Evil as Vice

  • Daryl Koehn


The oldest Western religious conceptions of evil have little to do with malice and everything to do with painful frustration. Kukía, the New Testament Greek word for evil, refers to anything that impedes human thriving—sickness, disease, loss, misfortune.1 The early Christian writer Valentinus defined evil as anguish and terror.2 The ancient Hebrew word for evil—ra c —similarly equates evil with identity-threatening anxiety, a sense of worthlessness, and sadness.3 Paul Ricoeur has argued that the early Hebrews thought our primordial experience of evil was one of dread.4 These views are consistent with the views of ancient tribal peoples who identified evil with illness and death, not with malice or trespass.5 Sandra Bloom goes so far as to claim that “in every culture evil has been associated with calamity, misfortune, sorrow, and suffering and, therefore, with traumatic experience.”6 In all the early views, natural cataclysms or accidents, as well as human actions, qualify as evil insofar as they cause human beings to suffer.


Virtuous Action Wisdom Tradition Involuntary Action Church Father Lisbon Earthquake 
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© Daryl Koehn 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daryl Koehn

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