Snapshots of Evil
By Alexander Samuels
In the June issue of Quadrant Magazine, Australia's conservative literary, historical and political journal, Sophie Masson wrote an article titled "The Idea of Evil." It seems that psychiatry is returning to the use of the word and concept of evil.
Dr. Michael Stone of Columbia University has even devised a "depravity table" that can be used to describe some people as evil. Dr. Stone's research and conclusions have led him to believe that there are people who are neither mad nor disturbed in the psychiatric sense, but are instead evil. Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck also reached similar conclusions.
Masson goes on to write: . . .
What interested me in this discussion was the poverty of the imaginative concepts of evil displayed by so many of these eminent men and women. The most humble folktale story of the Devil is more complex, subtle and ambiguous in its exploration of evil than are all the depravity tables of people who, for all their undoubted eminence and record in helping the mentally ill, seem powerless in front of the reality that sometimes - rarely, fortunately - there arise human beings who have deliberately chosen the path of evil.
Murderers of the kind Dr Stone examined remain among us despite modern talk about what childhood influences might have made them what they are, or how responsible society is in grooming them; indeed, these days, the truly evil know all the right excuses and psychobabble and have managed to bamboozle a great many psychiatrists, until now, anyway. Dr Stone's "depravity table" is merely a "respectable" way of supposedly scientifically measuring what evil is. It doesn't inspire me. The old stories of the Devil, and the many explorations of the concept of a personification of evil, from the Adversary to Satan to Lucifer to Mephistopheles, were attempts at imaginatively grasping and understanding what we all know - that we are indeed all born with the "deficiency" as St Columba calls original sin, and that we must struggle against that part of us which is selfish, narcissistic and wishes others ill.
But it is more than that. The personification of evil may mislead the naive, but its imaginative force is that it embodies a reality, in all its complexity. Evil is real, just as good is; you cannot have one without the other. It doesn't come with horns and a tail, not usually - it can be brutish or charming, thick or intelligent, cruel or violent, banal or extravagant, and it can be clothed in any human hide. But true evil is always conscious, it is never a product of mental illness or brain disease or circumstances - though it is usually quite opportunistic.
Evil is always narcissistic, but it can be negative, or passive - the person is incapable of imagining others' suffering or independent existence, which is usually the definition of a psychopath (literally, "soul-sick" - just clothe an old concept in scientific-sounding words and you're right as rain!) - or a positive, even more dangerous sort, perfectly capable of imagining others' pain and suffering, and going ahead anyway, because it's pleasurable, because they love power, because they consider themselves above all laws, whether man-made or divine. Often, such people can be charming, even charismatic.
Yes, evil is real. Satan, the father of evil, is not to be compared to mythical creatures. Satan is a real fallen angel with sophisticated powers to delude people. Demons are fallen angels who are ruled by Satan. When demons are mentioned in the Scriptures, they are primarily in possession of human beings. Demons are real and powerful, but they can never possess a Christian. Christians may be oppressed, harassed or tempted by demons but never controlled by them, for the simple reason that Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God.
Although a Christian may be protected from possession by the grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit, evil is still a presence and will remain close by. Evil envies your position in Christ. Since he is powerless to afflict you of his own strength, he will use others (humans) whose souls are presently condemned to persecute and torment you. The only remedy, if God permits, is to know Christ through His Word and prevail in prayer. Come soon, Lord Jesus, or make your church victorious!
Alexander Samuels is a regular contributor to Carolina Christian Conservative.