The Many Shades of Good and Evil

Are people basically good or evil? Such a broad and introspective question brings many other factors into the answer.  For example, are good and evil universal concepts? Are those concepts applied evenly?  Reading Emergency Sex has given me a clearer view of certain abhorrent situations around the world, and also how they affect the three aid workers.  In order to understand if people are good or evil, I have to first understand what is viewed as good or evil.  Cultures vary greatly; religion, geography, climate, foreign control and government are just a few factors that can influence how culture develops.


Religion or reverence of the supernatural has historically been one of the biggest factors in shaping culture.  For example, the Abrahamic faiths all support a form of similar rules, the Ten Commandments.  While the Quran only mentions the actual commandments briefly, it still contains similar teachings like, “you shall not take life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does God command you, that you may learn wisdom.” So, cultures with a history of Abrahmic faith may have developed under similar teachings. However, religious practices even among these faiths vary greatly, and their interpretations have been the subject of many conflicts.  Further, Taoism and Buddhism can be practiced in tandem, but they still differ in their core teachings.  Before writing this essay I leaned towards thinking religion would imbue cultures with at least a little ‘good,’ but there have been so many wars and killings with religious motives that this conclusion seems false.  Religion helps shape the structure, laws and hierarchy of a culture, but this doesn’t make it inherently good.  I also don’t think that practices are uniform enough to be able to say there is a pattern of good or evil.


One of the biggest pitfalls of trying to write this essay is not judging a particular culture by its most significant figures or events.  For example, the Aztecs practiced a religion that included human sacrifice, but is that emblematic of all the Aztec people? Did they all condone this behavior?  I think the many cultures’ views of good and evil are beginning to unite as technology gives greater connectedness.  Murder as opposed to self defense and retribution for crimes committed against another are a few examples of widely practiced customs.  Isolation facilitated cultures growing in different directions, but not we have global organizations that attempt to bridge those gaps.


So, are people basically good or evil?  I think people and cultures have a propensity for both.  Factors like government and religion can shape how good or evil take shape, but there still isn’t a uniform idea of what those shapes are.  Modern technology is helping the world define these concepts in a more concrete, universal way.  I’d argue that this organization, this attempt to bridge cultures and create a world with shared values is evidence that the tendency toward good is inherently stronger than the tendency toward evil.


Cain, Kenneth, Postlewait, Heidi and Thomson, Andrew. “Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures.” London. 2004.


Padukone, Neil. Do Abrahamic Faiths Have a Monopoly on Truth? Huffington Post. June 3, 2012. Web. June 24, 2013.


Winkelman, Michael.  Aztec Human Sacrifice: Cross-Cultural Assessments of the Ecological Hypothesis.    University of Pittsburgh. 1998. Web.  June 24, 2013.



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