It is perhaps the dark December days that influence my thinking – or my Romantic outlook on life. Whichever, I’m not depressed at this time, but I do feel weighed down by the darkness covering our world, wickedness in high places, whether in the Church, business or politics. People can be so unpleasant, so aggressive, so uncivil, but perhaps that has always been so in general. I begin to feel “disassociated” as the clouds gather and clearness is obscured by thick fog.
There are various explanations for evil, the classical biblical narrative of Satan and Original Sin, and another from the ancient Gnostics, naming the Demiurge and the Archons as the root of evil and not humans. Whichever, these are myths that attempt to explain a long-forgotten history and the archetypes that underlie our psychic and spiritual life. As a Christian, I assent to the biblical narrative but with the reserve that it isn’t complete. There is a much fuller picture than what was revealed in writing to the Jewish people. Greek and Egyptian mythology are full of images and characters that illustrate a spiritual reality, as do the Nag Hammadi scriptures that were found only in the 1940’s. We have to face these things for the sake of the credibility of our own faith in the One God and Jesus Christ.
Modern psychology has gone a long way to seeking the source of evil. My concern with this subject comes from other matters on which I have been writing. Occasionally I receive confidential e-mails that enlighten me just one bit more on certain matters.
Some years ago, I bought a book by a Polish scientist, Andrew Lobaczewski, Political Ponerology. It is hard going as a book, and assumes scientific knowledge, but the basis seems quite comprehensible to one who has studied philosophy and theology. If you want to read it, it can be ordered here. Ponerology comes from a Greek word that means evil. It is the study of evil. The concept is at the same time theological, philosophical and scientific. Lobaczewski stresses the scientific aspect in his study of clinical psychopathy.
History repeats itself in the way a central core of psychopaths (people without moral conscience, empathy or normal emotions) influences a whole group of people and poisons the whole as happened in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and in our own world. This scientific approach can only enlighten our theological and philosophical understanding, and give us that much more insight. I was born fourteen years after Hitler blew his brains out, and I thank God I did not endure those days as my grandfather did as he languished in an Oflag. The war and the Holocaust are a part of our collective memory. The evil was exorcised, or was it? Did it not simply go elsewhere? For a time, it was the “soul” of the Soviet machine until its apparent dissolution in 1989 – and now? I have my suspicions, but I am not sure enough to commit them to writing.
This kind of evil is not combated by morality or philosophy, but by hard knowledge (as well as prayer and fasting). The key to identifying this kind of evil that is capable of atrocities on a vast scale, callous sadism, mass murder, laying waste whole countries and butchering women and children – is the phenomenon of the caricature of the human being that has no conscience, empathy or emotion. They are like reptiles and are human only in appearance. When they get into power, they influence others to become like them, and a disease becomes a pandemic.
Psychopaths are not only serial killers and revolting cannibals in American prisons and death row. They are also, in differing degrees, part of our businesses, banks, political structures and even the Church. It is estimated that as many as 6% of human beings are psychopaths. It would seem that these individuals are born evil, or at least carry something predisposing them to evil. Scientists other than Lobaczewski have gone much further in their studies since the days when Douglas M. Kelly examined the Nazi war criminals as they were tried and met their fate at Nuremberg.
Psychopaths are charmers, and many of us can be taken in. They cause us to be fascinated, they can break us, they can cause us to have bad emotions. Monsters like Ted Bundy had scores of fans and women “in love” with him as he waited for his own deserved fate. We find it so difficult to recognise their responsibility for the evil they did and caused. If psychopathy is an illness, that surely absolves moral responsibility. Or does it? Psychiatrists find that psychopaths know what they are doing and their faculties of reason are unimpaired, unlike those who suffer from mental illnesses that affect the rational faculties. The law in western countries punishes psychopaths as responsible for their crimes.
It is found that most of us, with a moral conscience and empathy for others, can all too easily get sucked into a psychopath’s game. When society is whipped into a frenzy, we have read about how Hitler did it. The whole society becomes a pathocracy, a totalitarian regime based on evil, an evil empire. Other than Nazi Germany, the other great historical example of such a nightmare was the Roman Empire. Such a regime ends up by self-destructing, like the Ebola virus kills its host until it evolves into an organism that acts in its own best interests. But, whilst that happens, countless people are killed and displaced, and irreparable damage is caused. Yes, a Church too can be a pathocracy as happened under the Renaissance Papacy for example. The Roman Curia in recent times seems to have been little better!
I recommend reading this book, even though it is difficult, and I lack the scientific knowledge to get the most out of it. We can learn a considerable amount all the same. We can resist evil by understanding it. Evil is a mystery for theology, a confused concept for philosophy, but something tangible and very real for psychology. We should read Robert Hare, who is an acclaimed specialist in the subject. We can stop evil by understanding it, or at least resist getting influenced.
Closer to home, most sect gurus are of this type of personality. They are ready to go to hell and take their people with them, as did the guru of the Solar Temple sect or Jim Jones. There have been many others, and many of us have been victims. As we say at the beginning of Compline:
Fratres: Sóbrii estóte, et vigiláte: quia adversárius vester diábolus, tamquam leo rúgiens círcuit, quaerens quem dévoret: cui resístite fortes in fide (I Peter 5: 8-9).