The Problem with Good and Evil

Published by Lemex in the blog Lemex's Blog. Views: 261

['Politicians hide themselves away, they only started the war. Why should they go out to fight? They leave that all to the poor' - Black Sabbath, War Pigs]

I have been seeing a lot of talk about 'good' and 'evil' on the forum lately, and I find it interesting because I am of the mind set that Good and Evil are almost useless in their vagueness and arbitrariness.

To me good and evil is best summed up with the moral dilemma presented in Paradise Lost by John Milton, which is one of my favorite books ever written. The line ''tis better to Reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n' is the best example I can think of for why I have such a problem with slapping the labels 'good' and 'evil' around.

Is it better to rule in hell than serve in heaven? The question to me does not mean literal hell or literal heaven, or being near god or far away from god. To me the question of which is better comes down to free will. Satan in Paradise Lost is presented with a clear choice, he could stay in Heaven and find joy in doing god's work, but he would have to conform, or he could rule in Hell, and have his will done, but he would be forever pained by the unseeable fire of guilt and having to face the consequences of his actions.

What is interesting in this is that Satan is characterized in the poem so well. He is clearly capable of anger and wrath, but he also has a charm, a sense of humor, and subtleties, and he is a genuinely tragic hero because he was ultimately betrayed by his own vanity.

Over the course of Paradise Lost Satan is turned from a beaten yet brave and very human figure, wronged by god's beneficence into a serpent running away from Eden. The Images of the book turn from striking and dramatic (such as Satan descending through the universe and chaos and falling into a lake of fire and the rebel angels waking up in a dark cavernous place illuminated briefly by that same fire) to images that are mundane and uninteresting. Is this Satan's punishment for defending his own freedom, or a symbol for realizing that actions have consequences, or was Satan purely 'evil'?

This is not to say that Paradise Lost is really about the Fall of Man. It is clearly a poem of it's time: the aftermath of the English Civil War and the Restoration of the monarchy; but it leads to an interesting dilemma all the same.

'tis better to Reign in Hell, than serve in heav'n'

Is it better to be free and unhappy or at least partially repressed and happy? Is it better to grow and mature or be forever young. Heav'n and Hell can, after all, mean different things to different people - but with a question like this being applied to two figures traditionally associated with the dramatic divide between 'Good' and 'Evil' it becomes very hard to hold the opinion that Good and Evil really exist. Instead it seems to me that 'Good' and 'Evil', like 'Heaven' and 'Hell', are entirely subjective.
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