Is “Evil” Science Fiction?

Is “Evil” Science Fiction? April 2, 2024

Is “Evil” Science Fiction?

I have watched several episodes of a new television show called “Evil.” It’s based on a Spanish TV show called “The Envoys.” Both are about a team of investigators hired by the Catholic Church to investigate claimed miracles and demon possessions. Early on I detected that the maker of the show knows something about the subject. I looked him up. He graduated from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, an evangelical Christian liberal arts college with which I am very familiar. But he is now Catholic.

The show does remind one of the movie “The Exorcist,” but it is not as graphic. It is fairly graphic, however, and I would not recommend it for children or the faint of heart. It uses CGI to show some supposed demons. Or are those imaginary? The show leaves much unclear as to whether the claims to investigate are actual supernatural events or events science (e.g., psychology) can explain. The theme seems to be that most, if not all, such events are explainable both religiously and scientifically. The team (of the U.S. show) consists of two secular skeptics and one devout Roman Catholic priest-in-training.

I noticed that, on the streaming service, the show, “Evil,” is categorized as “Science Fiction.” I find that very interesting because, of course, neither explanation for the events falls under that category. The scientific explanations for the seemingly supernatural events are certainly not treated as fiction. The religious explanations are not believed to be fiction by the priest of the team.

I can imagine an employee (or team of employees) of the streaming service trying to decide how to categorize “Evil.” I wouldn’t find it easy, either. But “Science Fiction?” Why? I can only assume because he/she/they didn’t believe the KIND of events each episode revolves around is possible. In their worldview, it isn’t. But wait. Each episode leaves unclear whether the events of the episodes (miracles, demon possessions) can or cannot be explained scientifically (e.g., by psychology or some kind of technology on the frontier of physics). That’s the whole point of the show.

Over the years I have taught numerous seminary students from African countries. All of them testify that in their home countries nearly all people of whatever religion or no religion believe in miracles and demon possessions (although some may not call them that). It seems to me a kind of cultural insult for any American or European to dismiss this nearly universal belief as science fiction or as simply false. Cultural studies (anthropology, especially) tells us not to judge other cultures as true or false but only as “different.”

So, what to make of this TV show “Evil?” I’m not sure. It is one of the most explicitly religious shows on television that isn’t made specifically to be religious, by a religious organization. “God” and even “Jesus” are mentioned fairly frequently. The priest-in-training is very religious but also (and why should I say “but also?”) very calm and reasonable, not a fanatic or corrupt. He definitely believes in miracles and possessions.

If I were to talk to the makers of the show, I would suggest that they portray demon possessions less graphically and less sensationally. Psychologist M. Scott Peck, author of the book People of the Lie, came to believe in demon possessions through is therapy encounters with malicious narcissists. It didn’t require levitations, foaming at the mouth, people speaking with impossible (for them) voices, to convince him that evil exists and that some people have given themselves over to evil so thoroughly and finally that their condition deserves to be called “evil” even by the psychological community.

I would be impressed if the makers of “Evil” would create an episode where a person is believed to be demon possessed but does not do any of those things commonly associated in the popular mind, because of movies and books, etc., with demon possession. The person would, in my story, simply be so malicious that he or she can only be considered evil. There is one character in “Evil” that comes to mind. I find him the most intriguing character in the show. Who or what is he?

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