All religions teach the difference between good and evil, but have different beliefs about evil and suffering.
The two types of evil
Religion has a great deal to say about 'good' and 'evil'. Religious leaders and sacred texts all encourage believers to live 'good' lives. The problem of evil and suffering is one of the commonest reasons people give for not believing in God.
There are two types of evil:
- natural evil - suffering caused by events that have nothing to do with humans, and which are to do with the way the world is, eg, natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, floods or earthquakes
- moral (or human) evil - suffering caused by humans acting in a way that is considered morally wrong eg, bullying, murder, rape, theft or terrorism
Human evil and natural evil can often work together, with human evil making natural evil worse – or better! For example, the suffering caused by an earthquake or floods can be made worse by people looting, but it can be made more bearable by people showing compassion and making personal sacrifices to help those who are suffering.
It is important to remember that: 'evil' is a cause of suffering; 'suffering' is a result of evil.
What does Hinduism teach about good and evil?
- The law of karma says that every action has consequences.
- Pain, suffering and any kind of misfortune have not been imposed on people by God. Nor are these things due to the actions of anyone else. It is the same for good things that happen. Things happen because of the law of karma.
- Reward and punishment do not always come in this life. They might come in a future rebirth – eg, a good person might be reborn into a rich family as a reward for good deeds in a previous life.
- Evil and suffering should not be seen as unfair. Suffering in this life is because of behaviour in a previous life.
- Every living being has an inner spirit – the atman. The atman is eternal, perfect and indestructible. The Atman is born into one physical body, and when that body dies it is reborn into another body. This endless cycle of life, death and rebirth is called samsara.
- It is possible to be released from samsara and to reach moksha, which is union with Brahman (God).
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