Edging Toward Enchantment: Enchanted Evil

My recent posts about demons--Lilith and Lucifer--bring up a different reflection on how we might edge back toward enchantment.

Recall from a recent post how we might use existential jujitsu with our disenchantment, using the dissatisfactions of disenchantment to edge us back toward enchantment.

Regarding this existential jujitsu, we've talked about our need for hallowing, our need to give sacred "weight" to life.

We've also talked about our dissatisfaction with seeing creation as mere mechanism. Our revolt in the face of things like cancer suggests that there is more to creation than mere mechanism, and this revolt is our implicit longing for a "new heaven and a new earth." Our lamentation edges us toward enchantment.

In this post I want to point out how we are dissatisfied with disenchantment when it comes to evil.

"Evil" is an enchanted word. Evil conjures the devil. Evil is alien and Other, a darkness that invades and violates our world.

Consequently, we reach for the word evil when the language of everyday morality fails us. Hitler was evil. ISIS beheading people is evil. A serial killer is evil.

We reach for the word evil when the wickedness we are describing boggles the mind. Evil can't be explained. Evil means we've reached the edge of our epistemological horizon.

Now, as rational, scientific people we know that there are explanations for people like Hitler, ISIS and serial killers. Historical explanations. Sociological explanations. Familial explanations. Psychological explanations. Environmental explanations. Genetic explanations. Neurological explanations. We know, because we live in a disenchanted world ruled by cause and effect, that there are reasons for these atrocities. Causes. And if we took the time to investigate these causes we would find reasons and explanations. There is nothing evil or diabolical at work. Just the forces of history, sociology, psychology and neurology.

And yet, there is something in us that resists wanting to understand Hitler. We fear that, if we understood Hitler, that we might empathize with Hitler. And if we empathized with Hitler, if we empathized with evil, then what sort of persons have we become?

Now, let me be very, very clear. This refusal to understand and perhaps empathize with those we call "evil" is a huge problem. We drop the "evil" label on our enemies and that justifies the evil we can do to them. So let me be very clear that the adjective "evil" creates huge moral problems and obstacles.

So my point here isn't that the use of word "evil" is good or justifiable, just that we're draw to it in an enchanted way. Something deep within us rejects a disenchanted account of evil. We are drawn to the word evil when we face horror that boggles the mind, along with an associated fear that if we understood the horror that we'd be contaminated by that understanding.

Basically, although it creates huge moral temptations, we experience evil as enchanted, as alien and Other.

So how do we reconcile these tensions?

One the one hand, we experience evil as enchanted, as alien and Other.

On the other hand, we are prone to evil when we label others as alien and Other.

There are a host of options here. And many of these options suggest, for a variety of very good reasons, that we should do away with the word "evil" altogether.

Still, I'd argue that there would remain a deep, visceral dissatisfaction with getting rid of the word "evil." When it comes to horror we instinctively reach for enchanted language. Psychologically speaking, I don't think we'll ever be able to stop using the word evil. We might should get rid of the word, but we will never be able to. Like it or not, humans are Homo religiosus.

So the Christian solution is to shift the word evil away from human beings toward the Devil. We battle not with flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of wickedness. The Devil is the ultimate source of evil.  Humans are evil only insofar as they serve the Devil. Which opens up the possibility for mercy and salvation. Humans who perpetrate wickedness are under slavery and bondage. And they can be set free from this bondage. We seek the conversion of the enemy, not his death. And love is the means of this conversion. "Father forgive them," Jesus said, "for they do not know what they are doing."

In short, the experience of evil edges us back toward enchantment. Problematically so, it is true.

But the trick is to push deeper into the enchantment, to not let the word evil fall, in a disenchanted way, upon human beings.

We push further into the enchantment to see evil as truly, alien and Other, as non-human. As thoroughly enchanted.

As the Devil himself.

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