Wicked Or Evil?
By: Thomas M. Ciesla

Halloween – all Hollow's Eve – offers both children and adults a 'fun' side and a 'dark' side. The fun side involves little ghosts and goblins knocking on our doors and scratching on our windows, yelling, “TRICK OR TREAT!” For adults it's an excuse to be kids again and play dress up in their favorite (mostly normal but sometimes erotic) costumes.

The dark side of Halloween often involves destructive behaviors, satanic cults, odd rituals and sometimes sacrifices. Granted these elements are present in society all year long, but for some individuals, Halloween is a perfect excuse to let it 'all hang out.' In recent decades, there has been a disturbing trend for the dark side to encroach on the fun side, as witnessed by various acts of razor blades hidden in apples and candy laced with poison. Most believe that these atrocities are perpetrated by wicked, evil individuals who should be caught and punished. Wicked or evil, which is it? Why is it that some things are wicked and others evil, but few if any are both? Let's turn to the dictionary for help:

The Random House College Dictionary defines wicked as: “evil, morally bad in principle or practice,” and evil as “morally wrong; wicked.” So it would seem that beyond the circuitous looping of definitions, 'wicked' is a bit more than 'naughty', and a bit less than being 'evil'.

Wickedness, it has been said, exists in all of us, whereas few of us aspire to embark on a life of evil. Wickedness, unlike evil, also holds a curious attractiveness for us; many of our cultural icons are 'wicked', from Madonna to Rap singers, to professional sports stars. How many of us, both male and female, find themselves drawn to the leather clad, motorcycle-driving rebels in popular films? Men live their lives vicariously through them and women are attracted to that 'bad boy' persona? Indeed, it could be said that wickedness is the engine that drives the Hollywood film industry. Actors and actresses throw tantrums, excess in drugs and alcohol, crash their vehicles, wind up in rehab, yet in the end, we forgive them and want to be just like them. We just love that wickedy, wicked behavior.

The word Evil is used to describe acts and ideas that bring about suffering, death and destruction. Many western societies adhere to the dualism of 'good and evil' as fixed concepts established by God, nature or some other authority. In this duality, one force balances the other, maintaining the overall harmony of things – God versus Satan, Heaven versus Hell. Yet this view is not without its critics. St. Thomas Aquinas saw evil as a privation or absence of good, and believed that all realities are in themselves good. At the other end of the spectrum, a basic tenet of Buddhism is that evil is the active principle of the universe and good is no more than an illusion. In between these two, Tolkiens “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is based on the Christian philosophy that evil is a perverseness of goodness. Therefore it is a not a fundamental reality and cannot exist on its own. You can have good without evil, but not evil without good.

Wickedness is normally attributed to a personal behavior, whereas evil is often used to describe someone or something. Evil is also frequently described as an entity unto itself. Dr. Brian Conor, a former Baptist pastor says that, “Evil is not a concept, but a living force.' In speeches following the 9/11 disaster, President George W. Bush spoke first of 'evil-doers' and later referred to the “Axis of Evil.'

The President's usage of those terms highlights the existence of some unwritten protocol regarding the usage of wicked and evil. For example, 'evil-doer' sounds fine, but wicked-does not. Likewise, 'Axis of Evil' gets the point across, but “axis of wickedness' somehow misses it. And everyone knows that you're in big trouble when someone gives you the 'evil-eye', but 'wicked-eye' doesn't make much sense. The proper usage of evil versus wicked is similar to St. Augustine's famous quote about time: “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know. If I wish to explain it to someone who asks, I know it not.” As with time we seem to instinctively know when to use wicked rather evil, but if asked to define either, we run for the dictionary.

A major issue here is that the definition of evil is subjective. Social and moral standards affect what we perceive as 'evil'. Accidental death and disease are considered evils, though some cultures see these things as part of the natural order. For most of us, crashing planes into office towers is an evil act, yet for followers of extremist Islam, it was a noble act. Similarly, what we see as terrorists, others may view as 'freedom fighters.'

Would you judge the following as wicked or evil?

  • Pinocchio
  • King Lear
  • Osama Bin Laden
  • Gandhi
  • Darth Vader
  • Morbius (in the 1950's movie, Forbidden Planet)
  • Neo ( in the movie series, Matrix)
  • Nazism
  • Communism
  • Capitalism
  • Nietzsche

Remember, the definitions depend on your perspective. These days wicked is even used as slang for 'good' or 'cool'. By that standard, when the witch in Mcbeth says that, "Something wicked this way comes", she must be talking about the new Ferrari -- one wicked machine!