As I read my twitter feed, I have to say that the USA seems to be divided like never before in my lifetime, the rhetoric is venomous, the denunciations are extreme, and each side talks about the other as the worst instance of evil they could imagine, often imputing motives to them. Added to that is cable news which creates a 24/7 frenzy, social media which amplifies the worst of people’s minds, and politics becomes a reality TV show on tribal political animosity. I should add that similar divisions are happening in places like the UK over BREXIT, in Europe over immigration, and even Australia is not immune from such partisan divisions.
I have a solution … a return to a belief in Satan.
Before anyone calls me cray cray let me explain.
Andrew Delbanco argued in his book, The Death of Satan, that once upon a time the American people believed in an ultimate type of evil called Satan. This provided a definition of evil, a category for evil, and a way of speaking about and imagining what the ultimate evil was like. However, as belief in Satan diminished, it coincided with belief in moral relativism, evil became ephemeral, and we lost any yardstick to measure evil. Even worse, evil became whatever I or my tribe was fighting against, not an instrumental evil, but itself the ultimate evil.
In other words, unless you believe in demons, you will begin to demonize whatever political apparatus you find yourself opposing. You will treat your political and cultural opponents not as compatriots with wrong opinions, but as the ultimate enemy of the human race, and imagine that you are involved in a life or death struggle against them. And that, in turn, justifies whatever you think you need to say about them or do to them in order to stop them. Remember, the greatest evil in the worst is not done by people who believe that what they do is wicked, it is done by people who believe that what they do is righteous. If Republicans or Democrats are the Dragon, then I must slay the Dragon!
Perhaps we need to believe in Satan again – whether as a supernatural figure, a symbol, a myth, or an archetype – in order to have a proper definition of evil and make sure we regard our political opponents not as the ultimate evil, but as expressions of error and a lack of empathy.
Just a thought!