How Do We Define Evil?

We are missing language that we need

Mike Meyer


Photo by Tech Nick on Unsplash

by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ February 2, 2022

We need to redefine evil. We've lost the use of a crucial word.

The old meaning of evil is still relevant, but its use has become archaic and archaic words don't make it into our daily media. We think we recognize evil but have trouble using it in declarative sentences.

This abandonment of evil is an unfortunate consequence of traditional religion's long, slow death. Those religions defined evil as a product of anthropomorphized mythical forces of nature. Evil was inflicted on people by mythological creatures rather than seen as a product of people.

As mythological religions failed and, themselves, became toxic, the word evil also became toxic. In polite society, we don't call religions evil even if we see them as such.

We know too many people who still define themselves by those religions and are not evil. Evil, then, is too entangled to be safely used for anything.

As religions have failed, they are replaced by science and understanding of evolutionary change as a universal characteristic of our universe. The religious and mythological concept of evil opposed the good and could not be reformed as it was a force coming from an imaginary source. That does not fit the modern idea of change, progress, and rehabilitation.

Evil was just too harsh. It could not be rehabilitated and was a counter to human progress. But we are at the end of that era of modernity. We rediscover evil, but we don't know how to redefine it.

It is tough to work with things that don't have a name with a strong enough meaning. We then realize we are, somehow, minimizing something that we should not be underestimating.

This public underestimation is the case with the rise of fascist and racist movements that seek to destroy representative government. The growing concern with failures to recognize the threat of these evil movements is seen as inexplicable.

We need to redefine evil to tag these movements as deadly. Evil is not just annoying, exploitive, criminal, or stupid but deadly on a planetary scale. That is an appropriate definition of evil in the 21st…



Mike Meyer

Writer, Educator, Campus CIO (retired) . Essays on our changing reality here, news and more at