What do you think is the root cause for humans treating others so badly?  Money, religion, death, imperfect evolution, ...

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I'd rather say "greed", money and the love of it can be a good thing, if viewed as a physical manifestation of effort or work; i.e. a token representing what one has produced or contributed. As such money is a reward (motivator) for producing wealth or value.

If wealth is viewed as something which can't be produced and must be taken (or lied for) greed can lead to people doing bad things to take what they want or need.

As I'm writing a dissertation I have to add: (Rand, 1957).

First, I don't frame questions of morality with religious terms such as "evil". Second, I don't simplify my moral universe by imagining there is a "root cause" for human beings treating one another badly. I think the universe is far more nuanced and complex. More like this

Than like this

Evil exists, and it is not a religious term. 

Yes, Luara, evil does exist. The murderous psychopath is an extreme example of this evil. Saying that such people and things are not evil shows that you have no understanding of the subject of evil. Certainly this kind of "evil" is not a religious subject.

The concept of evil becomes religious only when we say that its source is an evil spirit, and thereby evade our own human responsibility for it.

Though the word 'evil' did not begin as a religious term, strictly speaking, in today's English parlance, it is most definitely related to anything not in line with morality/religion. Morality itself is from French, it defines the rules of conduct. Rules set forth by the churches, evil is that which disobeys church doctrines.

Atheists would indeed benefit from not using this term, and consider each gesture of human kind based on its impact on the rest of life, and not just human life.

I think it is fear. Fear they will not get everything they need (and want.)  There won't be enough to go around and someone else will get what should be coming to them.

I've always thought of evil as enjoying hurting another person or animal.  

Of course in my use of the word, when I get upset with someone, I tend to use it to mean making other's life unpleasant by being uncaring.  It just expresses my strong feeling about the matter.

I think Ruth has made an interesting comment also.  I've stopped using most religious words, but I still use evil when I feel strongly about something because I haven't found another word to replace it.

There are a few other religious words or phrases that I've not found a good replacement for.  I don't use them when taking to others and I miss using them.  Some are:  "Ugly as sin", "Satanic", Son of Satan", and "Bitch of Satan".

I've always thought of evil as enjoying hurting another person or animal. 

That is sadism :)

But yes, even though I'm a third generation atheist, I've only in my 40s begun to cleanse my vocabulary of stupid faith parlance. It is a large task!

Yes people can become what I call evil.  We have a moral nature, and when people hurt others longterm, they have to make excuses for it and go into denial.  So there is a part of them that hurts people, that is dissociated from an obvious cause.  

This can start with children.  Some children who grow up in an abusive family, cope with it by identifying with the abusive parent and hurting other children or animals.  They may be a favorite of the abuser, they have it relatively easy compared to the child who's the scapegoat of the abusers.  And when they grow up, hurting is a part of their personality, but a dissociated part - they don't know why they hurt, they don't think of themselves as hurtful people. 

Honesty is crucial for getting out of this.  But it's very difficult because it's a terrible thing to acknowledge that one has caused so much terrible pain.  People may be forced into honesty if they're convicted of a crime.  Repentance, recognizing that they have hurt people and saying they're sorry, might be crucial too. 

Not only does evil exist, there's an anatomy of evil.  Obeying orders to hurt people is an aspect of evil, and perhaps it comes from that identifying with the abuser mentality.  Evil people are in some way dead inside, their being is diminished. 

This is separate from shaming evil people, making them "other".  You can see evil as simply a phenomenon, a very real human possibility. 

Religions incorporate this understanding of evil, repentance and honesty, but it isn't inherently linked to anything miraculous. 

Discarding this understanding of evil along with the miraculous assumptions is dangerous.  It could dehumanize us and legitimize evil. 

I don't know how evil relates to sexual sadists.  The S&M people have their own ethics and as long as the object of their sadism consents, I don't know that it's evil. 

Laura, your understanding of psychology is as good as your understanding of physics.  But let me add one point, extending your statement Obeying orders to hurt people is an aspect of evil.

Many of the soldiers who are suffering from PTSD as a result of their time in Iraq and Afghanistan have had moral injuries.  They are haunted by the harm that they have done to other people, even if they have done it under orders or according to the rules of engagement.   They have committed evil, they feel ashamed and guilty, and they cannot accept themselves for having done that.

And even that is "nurtured" not innate. It all depends what form of "morality" one is inculcated with in the formative years.

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