I was brought up in the Catholic Church in the diocese of El Paso Texas. We did Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Sundays and all the religious holidays. We did the Advent Wreath, early morning Christmas mass. I was a curious altar boy as none of the robes fit.
In this context, evil was defined as sin, as a cause, and as a reduction point. We were all sinners and had to avoid sin at all costs or Hell would flag at us after dying. There were also evil people in the world. That’s an exaggeration. We grew up with the typical cast of characters: Christ, the Devil, the Holy Spirit, and Mary and Pilot and Judas. First Communions came. We got our missals (I lost mine and still kick myself for it). But I also grew up surrounded by stories of World War II and the Holocaust. My nightmares were filled with images of being lost deep in Nazi Germany. I grew up with the language of fascism and communism, all the scares of the 50s and 60s. But the neighborhood was also nicely multicultural. So much so that we never really took on the language of race or ethnicity. We knew everyone by their names. The Enemy was defined as “anyone we didn’t know.”
In Anglo-Saxon cultures, the word evil was attributed to bad behavior. They could be seen as synonymous and thus syncretically meshed well into the growing spread of Christianity out of the historical periods.
A list could certainly be drafted providing all the senses of the term evil. Evil as cause, however, or as adjective or as philosophical quandary, as in the “problem of evil,” or as a noun all need qualification beyond those attributions and formulae.
At some point, Hitler and Komisarjevsky lost their sense of empathy, their ability to see others as human within the universe of humanity. The better formal educators I had about this question of empathy were Borowski, Baldwin, Garcia Marquez, and numerous other poets, even Roddenberry. Borowski didn’t have answers to causality. But he had a powerful sense of irony.
I really don’t think my ideas about evil are all that interesting. To me, the notions it evokes are just irrelevant.