The Argument From Evil

There are evil things in the world, of course, but too often “evil” is a category that helps us to avoid thinking. When I mention a political figure, some will grapple with that person’s ideas. Others, far too many, will accuse her or him of hostility, evil, secret origins or nefarious aims. It is as if they cannot imagine that someone with good intentions would think other than they do or act in different ways from their own dispositions.

This same smooth thoughtlessness strikes in religion. Our own faith is, of course, well thought out and sensible. The other person’s is fanatic, delusional and perhaps dangerous. Where is the imaginative empathy that lets us understand that different experiences often results in different conclusions?

When the Rabbis say of contradictory arguments that both are the words of the living God, they pay tribute to the plurality of visions and even truths in the world. The renowned Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who died last week, used to insist that rather than teaching “either/or” we should teach “both/and.” Not everything is fair game — there is good and evil. But how much better if we were more humble, tried more earnestly to understand different views and less sure of the infallibility of our own judgments.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), has recently been published.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.