Satan and the Banality of Evil

Instead one hears the same old sins over and over again. There’s nothing new. When a priest says wearily, “Don’t worry. We’ve heard it all before” he means it. While the souls we minister to are infinitely interesting, their sins are not.

Eichmann, witness say, came across as a boring, tiresome little bureaucrat. Always justifying himself and blaming others he was not monstrous, but mediocre. He was not a dynamic  Mefistofele but a dull middle manager.

We should therefore be reminded of two things: firstly ordinary people are capable of enormous evil. In many ways Eichmann was what he claimed to be, a cog in the machine, a soldier taking order, a middle manager approving a command. If ordinary people are capable of gradually consenting to enormous evil–giving way step by step and compromising in seemingly little things, then they are also capable at the final point of compromising on the greater evils, and if Eichmann was capable of this progression into evil, then most people are. This means you and me.

Secondly, this evil is possible through the hands of government agents. Ordinary men and women working for ideological masters can be the agents of monstrous evil. The governments and the ideologies that drive them can bring about these great evils only with the co operation of the small men like Eichmann. Even though his crimes rank among the most vast and horrendous in history he was petty, mean and small.

So it is with all evil. Once you get past the disgust and enormity of crime you see the person who has committed is not great. Indeed, they are a shrunken person. Their sin and horror has reduced them to a kind of subhuman species. It is as if they have been drawn into a ever downward spiraling vortex–becoming smaller and smaller until they are next to nothing at all. C.S.Lewis portrays this in The Great Divorce when the souls from hell appear in heaven they come in through an apparent pinhole–they and their who traveling vehicle are minute compared to the vast glory of heaven.

Likewise, if evil is banal the good is gloriously rich and sumptuous. Who can imagine the cosmic delights of heaven where instead of being in a downward and ever decreasing vortex we are instead constantly moving further up and further in. For those headed for heaven enter into an ever widening gyre, entering forever into new glimpses of glory and ever expanding and unimaginable realms or beauty.