Is it so that“…there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes its so.”?
Before Malcolm X accepted Islam he characterized himself as being beyond atheism when he entered prison. Maybe he meant that he categorically rejected the idea of God. The prison moniker given to him was ‘Satan’. He said: “…the men in the cell-block had a name for me it was Satan “… Because of my anti-religious attitude.” So, assuming that he rejected the concept of God did Malcolm believe in the reality of evil? I would answer based on his own testimony: yes, he did. I believe he did believe in the existence of evil because he had deeply rooted emotional insecurities stemming from his father having been murdered by the Black Legion. His father’s body had been shredded by a train on railroad tracks. That made the Black Legion the object of Malcolm’s hate. Therefore, He must have perceived the Black legion (Ku Klux Klan) as evil.
Perhaps Bimbi pulled out a book and handed it to Malcolm. Perhaps it was a copy of George W. Hegel’s ‘Science of Logic”. Then after giving it to him, perhaps Bimbi said to Malcolm that: ‘logically the idea that evil exists presupposes the idea of its negation or put another way it implies that which is not evil. Logically, the relation of good and evil is subject to the dialectical principle of ‘Being’. Dialectically, if there is evil then its anti-thesis, ‘good’, must exist too. If this were not true, then either there would be all good and no possibility of evil or all evil and no possibility of good. If it were true that no good exists then we would be forced to characterize everything which exists as evil. On the other hand, if neither good nor evil exists, which is logically possible, then that would make all of us nihilist. Malcolm, nihilism is the belief that life is utterly meaningless, that “…there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” It would mean that our actions are neither moral nor immoral. But you may see, Malcolm, that the science of logic won’t allow us to escape its boundary, for if you make the argument that ‘there exists neither good nor evil’ in the world then logically the opposite idea must exist, too, that ‘there exist simultaneously both good and evil’. Malcolm you are called ‘Satan’ because you believe that the world is thoroughly evil; you think that your life experience proves that to you. However, what you do not comprehend is the dialectical nature of existence and thus your life experiences. There is always a ratio of good to evil. Malcolm, our life struggle is to tilt the balance in favor of good. That is the root of the struggle to survive. That is the fundamental moral premise of all social life.’
Was that the nature of the conversation about atheism which Malcolm had with his Bimbi? Malcolm does not elaborate on the content of the conversation in his autobiography. There was a conversation on the subject. However, we have no evidence regarding exactly what Bimbi said to him nor do we have evidence of whether or not Malcolm’s Bimbi had a religious orientation. I am compelled to conclude that he did not have a religious orientation otherwise Malcolm would have identified it. The lesson here is that one should take sound advice from whomsoever offers it. Don’t make acceptance of a fact, a sound, or a cogent argument dependent on whether someone believes as you believe.
Malcolm states that Bimbi put the argument for atheism into a framework for him. Malcolm’s Bimbi must have appealed to Malcolm’s inherent capacity to do critical reasoning. Maybe Bimbi distinguished for Malcolm the difference between belief and science. Maybe his Bimbi made the argument that a person can believe in any proposition they want because ‘belief’ does not depend upon material evidence to support it but rather is based on one’s fears or maybe even one’s passions. Maybe he said to Malcolm that cursing faith based religion is a waste of intellectual energy because no argument supported by facts that will disprove a believer’s assumption about reality can be accepted by a ‘true believer’. Whatever Bimbi said to Malcolm, it had the effect of causing Malcolm to stop his “…vicious cursing attacks…”against religion and particularly against Christianity. One cannot change oneself nor one’s community by viciously cursing faith based religions. One can only change one’s own self by first getting a thorough understanding of one’s own human nature and then to practice a lifestyle which directs and works the power of one’s own nature in one’s best interest. In short, one can try their best to be the best human being he or she can be under their present circumstances.
What might Malcolm’s Bimbi have suggested to him and which is indirectly suggested to you? Perhaps he suggested that we should neither accept propositions on the basis of fear nor passion in the form of Eros. The reason for this suggestion is obvious and if made to Malcolm must have been clear to him, too. Let me put it to you this way; unconscious fears and eros (sexual urges) are irrational forces. The fact that they are irrational does not make those forces evil but when expressed outside the bounds of self directed rational guidance they can be destructive to social relations. If you’ve ever acted impulsively then it is more likely than not that you also exercised poor judgment and you probably did it high on drugs, or alcohol, or in a state of fear or passion, or you were swayed away from thoughtfulness by the aggregate impulse of a group or crowd. Good reasoning and impulsive behavior move in opposite directions. Reason must direct behavior. Prison is full of young and old people who have little control over their impulses. They are paying for their lack of self control.
But prison can be said in many ways. People may choose to lock themselves into a belief system, too. They may do so simply because they have unconscious fears and want to emotionally bond with a certain group of people for a feeling of security, status, acceptance, the prospect of wealth, or even power. Pathological ambition in a person is always evidence of deep feelings of insecurity or fear in a person, or of not having a sense of self worth. What such people feel is emptiness which they try to fill by consuming or taking more and more prestige, status, power, or wealth, but they can never fill the inner void they feel. They always want more of whatever it is that makes them feel better momentarily. The fear they have may not be connected to any object or it may be connected to the wrong object or it may be connected to some imagined idea. The urge to bond that they feel is an irrational impulse; it originates in fear because they feel erotic attraction and or peer pressure to do so or want the feeling of security conferred on them by bonding with the group herd. That is an instance of misplaced love. You may have joined a gang for the same reasons; now in prison you may stay in a gang for those same reasons. You want to feel protected.
During Malcolm’s life many Germans joined the Nazi party for those reasons. Many Caucasians joined the Ku Klux Klan and the Eugenic Movement for the same reasons. But what that kind of person really does is turn the key in the cell door lock thereby incarcerating their minds even more. Belief systems can incarcerate one’s mind as effectively as a state penitentiary incarcerates one’s body when they are based on false assumptions. More often than not that is the effect of religion. It has divided our neighborhoods and communities along lines of belief none of which can claim a single shred of material evidence to support their basic dogmata. Can we have our religions yet overcome the divisions caused by them? That question takes us into the substance of Malcolm’s conversation with his Bimbi.
Malcolm’s Bimbi possessed a unifying idea which impressed Malcolm. It is an idea which can bring convicts together with families and communities regardless of individual religious orientations. If it is to work, then that idea must be universally applicable. That idea is science. That is what Malcolm’s Bimbi was suggesting to Malcolm X. It doesn’t matter what your religion is, you can unify with your neighbors around the idea of science. The word itself means theoretical and practical ‘knowledge’ in the broadest sense. But what it doesn’t mean is hearsay and superstition. It is the kind of knowledge which is the result of observation and a logical and systematic way of making claims about things and their relations to other things and then proving such claims you make to be right or wrong by the application of a meticulous procedure to prove it as true or false based on evidence. And the end value of this method of producing knowledge is that it doesn’t matter what you believe because the facts compel the direction of your reasoning on any subject and it is the facts and the facts alone which compel you to conclude truthfully concerning a subject even if your conclusion is contrary to or contradicts your beliefs.
 Malcolm X with the assistance of Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Penguin Books, 2001