"Moral Evil" ($32.95 in paperback from Georgetown University Press; also in Amazon Kindle format), by Andrew Michael Flescher, might seem a strange holiday topic. Yet, ultimately, while fully recognizing the sometimes horrifying nature of human existence, it is a book of measured hope.
Andy Flescher taught in the Religious Studies department at Chico State University and is now, according an author's note, "a member of the Core Faculty, Program in Public Health, associate professor of preventive medicine, and associate professor of English at Stony Brook University" in New York. But put all that aside. His probing study of moral evil (and natural evil, too, such as a devastating tsunami) is brilliantly clear and mostly jargon free, well worth pondering.
The core of the book is a description of four (sometimes overlapping) ways of looking at moral evil, each put in conversation with the others. In the last chapter Flescher moves from description to prescription, suggesting the most satisfying (and hopeful) understanding of moral evil involves combining Augustine's evil-as-privation view with Aristotle's virtue ethics view of character development.
Augustine's view sees "evil as the absence of goodness," a lack of being what we should be when we do what we shouldn't or fail to do what we ought. We are no stranger to this evil--it seems part of the human condition.
A second view of moral evil envisions it in Manichean terms, evil as a substantial opposing force "radically separate from the good." This is "evil as the presence of badness"; the battle against evil may never be won. A third view proposes a theodicy, a justification of the ways of God to man, suggesting that evil is really a kind of good if we could only understand the larger picture. It is"evil as the presence of goodness." Finally, evil is only in the eye of the beholder, just a label some people slap on the actions of those they don't like. It is "evil as the absence of badness."
For Flescher, evil is a privation; in response we must "introduce goodness" with "actions that reveal a commitment to the building and rebuilding of human community and connection" and "go out of our way to choose the good." There is Hope.