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Thread: An Instrument of God

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golly, grondy, how long did it take you to do this? Wink Smilie
the posts above are way too long, sorry ppl, i haven't been able to read them all simply because i'm too lazy! Big Smile Smilie

interesting point, Huan..
i don't believe that we're just talking walking mammals. i know that in this world we've become isolated and homogenised to a certain extend but there are people who resist and make a 'difference'. and to dismiss everything the way it is as a natural progression of evolution is (for lack of a better word). this metafictional way of looking at life seems more resigned than enlightened. but we can never be sure of anything, can we, except for the ultimate end.

and about 'good' people doing 'bad' out of desire to do 'good' and other 'bad' stuff was simply mental illness, does that mean that there are no 'bad' people? (note my limited vocabulary)
just recently, don't know if you've heard this, Australian PM John Howard and his party were found to be big fat liars when they said that the asylum seekers were throwing their kids overboard and sewing up their mouths to put them on hunger strike to win an election campaign... made me wonder if Howard lied to the public becase he thought what he was doing was truly right? so maybe underneath all the horror politicians have caused all throughout history, there was some sort of justification? but at some point, it must have occured to Stalin what he was doing wrong. i think plenty of good people can do evil- we're all capable of it. i guess we can't pigeon hole everything into 'good' or 'bad' or simply 'mental illness'. like there will always be complexities and contradictions in any human situation. [Edited on 22/2/2002 by Rosie]
Hi Rosie
Sorry I've re-read your post several times and I still don't understand it. I hope my post didn't give the impression that violence was "a natural progression of evolution". On the contrary I don't think there is any natural evolution. I vbelieve that we as living repsonsable humans influence history, past, prsent and how everything evolves.

My saying we're talking mammals was not to suggest that we were just animals - whatever that means- we are intelligent and responsable for our acts. I just don't beleive we have a genetic code of good or bad. We are all capable of the good and the bad - we just make the choice.

Are there really bad people - sure most probably. doesn't take away from the fact that most crimes are committed by ordinary men - just following orders. The corollary is also true. Most good things are accomplshed by ordianry people who resist.

In martial arts, life is made up of a succession of moments - you act according to each moment and live with the consequences of each act.You must consider the weight and importance of each act as if it is your last and if afterwards there is only death. I know Stalin knew what he was doing was wrong - he just kept doing it and believed it was the best thing to do.
Yeah, Stalin was one of the few who knew exactly what he was doing. And in contrast to Hitler, he forced himself on an unwilling country. Had Trotsky been a stronger person, then there may have been hope for the USSR.

The single most frightening fact about Hitler that I have seen is that he was an elected representative, and that he gained that support precisely because of his anti-semitic policies, and obssession with Aryanism and Lebensraum. Have you seen the film of his rallies? Truly disturbing stuff.
Eryan posted on 16/2/2002 at 20:13
The discussion in this thread is simply GREAT!
I must resist an urge to write now ALL comments which came to my mind after I have
read the last posts - after all, this is Saturday evening!
I will only focus on the question whether people having children are
more or less selfish than people that do not have them.
I do not have children - and I feel that this makes me LESS egocentric. I always feel sorry
when I hear someone tell with pride something like "Now at last I know what is the sense
of my existence - it's simply to do all I can to make my children happy"! And what about
the children of OTHER parents? In the xtremes cases such parents are no better than
religious fanatics. Oh no - they do not ask anything for themselves, they only serve God
(their children). It is simply an extended egoism!
(Attention - I am speaking here about religious fanatics in the strict sense of the word, and not
about fervent believers in God!).
Imagine now a situation when you must choose between the death of your own
dear child - and the death of 1000 other children. A most tragic dilemma!. I can understand
both people which will decide to save their own child - and those which will decide to save
all other children. But in any of these two cases the person in question should feel that the
situation is tragic indeed, and I'd expect him/her to suffer, feel shattered and have guilty
But when I asked that question to some women I know - for some of them
the answer was absolutely simple and obviouss: they would do all to save their
own child, and to the hell with all others!!! That made me feel really really sad.
Swampfaye posted on 17/2/2002 at 02:32
This is why men don't have babies... so they can make those decisions. I don't know how I would react in a situation like that, my mind would logically tell me "the needs of the many..." but I am a mother to this child. I can't say I'd let my child die any more than Sam could leave Frodo behind, even when he thought him dead (remember the quest still needed to be filled, but Sam abandoned the quest to go back for Frodo).

But... talking about religious fundamentals, that is the concept behind God letting Jesus die, so I know all Christians understand the idea.
Rosie posted on 17/2/2002 at 02:33
well, what i said was really a general comment, and you can't expect it to be true in every case. And i did not mean to imply spending 7 hours in labour will turn anyone into a saint.
There will always be selfish, obsessive and crazy people. Perhaps those neurotic mothers would've turned out to be even worse had they not been mothers- so maturing is always a matter of degrees.
And the thing about saving ur child over 1000 others? maybe they'll actually make the right choice when it actually boils down to making the decision. and that kinda thing takes guts and nobility- not everyone is capable of that.
Swampfaye posted on 17/2/2002 at 14:40
You said it right Rosie... It reminds me of a Quote from "Friendly Persuasion" where the Quakers are being asked if they can sit aside and let the civil war go on without their intervention (being pacifists for religious reasons) if the rebs come to destroy their property. Father said: "I don't think anyone of us can say with certainty what we would do in that situation. But if it comes I hope I can be an instrument of the Lord."

That's what I would like to say about it too... [Edited on 17/2/2002 by swampfaye]
Eryan posted on 17/2/2002 at 15:13
and I also agree with you Rosie that neurotic mothers would probably be as neurotic (or
worse) if they weren't mothers... Smile Smilie
PlasticSquirrel posted on 18/2/2002 at 14:55
Yep, they're women ain't they? Bound to be neurotic then. Big Smile Smilie
Eryan posted on 18/2/2002 at 18:01
Yes - and it's why then run in Bikinis in forests... Wink Smilie
Ungoliant posted on 18/2/2002 at 21:21
Eryan's example...I admire those who honestly admit that they have no idea what they would do should the situation ever arise...and the 'instrument of God' reasoning is noble, but then I'm also a tad suspicious about that argument since a person could easily d*mn the thousands to save a few and justify his/her action by saying "they did what they did because it was God's will." No more guilt!
Swampfaye posted on 18/2/2002 at 23:53
They could do the same if the *didn't* believe in God... "since I know my kid will be raised correctly, I can sacrifice these others without guilt"

Don't let the word God intimidate you into being prejudiced against believers.
Rosie posted on 19/2/2002 at 10:20
i find it rather sad that nowdays organised religion has become so decadent- well i guess it has been for awhile- and that most 'intellectuals' and 'scientists' claim to be aetheists. Has God really suffered his death in the 20th century?
most people seeem so cynical and disillusioned now about religion, god and humanity in general. it's all about being politically correct and accepting other cultures -not that there's anything wrong with it- which reminds me, i'm so sick of Mr. ******** (better not mention his name just in case he happens to drop by) and his BS!! bloody hell, where was I?

do you think Shakespear was an aetheist?
Plastic Squirrel posted on 19/2/2002 at 12:28
Shakespeare was not an atheist, being an atheist back in Lizzy the first's time would save you a fortune in hats, if you know what I mean.
And the Instrument of God thing, wasn't that David Koresh's excuse?
Swampfaye posted on 19/2/2002 at 13:15
It was also Osama Bin Ladins excuse, but it's Palestines excuse and Israels excuse... but what's China's excuse? I can find examples of cruielty in the name of "government" (secularism) as many times as you can find one of religion. You are looking at it the wrong way: "If you go about looking for the bad in people, expecting to find it, you surely will" (Abraham Lincoln). I'm not bad, I don't think, and I certainlyh haven't tried to force religion down anyone's throat here... I'm sure there's lots more "good" poeple who are believers in your life than there are bad ones, but you seem to be focusing on the worst of the worst. The best examples of instruments of God, of believers *and* non believers (because I do believe that God can in fact work through those who don't believe in him) of just plain good people who believe in different things... are the people around me, and if you can't say the same, maybe you are surrounding yourself with the wrong people and your view isn't nearly as open as you thought it was...[Edited on 19/2/2002 by swampfaye]
Plastic Squirrel posted on 20/2/2002 at 10:16
I have been accused of being a bad person many times, most of them justified. But it never had anything to do with religion, I accept the blame for all I have done.
The people I surround myself with are basically good people, none of them religious though, as I have only ever met one religious type that I respected. He was a marvellous guy and he really helped me out when I needed it a few years ago, but he never tried to force his beliefs on me, which is why I respect the guy.
My view is perfectly open, I take people for who they are, not what they believe, or what they've done with their lives. It's just that I can never see why people have this intense need to believe in something that has no evidence of existing at all. And perhaps there is some higher power that created everything, I don't think so myself, I reckon creation was just a mistake or something. But even if it weren't, then why go around singing bloody stupid songs to the poor guy and doing all that "Oh worshipful god-type thing, you are so wonderful and we are worthless sh*t" stuff.
Like I say, it's just a personal opinion, and people is people is people, and if they're good then they're good, and if they're bad, then there's usually something good in there somewhere, you just have to find it. Smile Smilie
Eryan posted on 20/2/2002 at 10:54
Great Plastic! Really great!
Eryan posted on 20/2/2002 at 19:21
I was in a hurry but now I think I'll explain more clearly why I like so much Plastic's post. I would never describe myself as an atheist, and never as a "militant atheist", as he did once. I'm an agnostic, and that term is not used here to be an euphemism for being an atheist. I simply do not know whether God exists. I have no idea at all! But I believe very firmly in Good and Evil. And I do not need to believe in God to yearn to Good and to desire it.
I agree with Plastic that there are no completely evil people. Yes, "bad" people usually have something good in them. Even Hannibals Lecters.
But the inverse is also true. In my opinion the worst tragedy of mankind is that so much of evil is comitted by basically good, decent people. Let us have a honest look at ourselves!. We are not so bad, after all... but do we really do our most to make our world a better one, more harmonious, less unjust, l?
There is a great book of a Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov "Master and Marguerita" devoted, among others, to that very question. It shows a society of basically good people, funny, almost Hobbit-like, living their small lives in Moscow in the times of Staline. They are very human: and yet there is so much evil; some of them are able, for instance, to denounce their neighbours to police and get them sent to death in goulags just to be able to enlarge their flat. This is not written directly, but as a very delicate allusion... because of censorship, very strict at that time. The picture of that society is both extremely funny and extremely grim.
Yes... much evil is committed by basically good people.
Well... but we are completely off-topic from some time I'm afraid! [Edited on 20/2/2002 by Eryan]
Ungoliant posted on 20/2/2002 at 22:04
Agree with Plastic & Eryan. I believe in God, but I also believe that he gave us free will. So I believe that we ought to take responsibility for our own actions, that's all.

Take the current Chinese government. Sure, they repress their own people by banning certain groups and practices (all governments do, to an extent), but at least they don't hide behind God for any of their actions - at the end of the day you know it's them doing it. Compare that to say, the Talibans. All the cruelty and horror unleashed upon the Afgans during their rule was 'in the name of God'. Even the good guys - Bush & Blair claimed to have God 'on our side' and then went ahead and bombed many innocent civilians. At least the Israeli and Palentinian governments are more honest about it - it's just a land issue at the end of the day - although it didn't start out that way.

Not much difference you say? Well, maybe not in the number of lives lost, but I resent governments that use God's name as a seal of approval for all of their actions, especially the ones that involve taking away another life since I remember God saying specifically, "Thou shall not kill." If governments feel the need to go to war - fine. Just don't drag God into it.
Grondmaster posted on 20/2/2002 at 23:52
Hear! Hear! Smile Smilie
Jehanne posted on 21/2/2002 at 02:11
We do go off on some odd and interesting tangents around here.

I agree with much of what you all have said, except Eryan's comment (no offense meant, Eryan) that there are no wholly evil people.

I really don't agree with that. And I don't mean Republicans or Communists or any essentially frivolous answer. I mean people like Josef Mengele. I don't care if he liked butterflies or was nice to his mother or could make a good streudel. That man was evil. There was no core of good within him. And he certainly wasn't alone.

And it's not like there aren't modern examples- Milosevic is unredeemable, and he apparently has no idea that he's not the victim here.

I believe in free will. I agree that it's possible to have a strong moral system independent of religious belief. I agree that God is too often used as a mask for human evils. I agree that "basically good" people can do terrible acts out of their misguided, overly zealous or uniformed beliefs.

But I cannot believe that everyone is basically good. Even misguided free will cannot account for the architects of the Nazi atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocide of the Tutsi people in Rawanda and other similar bloodbaths.

These people were and are evil. And it frightens me, as an American, a Jew, a mother of future children and a citizen of the world, to think that their like can still come to power in this "enlightened" day and age.
Eryan posted on 21/2/2002 at 02:37
Hello Jehanne,
I think that you did not understand well my point about people not being wholly evil.
Here I am quoting once what I said:
I agree with Plastic that there are no completely evil people. Yes, "bad" people usually have something good in them. Even Hannibals Lecters.
This does NOT imply Hannibals Lecters (and Mengele, and Milosevic, and all other people responsable for all these moderm atrocities) are good, nor that we should treat them in the same fashion as "good" people, or let them rule the world, or even let them enjoy freedom.
I am as scared of them as anybody. Yet I still find it tragic that they are what they are. I'm thinking about them not only in terms of their being a menace - but also in terms of brain pathology. Do you know that the majority of them suffers from severe mental disorders? Just a week ago I read an article on it... a terryfying one!
I agree that we should say clearly that such "human monsters" are evil. But we should not be content to brand them. We should seek to understand why people became like this! Why they do not feel any pity for their victims, any ordinary human compassion!
Yet one thing: they often become monsters because they de-humanize their victims. So I think that we should not behave in their Orc way and de-humanize even these human monsters. Even if they choose to be evil from their own free will, we should try to understand why.
Yes [Edited on 21/2/2002 by Eryan]
Jehanne posted on 21/2/2002 at 04:14
I think I'm still not understanding your position, Eryan (please don't be insulted by that). Surely, if you say a person isn't completely evil, they have some good in them by default? At least if you're thinking in terms of a dichotomy of good and evil, which is what has been used most often here.

So I don't quibble with your assertion that
This does NOT imply Hannibals Lecters (and Mengele, and Milosevic, and all other people responsible for all these modern atrocities) are good
That's not what I said you said. Of course they aren't good. Even if they aren't wholly evil (as I understand your philosophy), that wouldn't tip the scales to "good." But I don't really agree that they have some grain of goodness in them still. I believe that their actions would have crushed it, if indeed it ever existed.

I'm not sure any truly sane and healthy person can understand people like that, and I fear that the price of trying to gain such understanding would be killingly high. And if their actions stemmed from mental illness or a similar cause, well, studying it may be useful for the future but it won't help these murderers of the past regain their humanity. They branded themselves. It isn't my lack of understanding of Mengele's brain pathology (which I freely admit to having) that put him on his dark path; it was his own lack of basic humanity. And I don't consider myself Orc-like for considering him less than human. I do so not because of who or what he was, but because of what he did.

In my philosophy, the mass of humanity is basically good, or at least equally good and evil with the capacity (molded by society, education, free will, etc.) to choose between them. So "people", as a broad category, aren't wholly evil, I agree. But I still don't agree that there are no completely evil individuals within that broad category. They may be mercifully infrequent, but I believe they do exist.

We don't have to agree on this, you know. A plurality of opinions is what makes life interesting.

[Edited on 21/2/2002 by Jehanne]
Jehanne posted on 21/2/2002 at 04:24
Anyway, should we maybe move this deep philosophy to a pub? It doesn't have much to do with Eowyn anymore...
PlasticSquirrel posted on 21/2/2002 at 10:59
Yeah, but it's getting good now!
A lot of horrifically evil people really truly believed that what they were doing was for the good. Case in point, Aleister Crowley, who thought that with his philosophy of "Do what thou wilt" he could change the world for the better (Okay, there was also the stuff with the goats and stuff, he was not a nice man) but he did think he was doing good.
Amazingly enough, so did Hitler (who was later found to be suffering from Syphilis, which rotted his brain). I have never actualy found a single good word to say about the man, except that he was a political genius, which is hardly a compliment.
Swampfaye posted on 21/2/2002 at 12:44
In my heart of hearts I don't think Hitler thought what he was doing was "right" or even "justified". He didn't even treat all Christians well, he persecuted Catholics and didn't limit his prejudice to Jews. Thousands of Gypsies were imprisioned and tortured as well.
But I am still with Jehanne on this. People are basically good. We all start out good. It is our choice to do good or evil and I think it is in our nature to be "compelled" to do good (though, and I admit it, it isn't always easy, i.e Sam and Frodo walking into Mordor). If we chose to do evil, I think we are acting against our own nature, and like Gollum that choice to do evil becomes easier and easier until it is simply so hard *not* to choose evil, we have become corrupted...
PlasticSquirrel posted on 21/2/2002 at 19:49
Have you read "Mein Kampf"? The guy believed all that stuff, really and truly, totally nuts I'm afraid. Really thought he was doing the right thing for the whole world, as if all those people were pigeons, or rats or something.
It's a lot like Douglas Adams parallel of the Masters of Krikkit, who believed in Sports, family values, wholesome songs, and the complete and utter obliteration of all other species.
Huan posted on 21/2/2002 at 22:24
Are we on a tangent or what!

Can't really reply to all comments. So just stick to Plastics last one and Jehanne's one also and wholly agree with them.

Most of the evil done in this century was done by people with a highly defined and refined sense of what is supposed to be Good. In fact many of those "evildoers" were elected representatives of their communities.

Eryan you cannot honestly think and blow off genocide and political horror and murder and terrroism because they have a "mental illness?". Next thing somemone will say Mengele will tell us he had a bad childhood.

Soon somebody will say there are good genes and evil genes ! Guess who's ugly philosophy comes screaming back with a revenge as eugenism and racism finds a new pseudo scientific forum upon which to spread its ignorance !

We are free to act. Just most forget to take responsability for what they do.
Swampy read some history on WWII and especially 33 to 39 and you'll see Adolf definitely felt what he was doing was right and justified. (read Chistopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen for info)

Are people basically good? I'm not sure that means anything any more. Paul Celan wondered if writing poetry meant anything after 1945. The question is still the most valid philosophicla question of our time.

Most people live within a defined conservative moral structure which offers coded references of good and evil which are rarely transgressed. I don't think people are inately good or evil - I don't think we are inately anything except talking mammals - in 21st century . Most people just act to keep the status quo and keep their emotional/political and moral environment stable. Infact categories of good and evil are what we use to try to assimilate Dachau, Birkenhau, etc - the problem is there are no words - there is just the horror and the ultimate realization that this is a visceral and inate part of humanity. The Final Solution was not performed by monsters - it was performed by men, women, institutions, engineers, teachers, doctors, nburdes, priests, cab drivers.... who went home at night, had dinner, complained about the weather, read stories to their kids before going to bed, went to Chuirch on Sunday and went back to "work" on Monday.

The horror of it all is that it would be easy to deal with a few Hannibal the Cannibal. But how can you deal with your neighbour? and what if it was you? and as my favorite postAuthorID said "Se questo e un uomo?" (I could never translate this phrase correctly.)

To get back to what Jehanne was saying - who cares if somebody is supposed to have a grain of good in them - it's what they do that defines them .

then the whole question becomes difficult? In the hierarchy of evil if Mengele is guilty, what about his assitant? Isn't this the question that tortured Primo Levi at the end of his life.

Grondy lets take this to a Tavern.
Eryan posted on 21/2/2002 at 22:48
Hello everybody
I simply cannot write down a honest serious post on this topic because the question is so
complex that it would take me hours to write and I'm tired today after a busy day.
Anyway, this discussion is really most stimulating (to say the least).
Good night everybody (or good morning, depending where you are!)
Grondy says, "Your wish is my command--sometimes. And I apologize if I didn't get all the pertinent bits, I'm falling asleep as I'm doing this move." Big Smile Smilie
[Edited on 22/2/2002 by Grondmaster]

Battle lust and "head count" mood
If you are in that mood, you become a "buster": your enemies are no more people like you, but just targets to be destroyed, cannon fodder, items to be added to your "head count" lists.
And this does not happen to us only during the war. Joy of destruction... that intoxicating joy of getting free of any bond, of being powerful enough to destroy any obstacle, any constraint, any limitation... especially sheer if you felt humiliated and downtrodden... it's so ubiquitous! It is responsable for a whole spectre of acts of violence ranging from acts of vandalism to bloodshed and unimaginable massacres.

didn't gimli and legolas do this exact same thing? i felt kind of appalled at Tolkien's treatment of his Orcs. I know they're supposed to embody all things evil and cruel.. but mass butchering of these creatures seemed to be some sort of sport enjoyed by many 'good' people and deemed as a virtue.

right, Huan, perhaps i misread your post. everything was so darn long so i skimmed through everything. Big Smile Smilie
Yes Rosie - I agree that Gimli and Legolas are a good example of this.
I never liked that (one of very few things I dislike in Tolkien's books) and I was surprised when I read in some other thread that for some people the story of "head count competition" belongs to their favourite bits!
Other heroes of LOTR also seem to know the joyand the power of battle lust, for instance, Eomer:
These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people

Anyway, I don't want to tell that this combative mood is always destructive. I feel sometimes like that when I face a difficult problem or a task I do not particularly like but which must be done. Then the "battle lust" may help. But it must be under control!
Hello everybody...
Brace yourselves well... this post will be long - not for lazy people!
Jehanne, I am never insulted when someone disagrees with me, I always appreciate it because it helps me to see the problem from a different angle!
I do think indeed that even "human monsters" may have a grain of good in them. By that I mean that on some occasions they may behave in a decent way. I am simply making a distinction between our evaluation of a particular person - and our evaluation of a particular deed. If a human monster helps an old woman to carry upstairs a heavy bag and smiles to her, this won't change our overall evaluation of his person, but that deed (taken in isolation) cannot be branded as evil... At least it's my opinion ...
I did not said that you were talking "Orc talk" Jehanne, but that "we should not behave in THEIR Orc way" (Their = evil people). Of course we may consider evil humans as simply being less than human and do not seek for underlying causes. But still I think the more we know about any sort of potential danger (and such people certainly ARE potentially perilous!)... the better for us!
Huan, I do not think that all evil is related only to mental illnesses (see the summary of my "philosophy" below). And I agree that "bad childhood" argument was so abused that it is now ridiculous. But I am afraid that in spite of that even bad childhood may be important (as one of many factors)... even if we do not believe so firmly in its influence anymore!
Are we really free to act, all of us? Not so obvious for me... You'd be surprised to find how many criminal convicts have brain abnormalities and/or are mentally retarded!
And what about these poor brainwashed children soldiers and children terrorists who committ such atrocities all over the world? Are they really free to "take responsability for what they do?"
Are people basically good? I think it is worthwhile to appeal to their better feelings. And one of the best tactics is to convince them that cooperation (and not competition/aggression) may lead to mutual benefits. It may be far less costly (and more safe) than having to fight with them!
Your remark that
The Final Solution was not performed by monsters - it was performed by men, women, institutions, engineers, teachers, doctors, nburdes, priests, cab drivers.... who went home at night, had dinner, complained about the weather, read stories to their kids before going to bed, went to Chuirch on Sunday and went back to "work" on Monday

is very true and well written; I tried to tell exactly the same thing in one of my earlier posts when speaking about evil committed by ordinary petty people.
However, I can agree that "it's what they do that defines them" ONLY if you are speaking about absolutely sane people. And so many leading politicians suffered from various mental illnesses... Almost all (!!!) recent homicide criminals from Yougoslavia were either psychiatrists, or people treated by psychiatrists. And the problem is not limited to "evil people". Both Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill suffered from maniaco-depressive psychosis.
Rosie: I agreed with Plastic that even bad people have some good in them. But as I wrote above, this does not imply that bad people are good. This only means that some of their deeds are good.
I fully agree with you and Huan that most good things are accomplshed by people who resist.
Now some of my ideas on the sources of Evil...
I think that evil is related to an extreme wide spectre of phenomena. Let me name just a few of them:

Severe mental illness (compulsive killers, canibals etc)
In some of these people brain dysfunction is so severe that they cannot control their behaviour. Some of them are even not aware what they are doing when the "killing fit" takes them. Others are aware what they are doing but they cannot resist their urge to commit their horrible crimes. It's a tragic fate. You may tell me that I should not feel pity for these people, but for their victims. Yes, their victims have all my compassion. But I pity these monsters, too. I think that to become such a monster as a result of brain pathology (and not as a result of conscious choice) is the ultimate bad luck, the worst thing which may happen to a human being!
I once read a story of a girl who kept killing people without even being aware of it. When she learned what she has done she was deeply shocked. She was condamned to be kept for life in a psychiatric ward, and she decided to act as a volunteer in the research devoted to the neurobiological basis of her problem. She let her brain to be pierced by numerous electrodes and it was discovered that she had abnormal epileptic seizures in the part of the brain called the amygdala. Thanks to that, we can now help people with a similar problem. I was deeply moved by that story and I was entirely on her side. A very unhappy and a very brave person.

Many apparently "normal" people take pleasure by making/watching others suffer. Just think about all these cases of mobbing in school or at work! Some people are able to crush completely the self-esteem of their victims (and even drive them to committ suicide) using only very subtle forms of verbal aggression.
In democratic countries extreme forms of sadism are not socially accepted and sadists usually limit their pleasures to relatively mild forms of cruelty - or finish by being treated as offenders (if caught!). But in countries ruled by oppressive non-democratic rulers such people often gain uncontrolled power and can "amuse" themselves in an unconstrained way. I once read a shocking article about a 16 year old girl who was one of the worst war criminals in recent wars in Yougoslavia... she used to amuse herself by spraying petrol over prisoners-of-war and then putting fire to them...

Deficient capability for empathy and compassion
Even if someone does not actively seek pleasure in inflicting/watching pain, he may lack the capability for empathy and compassion and remain totally unconcerned about the suffering of others. Much is already known about the neurobiological background of that deficiency. Many persons with that deficiency are brilliant and intelligent, and some of them are charming and generally liked and admired. Therefore, they often make brilliant careers and occupy top positions in the society. And they are usually totally ruthless.

Selfishness coupled with the lack of compassion and with disrespect for others
Many people believe that this is the sole tactic permitting them to be successful in competitive situations. Of course they are wrong. Usually the best tactic is to convince your competitors that they can gain (and not lose!) by helping you!

Stupidity and lack of imagination
I have talked once with a small boy who was very proud of himself because he made his grandmother so very happy! She was preparing home-made cherry confitures and was much annoyed by a multitude of wasps coming to her kitchen to seek food. So she asked her little grandson to put on a vacuum-cleaner and to use it to capture the wasps. She was happy because she had no more problems with wasps, and her little boy was so kind and loving! The boy was happy because he felt important and useful and was much praised by her. An idyllic situation. But... what about poor wasps left to suffer and to die in the vacuum cleaner?
Alas, humans can treat other humans in the same way... and they are not evil, oh no, they just get rid of "vermin" which comes into their way.

A particularly dangerous source of evil. If we really hate someone, we feel justified if we try to destroy the "enemy". All the complexity of relationships between humans is reduced to the dichotomy "friend - foe". What an oversimplification!...
I must agree (sadly) that in the times of crisis it may be inevitable. Yet I think that we should be very distrustful toward the emotion of hate. Even if we are horrified and disgusted by atrocities committed by evil people, we should try to deal with them in the most unemotional and rational way possible.

Fear & mistrust of the "enemy" ("alien")
As rightly put out by Grondy in some other thread, this is the primary source of the rasism.
Fear breeds violence (considered to be just the defence!), violence breeds hate, hate breeds fear & hate... and so on.

Fear inspired by evil superiors/rulers
If we know that helping an escaped prisoner will be punished by our death and by death of our whole family... we must be VERY courageous indeed to help a stranger in spite of that risk!

Being a victim of brainwashing
Children soldiers, children terrorists... all these tragic children which committ unspeakable cruelties... who can think about them and not weep?

Enthusiasm and blind patriotism
Patriotic enthusiasm is a powerful motivating factor. However, blind patriotic enthusiasm impairs our intellectual powers. We are intoxicated... and we like it. We like this euphoria, this feeling of elevation, this wonderful sentiment that we are heroes fighting a noble cause. Life is so simple now! But from that, there is just one step toward battle lust...

Battle lust and "head count" mood
If you are in that mood, you become a "buster": your enemies are no more people like you, but just targets to be destroyed, cannon fodder, items to be added to your "head count" lists.
And this does not happen to us only during the war. Joy of destruction... that intoxicating joy of getting free of any bond, of being powerful enough to destroy any obstacle, any constraint, any limitation... especially sheer if you felt humiliated and downtrodden... it's so ubiquitous! It is responsable for a whole spectre of acts of violence ranging from acts of vandalism to bloodshed and unimaginable massacres.

Prestige seeking
Eowyn went to war among others to "win renown". She was fighting Orcs... But in the real world we fight with other humans... and for many of us violence is still just a way to seek personal glory, prestige, renown.

Earnest wish to create a better world
If you are in that mood, you feel that "enemies of the people" have to be annihilated. You are a Hero, a Saviour, a Fighter for a Noble Cause. If your enemies suffer, it's their fault, not yours - they deserve it!
From the post of Plastic who did read "Mein Kampf" (I did not read it... so I can't have my own opinion...) it seems that this might have been one of the factors motivating Hitler. However, he was insane as well, not only because of syphilis as Plastic said, but also because he was constantly drugged by his psychiatrist with an euphoria and megalomania-inducing drug (sadly, I forgot the name of that drug...).
Many wife-beaters represent such philosophy as well in their petty way...

Sheer need
People which have nothing - no job, no money, no hope, no perspectives - can turn to be desperate and ruthless (another frequent outcome is apathy and helplessness)

A tragic choice between "good of many" and "good of my own family"
We already discussed that matter above and we agreed that it's a tragic situation. Perhaps we should not think about these people as being evil, they are victims. However, I added this point here because people who choose the "good of my own family" and decide to sacrify "others" are responsable for their suffering and/or death... even if they do it most unwillingly.

Well I do not think that this list is complete... I would be grateful for your comments.
Feel free to disagree - I like it, this helps me to precise and clarify my ideas!
He must have got this from his WWI experience. Soldiers do often do the "head count" thing and I think it's simply because they have to do "something" to keep them going. War is hell, there is nothing pretty about it. I think it's amazing that men can so split themselves this way. They can be a warrior... kill and maim, and return home and be a father and lover.
Yes, it's amazing. I do not like killing living things and during long years I refused to kill even mosquitoes, I contented myself to chase them off my body. And then one summer I could not support them any more and I started to kill them. And now I am able to kill them in cold blood, like a machine - and not to have any troubled conscience afterwards. I wonder what would happen were I a soldier during the war. Horrible.
By the way, many writers & movies depict war as a chain of shocking atrocities. Yet the tales of war veterans show that all that bloodshed fairly quickly stops to be shocking. They habituate to it very quickly and it becomes "bread and butter".
The world should know that it is a low thing to blame God for the bad things we do. God made us free, so we are responsible for what we do every second.
Besides this, an evil man cannot be an instrument of God. Maybe that's his excuse, but it doesn't mean that God acts through bad people. Also, remember that Melkor told Feanor that stealing the silmarils was a good deed ( which Feanor believed), but it wasn't true.
Why, a thread from before PT instated a ban on religious/political discussions.

Best to keep it dead, then.