So far, when I have offered examples of what I call radical evil, I have stuck to pretty shocking examples, easily discernible among the plethora of images and facts around us. The crimes of totalitarian regimes; the horror of the murderous psychopath or psychotic run amok; the depersonalized, institutionalized violence of whole systems that destroy human life - it is easy enough to pick these out and say, "This is what I'm talking about." Yet, not all evil announces itself in such a shocking manner. For the most part, evil is insidious. The reason that serpent in the Garden is often conflated with Satan (without any textual merit, I might add) is because of the careful nature of the way it frames its temptation to the woman. This isn't the bold demand of obedience or death. This is the quiet whisper, the question that prompts more questions, and questions that spur doubt, and doubt that spurs rationalizations. Rather than Linda Blair painted green and puking soup on a priest, we have evil here as the beautiful young woman of Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ, telling us what we want to hear, feeding us our own doubts, prompting us to take the easier road.
What, then, do we do? How do we understand this part of the anatomy of evil, as it were? The questions we ask, the doubts we raise, the fears we articulate - how do we know if they are the honest expression of our own limited understanding, or the presence of a creeping serpent, whispering questions in to our ears prompting doubts about what we know to be true? How do we catch that snake, and toss it out of the garden before it gets us tossed out?
The first answer to the above questions is this: We will never get rid of that serpent. It will always be there, offering alternatives where none exist, prompting questions where only acquiescence is called for. The only check of which I am aware for keeping the snake at bay as much as possible is a ruthless self-examination. Never accept your own goodness, your own motives as pure, your own doubts as honest expressions of limit. Rather, be more ruthless upon your own life. Spare nothing.
There is no cure for this disease called evil. There is no way we shall ever root it out of our lives. There is no way we shall overcome the danger it always poses. That is why, along with a ruthless refusal to take oneself at face value, we should also be forgiving of ourselves as well. Even the best of us slip. Even the most loving, most giving, most selfless person falls. Compared to all the manifest evil in the world, the occasional slip up here or there is hardly worth the time of beating oneself up. Learn to forgive yourself as much as possible - precisely because that serpent is always there, whispering questions we never thought to ask, prompting to us to act in ways we know we should not.
Precisely because evil is far more insidious than it is shocking, defining it, catching it in its earliest stages as it slips its way in to our minds and lives is impossible to do in any abstract way. We are confronted only with each case that comes our way, our trust in our own awareness (including an awareness of the reality of evil), and a consideration of what possibilities lie in store.