Let me add a few clarifications to my last post.
The point I was making wasn't that modern people can't use the term "evil." Nor am I denying that once the term "evil" is admitted into human discourse that it might end up doing more harm than good. It might be safer, sociologically speaking, to keep the category evil on the shelf. This was, incidentally, the major theme of my series on monsters. It was the recognition that, while the monster category names something real in our experience (malevolent and violent Otherness), it is very often misused and applied to innocent people. This is vividly on display in the gospels. Jesus is accused of being demon-possessed and in league with the devil. Jesus is crucified and, thus, "cursed." And yet, Jesus is declared innocent by the Roman solider at the foot of the cross. This is the key to Rene Girard's reading of the gospel: Jesus, the innocent one, exposes how humans use religion (the Sanhedrin) and politics (Pilate and Herod) to justify violence.
All this is granted.
The point of the last post is that science has created means--biology (medicine, genetics) and the social sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology)--to explain human behavior. And when science has done its work with cases like Hitler we still feel that there is a residual, that some aspect of Hitler cannot be reduced to a scientific account. What we call evil is the experience of that residual. And, thus, by definition, evil can't be a scientific term. Evil is the malevolent residual that cannot be "explained" by the disciplines of psychology or psychiatry.
Again, to be clear, I'm not granting ontological status to this residual, saying that the residual is real. Of course, it could be. But science would deny that claim. That is all well and good. But what I am speaking about is phenomenological, the experience of a residual. Leaving metaphysics aside, it is a fact that the experience of this residual is real and pervasive, among the religious and non-religious. And, like it or not, the vocabulary of science, by definition, can't speak to or describe this experience. That's no fault of science. I'm just saying that science isn't poetry. Science is wonderful at describing the physical structure of the world but it does a crappy job at describing human experience.
By definition, religion is the vocabulary of the residual. Religion provides us language that is metaphysical or supernatural. Language of the residual. This is why I made the point in the last post that evil is a religious term, religion and evil speak to the experience of the residual, what lies outside the categories of science.
And yes, as I said above, I am aware of the dangers of reifying the category of evil. But I think everyone can agree that, as a phenomenological term, evil is speaking to the experience of a malevolent residual.
And here's my second point: This assessment is widely granted. It is simply one of the widely recognized symptoms of modernity. In a disenchanted age we lack the language to name our experience of the residual. We all have residual experiences but the only language that names these experience is "superstitious," the vocabulary of enchantment.
Let me give an example of what I'm talking about. Consider the movie Silence of the Lambs. It is a movie about evil and the experience of the residual. Hannibal Lecter, M.D. is the incarnation of evil. He is also one of the world's leading psychiatrists. Consequently, we are told in the movie, Dr. Lector can't be assessed or diagnosed with psychological and diagnostic tests. Lector can beat these tests. It's language of conquest. More, Lector can defeat, on their own terms and at their own game, the world's best forensic psychologists. In short, in Lector we see the defeat of science. Evil tosses around the tools of science as if they were child's toys, mere playthings. There is something in Lector that cannot be captured by psychology or science. Lector is a silver screen depiction of the residual. And we recognize and name that residual evil.
And this is only one example. In movies, novels and TV shows we see this same theme emerge time and time again. The truly evil character defeats the scientific experts. These experts often, then, turn to religious figures. They might wander into a church looking for answers or consult a priest. The character might start to pray. The experience of evil--the residual--draws the characters, as a last resort, to the religious vocabulary. Why? Because the person they are chasing is beyond criminal, beyond human categories. And, just as often, we see the truly evil antagonist defeat these religious shock troops. Hollywood knows it needs the language of the residual, the vocabulary of religion, to make movies which speak to human experience. Screenwriters are artists, not scientists. So they get what I'm talking about. But that doesn't mean that Hollywood is going to embrace organized religion! So priests in the movies are often killed by the evil figure (usually because the priest is a hypocrite). Regardless, the defeat of evil is going to rely on some sort of self-sacrificing goodness. The main plot of the movie is figuring out where that goodness is going to come from.
In sum, I don't think what I'm saying about evil, science and religion is all that new or controversial. It's simply an observation of what we see all around us.
Just go to the movies.
On to Part 4
Let me add a few clarifications to my last post.