Sixty years ago, C.S. Lewis began his book, Mere Christianity by giving us an example of two people disagreeing and trying to put each other in “the wrong.” His argument, of course, is that we all have a sense that right and wrong are realities, even if we aren’t always very good at defining them.
Lately, that argument has escalated into “He is evil. She is evil. They are evil. Everyone is evil but me.” This toxicity has made me step back and wonder “what do we really mean by evil and do we really want to use that phrase in such a off-hand way? Why do I use it so much? Does it truly ever apply to myself or anyone else?” And those questions have led me to three strands of my life where evil seems to be snaking towards my own life and heart. And all three seem to encompass a variety of what people consider “evil.”
Thread One: A few months ago, I was asked by Richard Gallagher to help shape and craft his book on psychiatry and exorcism. He has spent twenty years investigating and examining people for possible demonic activity. As can be expected, I’ve delved deep into demonic possession and what it does to people in their hearts, minds, souls and bodies. The utter vileness and destruction of the human person is stark, brutal and terrible.
Thread Two: In the years since my divorce, I’ve befriended a number of women who have come out of relationships with men who are narcissists of the most heinous kind. I’m horrified at how these strong, accomplished and put-together women are often sucked of their God-given personalities and talents to the point of considering suicide. Indeed, in a few cases, the women have tried and thankfully failed. But in one particular case I know of (a friend of a friend), the man talked the woman into killing herself and is reaping the narcs ultimate dream: adulation for his bravery and the sympathy of other soon-to-be victims. It is truly diabolical. And it makes me wonder how much I may have done this to women in my own life.
Thread Three: As a person who majored in history and still loves to read the latest tome on Theodore Roosevelt, I’m never quick to demonize political parties or politicians. Very often, things are way more complicated and the simplistic categories of “right” and “left” are meaningless. But, to me, Trump and everything he represents is on a whole other level. His diabolical ability to be repulsive as possible and still make people think he is God’s Chosen Vessel truly boggles my mind.
But, at the same time, I would not use the word evil to many of the people who voted for him. And the reason for that is because as I examine all three threads, I’ve noticed something about the nature of true evil. Evil is parasite and creates nothing good. There really is no such thing as a kingdom of evil because it seeks to destroy, to annihilate and to negate. Most Trump voters don’t want those things. But, they’ve unwittingly contributed to the current death spiral of narcissism rampant in our country. Trump seems hell-bent, like diabolical narc, on negating and destroying. I always find it ironic when people accuse Millennials of being self-centered and yet fail to take the large wooden ship in their own eye.
Our Western Culture often has a very dualistic mindset when it comes to the question of good and evil. Nowhere is the better illustrated than in the epic poem, Paradise Lost, where Satan is presented almost like a modern anti-hero, almost doing some sort of good, but not quite. We are literally given sympathy for the devil. And therefore, it looks as if there are two kingdoms warring with each other in a Game of Thrones style battle where both sides are a mixture of good and bad, wanting power and rule.This mindset is what enables us to call things evil which may not actually be so. A person can be mistaken without actually being evil. But yet, somehow, even Catholics have embraced this sort of Puritanical thought process, as evidenced by the Rad Trad Catholic support of Trump and their disdain for Pope Francis. Our confused definition of evil comes from this deep rooted dualism in Western culture and is often present in the church.
But, from a Christian point of view, evil is something entirely different. One of my favorite books is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Don’t screw it up, Disney). In the book, the Murry kids take on “It”, evil itself. L’Engle shows the true nature of evil, that is, evil is not equal with good. It is a parasite, a sucker of souls, and it seeks destruction, not creation, negation, not addition. It seeks a dreary sameness and order. It seeks to negate any will other than its own and even its own will is negation of what it once was.
And, I’ve seen this in the three threads of evil that is in front of me on a daily basis. Demons, when they inhabit a person seek to destroy the very Image of God. They ravage bodies and souls, sometimes for years, pushing them to negate, to give up, to join them in the dark. So many people think demons possess people to “control” or have “power.” But, the only power they want is annihilation of the human person.
The same is true of narcissist and therefore, our current political situation. Trump is the Incarnation of all narcs, but we don’t even have to go that far afield. There are men who seek the utter destruction of women, not their flourishing. Most of them don’t look like Trump or have large, obnoxious personalities. Indeed, they are charming angels of light, with cut jaws, put together appearances and neat, orderly cars.
But, these angels of light seek destruction of the light and the annihilation of the Image of God in others. They do anything they can to negate the talent, the intelligence and the beauty of the women in their lives. They don’t want “power,” they want destruction by being in love with concepts of themselves and in doing so, twist things that ought to be good. Their God-given maleness becomes twisted into a prison-made shiv that plunges into the heart of every woman who comes into striking distance.
This, then, is the true nature of evil. Its what the Catholic Church calls an “intrinsic evil,” that is, something so inherently evil there’s no equivocation or “both sides” statements. Love of others can be twisted into loving your own race. Law and Order can be twisted into keeping the people we don’t like in poverty and bondage. Wanting a mutually loving and supporting marriage can devolve into seeking to destroy another person. This is why evil is so attractive, because the goodness it twists lies somewhere under the darkness.
In the movie the Boondock Saints, two Irish Catholic brothers consider themselves called by God to fight evil. Leaving aside the moment whether vigilantes are a good thing or not, their speech at the end shows a clear and Catholic understanding of the word, “evil” when they say,
There are varying degrees of evil. We urge you lesser forms of filth not to push the bounds and cross over into true corruption, into our domain. But if you do you, one day you will look behind you and you will see we three, and on that day, you will reap it.
Chilling words, no doubt, in light of what the brothers do in the film. But, the definition is correct. We all do evil on a daily basis. We do and say unkind things. We steal from our employers. We lust. But, there is also God-given good in us, as we are made in image of God. Most of us have not stepped over into full blown evil that seeks the annihilation and destruction of all things, which will lead to the destruction of ourselves.
Understanding this passage of degrees of sin and evil serves as a warning to us, a humongous billboard on the highway that death lies ahead, turn back now.
We should pay attention before we becomes It, Destroyer and Negator of Worlds. There must always be a brutal self awareness and honesty that allows us to see if we’ve gone from being sinners to being diabolical.