evil constitutes a relationship with the physical order (Cluster five = 3.40). The respondents have consistently described evil in relation to the human participation (moral concept) and that evil has consistently drawn from them certain psychological responses such as fear. This psychological response is also evident in many accounts of spirit possession involving children reported by local media. Responses such as these have demonstrated the vulnerability of children. The fear-inducing traditional biblical and Christian representations ingrained in their mind could have been responsible for the negative psychological response being reported in the results.
They primarily look at evil in the biblical level (biblical cluster). This is supported
by a strong conception of evil in terms of its depiction (Christianity cluster) in Christian sources. Evil as a threatening ugly creature ready to wreck havoc upon helpless people is affirmed both in the first and fourth cluster. This image noticeably is extended upon real persons who has assumed an attitude characteristic of an evil persona e.g. bad. This means that the respondents’ image of evil is not the abstract metaphysical type but the type which is readily experienced by humanity in their own time. Although the respondents found an equally significant image of evil in the traditional biblical and Christian sources, much of their concept is not confined to the evil that guards the gates of hell. It is not primarily the threatening evil that sucks the human spirit in eternal flames. Rather, it is the threatening figure personified in malicious human undertakings that exists in the here and now. What is typical of their image is the claim of a threatening ugly image; the surprising turn of their response constitutes in this later association of evil – as a being that assumes a face in instances of malice and selfishness. This is not an imaginary picture but an image grounded on human experience. It is an image of evil engaged in concrete experience. While this visual representation is understandably striking of Filipino children their age, the same agreement is not reflected in statements that relate evil with natural causes (physical cluster). If their notion of evil is deeply ingrained in the human personality and activity, it is truly understandable that they hesitate to paint a picture of evil without the human factor such as a natural calamity. Evil is inconceivable without human participation. What Caconceived to be evil appears to be affirmed by children’s notions of evil namely: that evil relates to malice and harm. Evil is located within human activity. This insight appears to share some common ground with De Mesa’s Filipino appropriation of sin as “Pandaraya” (conveniently translated as “corruption within”). De Mesa notes that “pandaraya” (root word: “daya”, any deceitful action) is “intentional and maliciousThis hesitation is consistent with their strong orientation to link evil with malice. Interestingly the question of linking evil with malice and ‘doing good’ drew significant differences in the responses of either boy or girl. While both natural calamities and wrong human acts have destruction as their net effect, the children only found evil in wrong human acts rather than in natural phenomena.
Affirming further their orientation to link evil with malice, the respondents are
more inclined towards moral evil (cluster six) which is dependent upon the agency of human will. Apparently, this strong orientation towards the moral cluster is observed in respondents who have mostly (95%) admitted to having been punished by their parents. This response is also indicative of a certain degree of consciousness of those who are aware that evil does not enjoy epistemological independence. Since Plotinus’ adaptation of Plato’s position to exclude evil from the ranks of existing beings, evil is even more deprived of a life of its own, as non-being. However, evil is not absolutely confined in the realm of non-beings when children begin to articulate their notions. They showed evil’s
162001. 17Jose De Mesa, “Pandaraya: a contemporary Filipino term for sin?” (1st part) 24/01, vol. 40 (16), (January 26, 2009), 6-8.
affinity to wrong human activity e.g. speaking bad words, committing sins, etc. This is affirmed in recent Christian documents which insist that evil is actively present in our midst. By associating evil with malicious human activity their responses also leaned towards evil as a social construct (social cluster). After affirming the biblical notion of evil, a strong manifestation of evil is to be found in the moral and social realm. In this level the real claim of evil is in human relationships.
Character of the Pupils’ Notions from a Cultural perspective
First it shall be noted that while respondents claim their bad acts can be evil
(Moral cluster), they hesitate to issue this label (evil) upon someone who has committed a bad act. Someone who does not share the same convictions (religious) is not referred as evil. Here a flawed response is noticed in cluster three when respondents showed some hesitation in response to the statement, “evil is involved when people abuse others.” This hesitation appears not to resonate with their agreement to the statement which asked them if bad acts are associated with evil (Social cluster and Moral Cluster) and that there is an implied relationship between evil and one’s sins (Christianity cluster). This discrepancy enforces and expresses the following meanings: while abuse of others does not essentially connote an ‘evil’ (Social cluster), bad actions (Social cluster) and sins (Christianity Cluster) are tied up with what is evil. There is an observed blurring of ideas when children do not appropriate abuse of others as evil and yet say that bad acts and sins are tied up with what is evil. In this regard, evil is qualified through a distinction of the doer’s location. Bad acts committed by others are not out rightly labeled ‘evil’ while bad acts personally committed against others are evil. Clearly it is the location of the doer that determines propriety for labeling evil. A possible explanation of this discrepancy relates to the typical desire characteristic of Filipinos to seek smooth inter-personal relationships (SIR). In this response the respondents try not to offend the sensitivities of others by not giving unsolicited labels. Labeling somebody as ‘evil’ is a judgment call upon someone’s deeds. Such judgment could have been interpreted as an intrusion of one’s personal life, an act distasteful in a society that puts premium on smooth interpersonal relationships within a pluralized condition. The sense of decency in individuals within a highly pluralized situation influence people to abhor “minding other’s business”. The underlying rule, “to each his own” appears to operate silently in today’s environment. Offensive actuations such as this could be harmful to relationships which Filipinos try to preserve. Some inkling of “hiya” (a sense of decency) is being indicated. As a cultural construct “hiya” refers to the strong Filipino sense of modesty.
Second, the pupils indicated fear for both God and evil in the moral cluster.
However, they differ in their reasons for fear. Fear for God is inspired by respect for him as Creator. Such respect is engendered by the life that creatures owe their God. This fear is driven by confidence in the ever generous goodness of God. In the Filipino culture, this sentiment is reinforced in the Filipino sense of indebtedness (“utang-na-loob”, debt of gratitude). The Filipino sense of indebtedness cannot be repaid in a lifetime. It remains in the memory of the individual while s/he is alive. Such indebtedness cannot be quantified. Hence it is out of the question to settle one’s indebtedness once and for all through financial arrangements. When applied to a relationship with God such indebtedness engenders acts of personal gratitude to God who is considered the well spring of life.
Before God, this debt of gratitude is a lifetime posture simply because without God the individual cannot have life. Relating to God as Creator, the respondents maintain a healthy fear. It is a fear generated by respect of God’s awesome power and authority over creation. It is not the kind of fear generated by ill-feelings or negative dispositions towards God. In contrast, fear of evil is occasioned by a threatening character. This is fear marked by indifference. Unlike fear for God, fear in this instance is not the result of one’s choosing. They fear evil simply because they have no choice. This is fear without any sense of hope because evil is not a source of hope but of destruction.
Reflecting from the preceding explanations the dominant belief among the
respondents that evil is not afraid of God (Christianity cluster) goes against the Christian statement which declares God’s superiority over evil powers. To say that the devil, the personification of evil, is not afraid of God implies that there is a persistent belief that evil is also powerful. One implication to this thinking is that the respondents are more afraid of the devil than of God (who cannot be bad). This was indicated in many initial investigations done by this researcher from their essays. The pupils’ fear of God is very much different from their fear of evil. Being good, God does not harm people. He is love (pawang kabutihan, “pure goodness”). They are confident that God will not place them in a bad compromising situation. Their attitudes are different towards the devil. Evil breeds psychological fear in them. This fear finds expression in many situations where lawlessness, crime and abuse appear to have overpowered existing norms. In the Philippines the implication is that very young children who are engaged in some criminal acts, prohibited drugs or simply committing unlawful acts and violence would instill negative enslaving reactions upon other children. In such a situation compromising attitudes come about via evil means. Hence instances of giving way to doing bad acts despite their knowledge that bad actions are ‘evil’ are implied. Although they believe that the devil is not afraid of God, they are confident that God can do anything against evil (biblical cluster). In the final analysis, God in their notions is a more powerful Being.
By citing certain actions against parents as evil (Moral cluster), the respondents in
effect are assigning to parents the traditional moral authority accorded to them. Only a clear moral authority accorded to parents will make any action against their authority offensive. As carriers of moral authority parents perceive to be wrong those actions that seek to contest their standpoint. The rule of punishment implemented to most children (for 95% who admitted to being punished by parents) somehow could have created the impression that parental authority is vaunted and cannot be contested hence, a given. Despite the changing landscape in the Filipino family, the idea that parents still enjoy authority has remained a moral force in the Filipino family until now. This insight is shared by Lanuz who learned of the undeniable influence of the family in the youth’s life in his study on youth culture. This impression of children has drawn them strongly towards associating evil with malice in human will.
18Gerardo Lanuza, “Youth Culture and Globalization: The Articulation of tradition, modernity, and postmodernity in the youth culture of students of the University of the Philippines.” Social Science Diliman 1(1), (January-June 2000), 1-30.
The revealing results from the field demonstrated once again how religion has
remained as an imposing institution that contributed to the crystallization of respondents’ mindset. Rising above common expectations regarding evil, the respondents belonging to different age brackets from families with moderate to large sizes, conceived of evil primarily in the biblical sense. Evil remains largely representative of the dark figure described in traditional Christian and biblical sources. But such notion has noticeably graduated from the usual connotation of ‘evil’ assigned by early Spanish missionaries who applies the label to those who do not share the Christian conviction. This primary picture is highly complemented by a notion that is given life in malice demonstrated in real life situations. Evil is personified in instances of human malice. Malice is mostly confined to what harms them and also includes the offense they might have caused others. However it did not necessarily include the harm committed by someone against themselves. A unique character of their notions revealed that malice is not associated with physical destruction.
This study struck upon certain characteristics of pupils’ notions of evil with the
following insights: (1) while they judge their wrong acts as evil, such judgment need not be rendered upon others. (2) Corollary to the Christian teaching that evil finds life in occasions of malice, evil occupies a prominent place in the respondents’ concepts. (3) However it is this prominence of evil that challenges the fundamental Christian attitude which assigns the superior place of God over evil powers. (4) Through an articulation of evil notions, the respondents reclaimed the traditional role of parents in Filipino families as domestic leaders with moral authority.
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