The acknowledgment of evil as an undesirable and fearsome force, capable of individual or collective harm, is known in virtually every culture of the world. Ancient man sought answers to questions ranging from how the universe came to be to why man’s life must ultimately come to an end. The grandeur and complexity of the cosmos and human life led inquisitive man to seek answers outside of his immediate realm, beyond the natural world. Consequently, he sought answers from forces beyond his immediate control, powers or spirits that at times favored him and at other times opposed him. These forces he could only deduce were divine in nature, possessing qualities and temperaments similar to those experienced by humans. Consequently, a pantheon was created, an order of divine beings independent of mortal man yet intricately related to the created world, life, and human history.
In the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the one true revealed God is accepted as Creator, fully omnipotent, fully omniscient, and fully good toward mankind and the created order. A covenantal relationship was established between God and man, which each religion understands and implements differently. Nevertheless, evil exists and wreaks havoc of all sorts, thus challenging people of faith to take a closer, more insightful look at the nature and intricacies of evil and how it relates to the already well-established premise of an all-loving and all-powerful God (known as theodicy). However, every religion, on the basis of its understanding of evil, also utilizes means to minimize or eradicate evil’s power or influence over persons or in areas populated by people. Meg Greenfield, in writing about the tragedy of the Jim Jones cult in Ghana (Newsweek, Dec. 4, 1978, p. 131) indicated the dangers of simplifying the problem of evil, characterizing it as “the dark impulses that lurk in every private psyche”, a “jungle (that) is only a few yards away” from each of us.
This elective will study the concept of evil from the perspective of both an ontological force (demonology) and the voluntary rejection and absence of good. The understanding of evil from various ideologies and religions will then be explored, with particular emphasis on the Judaeo-Christian Tradition. Following a historical survey of how ancient indigenous cultures throughout the world dealt with the problem of evil and evil spirits (magic, shamanism, witchcraft, necromancy, mantras, and other rituals), attention will be given to the Eastern Church’s practice of baptismal exorcisms and their theological significance vis-à-vis Christian salvation. Exorcism prayers from the sacrament of baptism will then be examined, in addition to isolated prayers of exorcism performed in individual cases of adults. Finally, the course will briefly look at the Roman Catholic order of exorcists and unique cases of actual exorcisms performed in both the East and West, highlighting the meaning and ramifications of such an activity within the Christian life.
This class begins Tuesday, January 15, 2019. For information on registering for this course for credit or auditing, call 412-321-8383.