Resist Not Evil

My definitions and usage of various terms in the following essay (e.g. “waking up,” “leap-frogging,” “The Force”) are found in the initial essays in this blog collection. See the entries posted as Front Matter and Introduction, Waking Up and Leap-Frogging.



“Resist Not Evil”


            The title of this essay is a quote from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”[1] Mahatma Gandhi meant the same thing when he said, “Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.”[2] Both Jesus and Gandhi were drawing upon a very important principle of which leap froggers, and any people interested in working for change, should be aware. The purpose of this essay is to examine this principle and relate it to the leap frog option. But before doing so, we must be clear about what is meant by “evil.”

Definitions of “Evil”

            Readers who have been through college courses in Western civ or humanities might be bracing themselves for a long philosophical disquisition, since the question of evil has occupied many philosophers over the ages. But have no fear! This will not be philosophical, although I will give a passing nod to Plato, whose definition of evil (as the absence of good) is one of the most succinct.[3] Rather than getting into philosophy, I want to review some of the practical (hands-on, useful, applicable) definitions.

            Standard dictionaries tell us that “evil” is that which is “morally bad, wrong, sinful or wicked,” that which “causes harm or injury,” that which is unfortunate. This is OK, as far as it goes, but it misses the richer meanings offered by comparative linguistics and etymology.

            The ancients understood that “evil” has three aspects: mental (what we think of as “wrong” or “bad”), physical (what we experience in our bodies as causing pain, harm or suffering), and affective or emotional (what causes negative feelings or responses, in us or in others). In this multi-level definition, “evil” is not only wickedness but also ugliness: that which is disordered or chaotic. To the ancient Greek mind there was a close link between the beautiful and the good. The Greek term for “universe” was kosmos, i.e. “that which is ordered.” The heavens and earth were orderly, and this order was regarded as beautiful and good. The Greeks regarded anything that destroyed this orderliness and beauty as “evil.”

            A few centuries after Plato and the heyday of classical Greece, when the authors of the New Testament were creating their Gospel accounts and epistles, they used three terms for “evil” that illustrate the richness of the Greeks’ thinking. The first, kakos, carries the meaning noted above: that which is bad is also that which is evil or wicked.[4] The second, poneros, carries the affective meaning of “evil” as that which causes pain or suffering.[5] The third word, used especially in the gospel of John and the epistles of John, James and Titus, is phaulos.[6] This Greek word carries the mental connotation: “evil” as that which is stupid, foolish, unwise, or thoughtless. To the Greeks, always mindful of the intellect, the fool was more likely to commit evil than the wise man.

            This is close to the modern psychological definition of evil, as developed by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung felt the most intractable root of evil was unconsciousness, being unaware of one’s lack of self-awareness.[7] Jung was familiar with St. Paul’s dictum that the root of all evil was the love of money, but Jung realized that loving money was itself more a symptom of a psychological disorder (lack of self-esteem or a basic lack of a sense of security or trust) than an originating cause. The lack of consciousness or insight into one’s personal “stuff” and how it affected daily living was what the Greek meant by phaulos. Ignorance, indifference, unconsciousness will cause suffering, harm, disorder—all forms of evil.[8]

            Beyond classical and New Testament sources, we can consider our own English language roots for further insights. What is the opposite of “evil?” Holy. The etymological root of “holy” is the Old English hal. This is also the root of our words “hale,” “health,” and “whole.” Speakers of Anglo-Saxon (the language that became the basis for modern English) felt that if you are whole (undivided, possessed of integrity) you are holy. Conversely, what is not whole, or not well is “dis-eased,” or evil. As causes of suffering, sickness could be regarded as a form of evil.

            So, let’s recap. Evil is:

·      what is morally bad or wrong (the refusal to be responsible for one’s shadow side)

·      what causes harm, injury or suffering, that “which ought not to be,”[9] the evil which is inflicted

·      what is disordered, or destructive of natural orderliness

·      what is foolish, ignorant or unknowing

·      what is unconscious or perpetuates unconsciousness (e.g. insensitivity or lack of awareness)

·      what destroys integrity, ruptures wholeness, or causes disease or pain, the evil which is undergone

These definitions give us a set of useful criteria for evaluating what is evil and what is good, without resorting to philosophical hair-splitting. We can now consider Jesus’ and Gandhi’s statements. We will do so on two levels.

Level I: The Level of Universal Law

            The Greek writer who translated Jesus’ Aramaic into the phrase “resist not evil” used a Greek verb (antistanai) that means “to set oneself against.” Jesus urged his listeners not to set themselves against what causes suffering. In other words, what we find distressful we should not resist or oppose. Gandhi similarly spoke of our duty not to cooperate with evil. What were these two wisdom figures trying to tell us? Surely not to cave in to evil, or let it run over us.

            Not at all. Both Jesus and Gandhi understood the wisdom in the universal law that says “what you resist, persists.” Another wording for this law is “Reality grows where attention goes.” That is, what you focus on, you get more of. If you focus on opposing something, you wind up actually getting more of it! Why? because your opposition sends energy to what you don’t want. The resistance you exert is a form of energy, and by focusing on the evil, you actually energize it.

            Jesus was not calling on us to succumb passively or weakly to whatever comes along, but rather to focus on the good. Your ideals and values are important. You want to stand up for them. But don’t try to do so by setting yourself against what seems to violate or challenge what you want. Rather, put your focus on, and send your energy to the good, to what you want to see more of. Don’t waste time and energy being against things, but “turn the other cheek,”[10] i.e. turn your attention in another direction, and reframe your thinking and actions so that you support and focus on the positive.

            The key principle is this: Being against something will only bring you more of it. So change your thinking. Give up resisting or opposing the evil you don’t want. Focus on the reverse of the evil, i.e. on the positive you do want.

            This is the first level interpretation. The second level draws upon psychological truth.

Level II: The Level of Psychological Truth

            At this level, Jesus’ words call on us not to resist evil, in the form of repressing what causes suffering, lest we develop neuroses. Carl Jung recognized that neurosis is the result of our attempts (quite unconscious, of course) to avoid suffering.[11] In the phenomenon known as “repression,” we grow up “stuffing” deep inside all the things that cause us pain. The more we do this, the more festering “stuff” we accumulate inside, and the more energy we have to expend in keeping it down in there. The more we resist/repress, the more we suffer. And suffering, as we noted above, is a form of evil.

            What to do? Take Jesus’ words to heart: do not resist. Do not repress, but own up to the reality of your life. The Buddha recognized that suffering is endemic to life, because we all tend to repress “stuff” as we go through life. We can’t escape suffering, but repression only makes it worse. Everyone suffers. The only sane thing for us to do is to admit it to ourselves and deal consciously with our “stuff,” however it shows up in our personal history.

            “Resist not evil” urges us not to repress our pain. But it does not encourage us to express it (which might, and very well may, cause pain for others).[12] If we are not to repress, or express, what to do? Confess. Not necessarily in the formal sense of the Roman Catholic confessional: there are many forms that “confession” can take, e.g. working with a therapist or analyst; meeting with a member of the clergy; sharing with someone who is trustworthy, able to listen well and keep his/her own counsel. The key is to get the “stuff” out, to let go of the repressive effort.

            And this means all of us, for none of us is free on this score. We all tend to repress our pain, to live with the misery that goes back to the experiences of our youth. We all succumb to the temptation to resist that which would cause us pain.

How This Relates to Waking Up and Leap Frogging

            Perhaps the connection to waking up is obvious: A big part of the process of coming to consciousness is getting wise to the habit of “stuffing.” Waking up means coming face to face with our “stuff,” which means giving up the tendency to resist/repress what causes pain.

            In the same way, when we wake up, our attitude toward disease and illness changes. In the Second Wave world, disease is regarded as “the enemy,” something to be fought with the full armamentarium of allopathic medicine marshaled to battle the invader (be it a bacterium, virus, cancer cell, etc.). People who are awake know better. They realize that any form of pain (transient or terminal, simple or complex) is a valuable message from the body for the benefit of the entire being.[13] Any form of dis-ease is trying to tell us something, and the graver the illness, the more powerful and potentially life-transforming the message is likely to be.

            And so our charge is not to do battle, but to listen, to go within, to harken to the “wisdom of the body,”[14] and to open ourselves to the deep levels of transformation that we are being called to undertake. Rather than “resist” the “evil” of sickness, we must respond to the challenges and opportunities it is offering us to reorder our lives to be more in tune with our higher wisdom.

            There is another way in which the principle “resist not evil” relates to waking up. A key element of waking up is becoming conscious of what we are manifesting in life. When we wake up, we start to recognize just what we are choosing to energize. For most of us, it comes as something of a surprise to realize that we are actually choosing to energize what comes to us. We tend to go through life on “automatic pilot,” and the realization that everything that appears in our reality we have chosen to bring to ourselves—this usually gives us pause. As we “wake up,” we begin to recognize the various ways we sabotage ourselves, draw to us things/persons/experiences that cause pain or dis-integration, of one form or another. For most of us, we find that it requires conscious effort to watch our thoughts, to change our beliefs and attitudes, and to reframe our actions so as to focus on the positive that we want to enjoy. (And for some of us, particularly those with low self-esteem, conscious effort must go into re-visioning our basic self-image, so that we feel worthy of having good things in our lives).

            “Resist not evil” also relates to leap frogging, for leap-frogging seeks to change the world by trying the untried. Leap froggers are change agents. They have to understand change, know how to change and be able to work with the Universal Laws that relate to change, a key one of which is this: “Reality grows where attention goes.”

            No effort in life really works well that tries to defy the Universal Laws. So leap froggers have to be “for” things rather than “against” things. All leap-frog activities have to focus on the good we want to see, rather than striving to fight what we don’t want to see. We must energize a positive reality and be driven by positive visions, not negatives. It is, therefore, not enough to know what you don’t want, or what you want to change. You must also know and hold in mind what you do want, the desirable, positive, beneficial reality that frees, releases and empowers you and others.

            Here are some concrete examples:

_ Fred was a prosperous businessman who was astonished to discover a depth of poverty in his community that he never realized had existed. Hundreds of people each year experienced hunger to the point of severe malnutrition and physical debility, in one of the world’s richest countries. Appalled at this state of affairs, Fred was determined to do everything he could to fight this poverty. He contacted a national organization called “End Poverty Now!” and rallied his business colleagues to form a branch of the organization in their region. They poured money into it, set up food banks and expended tremendous time, energy and personal resources into doing everything they could to fight poverty. Poverty became Fred’s obsession for several years. But, for all their efforts, the group never succeeded in eliminating poverty. Why? The Universal Law suggests that these well-intentioned folks were actually energizing the poverty they wanted to eliminate. Far better would it be to form a group focused on abundance and providing food for all. Putting the conscious focus on the positive—food, nutrition, nourishment, abundance—would energize what they wanted to bring about.

_ Roxanne was a victim of domestic violence who managed to get out of a very bad marriage with the determination to help other women in similar circumstances. She heard about a group called SAFE (Stop Abuse and Female Exploitation) and for a while she worked with them. But nothing ever seemed to change. Over time, as Roxanne worked on herself and got wise to her “stuff,” she came to realize that there really are no “victims” in the world. She had drawn to herself just the right man to help her deal with her own issues, and her personal experiences of suffering, while not pleasant, could be viewed as a “gift” that helped her be more empathic and understanding of women in abusive relationships. But SAFE was not the way to go about dealing with this issue. Roxane got out of that organization and set up a very different group, focused on building strong families, providing loving homes for children, and empowering women to develop their full potential. Roxane came to realize the need to energize the positive: domestic harmony, families that work, and caring environments for children.

_ Sally sought to end racism and sexism in her culture. She knew this was a huge challenge, given the many centuries of tradition that lay behind the way blacks and women were treated. Sally intuitively knew that the “same old, same old” ways would not work. She needed to try something new. A reperception was a basic necessity. Being against racism and sexism really meant that Sally wanted to foster an environment in which all people are valued and respected as precious and unique human beings. Therefore, the focus of Sally’s organization became equality, respect, diversity, and complementarity—all positives that are the flip side of the negatives associated with racism and sexism.


            In Jesus’ sermon, the sentence immediately following “resist not evil” urges “turn the other cheek.” That is, Jesus suggests that we ignore what is not desirable, i.e. turn away. Don’t even look at it, for Jesus knew that the simple act of looking at evil sends it energy. So, when you come upon something that is morally wrong, causing suffering, creating disorder, or fostering disease, leave it be and set about the work of realizing a positive replacement. Energize what you want to manifest in its place. And, if all this seems inconsequential—that the simple act of re-perceiving is somehow too trivial—remember that “Mind is the builder,”[15] so how you think about reality is the very important first step in changing it.

Some Questions for Reflection

As you read this essay, what was your reaction to the idea that we all have “stuff” that we have resisted/repressed? Can you identify some of the contents of your unconscious that have been repressed for years?

Have you ever participated in groups that were actively working against something? If so, can you reframe their goals to focus on the positive?

What values and ideals do you hold dear that might inform your leap-frogging activities? How might these manifest in concrete actions?


For Further Reading

Cousins, Norman (1979), Anatomy of an Illness. New York: W.W. Norton.

Jung, Carl (1954), “The Development of Personality,” Collected Works, 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” Collected Works, 11, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lammers, Ann Conrad (1994), In God’s Shadow: The Collaboration of Victor White and C.G. Jung. New York: Paulist Press.

Pelletier, Kenneth (1979), Holistic Medicine: From Stress to Optimum Health. New York: Delta/Seymour Lawrence.

Ponder, Catherine (1962), The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity. Marina del Rey CA: DeVorss & Co.

Ponder, Catherine (1966), The Dynamic Laws of Healing. Marina del Rey CA: DeVorss & Co.

Thurston, Mark (1996), The Great Teachings of Edgar Cayce. Virginia Beach: A.R.E. Press.



[1]Matt. 5:39.

[2]Quoted in Brussat & Brussat (1996), 324.

[3] For a thorough discussion of evil as privatio boni in Christian theological tradition and the philosophy of Carl Jung, see Lammers (1994), 179-195.

[4] Cf. Matt. 6:34; 24:48; 27:23; Mark 9:39; Luke 16:25; John 18:23; Acts 7:6; 7:19; 9:13; 14:2; 19:9; 23:5, 9; Rom. 1:30; 2:9; 7:19, 21; 12:17; 12:21; 13:3-4; 14:20; 16:19; I Cor. 10:6; 13:5; 15:33; Eph. 4:31; Phil. 3:2; Col. 3:5; I Thes. 5:15; I Tim. 6:10; 2 Tim. 2:9; Titus 1:12; Heb. 5:14; James 3:8; I Pet. 2:12,14; 3:9-10,17; 4:15; 3 John 11; Rev. 2:2.

[5] Cf. Matt. 5:11,37,39,45; 7:11,18; 9:4; 12:34,35,39; 15:19; Mark 7:23; Luke 3:19; 6:22,35,45; 7:21; 8:2; John 3:19; 7:7; 17:15; Acts 19:12,15; Rom. 12:9; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 5:16; 6:13; I Thes. 5:22; 2 Thes. 3:3; I Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 3:13; 4:18; Heb. 3:12; 10:22; James 2:4; 4;16; I John 3:12.

[6] Cf. John 3:20; 5:29; Rom. 9:11; Titus 2:8; James 3:16.

[7] Jung (1969), 197. Cf. Lammers (1994), 193. Jung believed all persons have an innate “drive to consciousness.” To resist this, he felt, was a form of evil because it hindered integration.

[8] I.e. the form of evil Ann Lammers describes as “the evil of history,” to distinguish it from the “evil of myth”—a distinction Jung himself never made, but which helps to clarify his thinking on the subject; see Lammers (1994), 180-184.

[9] Ibid., 181, citing the Anglican theologian Richard Norris.

[10] This is the second half of the verse in Matt. 5:39.

[11] Jung (1954), 78.

[12] Expression is fine, in an appropriate venue, like bodywork, the therapeutic setting, some forms of art or dance therapy, etc.

[13] Cousins (1979), 90, 92, 107.

[14] The idea that the body has a wisdom of its own is a cardinal tenet of the holistic health movement. The phrase “wisdom of the body” is the title of a 1932 book by Walter B. Cannon; see Pelletier (1979), 100.

[15] This is a key teaching of Edgar Cayce; see Thurston (1996) for a detailed explanation of this and other Cayce principles.

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