Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back at you. Friedrich Nietzsche
There he took up again his great Ring in Barad-dur, and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise, an image of malice and hatred made visible; and the eye of Sauron, the Terrible Few could endure. JRR Tolkien, The Silmarillion
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. St Paul
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster. That admonition should become part of our daily prayers. It is the easiest thing to trip and fall into monsterdom, even for the most well-intentioned among us.
I say this advisedly. I’ve done it. I keep on doing it.
We live in a society that is rotten with the worship of evil. Everything we touch, our entertainment, our news, our internet convos, even the way we treat our own families, is soaked through with the love of evil.
We watch one movie after another with graphic depictions of sadistic rapes and a long series of consequence-free murders. In Movieland the “solution” for every problem is to pick up a weapon and start killing. Movie good guys are usually grim, wordless killers with no meaningful human attachments. No matter how many people they kill, they never go to jail. Nobody even has to clean up the mess. As for rape, well, that’s the only reason for having a female character in most movies; so she can be raped and murdered.
We’ve become so inured to this that it doesn’t bother us overmuch when the movie trash steps down off the screens and into our lives. Long before we decided that a man like Donald Trump was fit to be president, we were practicing brutal carnality in our own lives.
It’s no accident that a people who watch rape and murder for entertainment see nothing wrong in a president who is a sexual predator. When one in five women and one in 71 men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime, there are a lot of rapists running around. Sexual predators like Trump because he’s one of them.
It doesn’t bother us that he degrades and dehumanizes whole classes of people because we degrade and dehumanize them, too. We don’t mind his lies because we’re liars. His divorces don’t matter because we divorce. Trump is a direct expression of how we have taken the constant inundation of evil images and memes into ourselves and become them.
Is it any wonder that millions of people see nothing wrong with a president who lies every time he opens his mouth; who defrauds and cheats in his businesses and sells out this country to foreign powers for his own benefit? They follow him because he’s the most familiar image of leadership they know. He’s straight from the movie theater, with all the lying amorality to match.
None of us is immune to evil. Evil is insidious and, like our president, it is a liar. The devil deceived in the garden about the apple. God lied to you, he hissed, you will not die. He lied then, and he lies now.
The apple we see today is Donald Trump. That’s an amusing metaphor I know. But Trump is a vast temptation for all of us. It makes no difference if you are one of the people who has given yourself over to Trump and allowed him to subvert your morals into his morals, or if you are one of those who fight him with every breath you breathe. It doesn’t even matter if you are one of those who stand at a distance from the fray and maybe support him, maybe don’t.Trump is still the shiny red apple of temptation that can lure you away from God. You can become a monster by blindly following him. And you can become a monster by blindly opposing him. Either way, you become the devil’s disciple, and you do evil, not good, with your life.
Trump himself is, in reality, a nothing much. He’s just a fat old man; a weak man with a lot of bluster and no conscience who can’t tell the truth when the truth would do him better. He is cored out by his own depravity, hollow inside. There’s no there there with Trump. What gives him significance is the power we’ve given him and the power over ourselves which we’ve handed to him.
I am not, as usual, talking to Trump’s more abject followers. I would if I could, but they are like really angry spot-lighted deer. They’re moral prisoners. We need to pray for them, and work to free them. But for now they are beyond our reach. I’m writing this to the anti-Trumps who are also teetering on the brink of losing their souls to his craziness.
I am just as likely to fall into this pit as anyone else. My greatest weakness, the way the devil can get into me, is through my willingness to do battle with evil. The worst things I’ve ever done I did because I was trying to do something good. I know that I can fall down that same rabbit hole again.
People who see evil and pull themselves up out of the garbage dump to stagger off and fight are important. It’s taken me a long time to see this, but they are the instrument that God picks up and uses to do that work. But without God they are easy pickings for the devil.
When you go out to fight monsters, the temptations to become a monster yourself run to meet you. They surround you and hurl angry taunts at you every step of the way. Evil is ugly. The suffering it causes is real. The indifference of the self-righteous to this suffering, their almighty, overweening hardness of heart, is enraging.
When they combine this indifference with constant preening about their own moral superiority and they link this with Christ, it can be incendiary. Suddenly, they are not just hurting other people, they are defaming your Savior.
Faced with this, anger can trip over into rage in one step. Rage is unthinking and uncaring. It is monster-making, and the monster it makes is you. It allows you to do things you would never have considered because rage justifies it to you.
Evil is not a blind force without reckoning, like gravity. Evil is a person. It is a malicious personality, a cold darkness and a gnawing hunger that cannot be satisfied and craves annihilation. It feeds on hatred and death.
When the abyss looks back at you, when you look into the unblinking Eye of Sauron, you are soul to soul with that Evil. No one is immune. Eve ate the apple, David murdered Uriah, Peter betrayed Jesus, Saul persecuted Christians.
Trump is a monster. He has betrayed this country to foreign powers, first to get elected, and lately to smear a potential opponent. He has subverted the Justice Department and begun to use it to punish his enemies and protect his toadies. If he wins re-election and has another four years, this time with no fear of the next election and with the full power of the United States of America at his disposal, I have no doubt that he will go down as one of the monstrously evil men of history.
The day will come when everyone who supports him now will be skittering around, explaining and lying and pretending that they never really backed him at all.
Our task is to do everything we legally and morally can to see to it that he is not re-elected. This is our one chance to save America. But we must do it without hatred, and without wrathful rage.
I’ll talk about the particulars of how to do that in the tomorrow’s post.
Note: I expect someone will see the irony of me using a quote from Nietzsche as the basis of a call to prayer. But what Nietzsche describes is real, even if he understood it incorrectly. The Abyss, Satan, will look back at you.