Take the devil as a metaphor for the shadow side of human nature or as a supernatural being-either way; it is good to know your enemy.
I just finished Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and couldn’t help but think: they sound just like the devil, who Jesus described as, “A liar and the father of lies” and as one who “comes only to kill, steal and destroy.”
But wait, isn’t “kill” the same as “destroy”? Not really. A man may be killed, but still be remembered fondly by his loved ones; he may even be a hero. To destroy him is to treat him as if he never existed at all.
That was one concept employed in totalitarian societies-human beings have no intrinsic value. Your enemies have no value, of course, but neither do your allies, nor even your family members-all are expendable with less regret than you might feel after swatting a mosquito.
Hannah Arendt, who attended the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Israel is criticized for her phrase “the banality of evil.” We don’t want monstrous evil to be banal, i.e. uninteresting, unoriginal and dull. We want monstrous evil to be spectacular, bizarre and astonishing.
Having attended several exorcisms, I have to agree with Hannah, evil is boring. It is S.O.S., Same Old Stuff, over and over and over. “I am the best, I am right, I am the most powerful, fear me.” That about sums it up, and then it manifests in variations on those themes, which variations some people find interesting, but I do not (growling, rolling on the floor, vomiting-my dog does all those things.)
But why is it even mildly surprising that evil is boring-how could evil be creative?
The devil in the Bible started out as a high angel. But that wasn’t good enough for him, he wanted to be the best. “But you said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14) Evil feels entitled to control everything, through force or fraud.
The seeds of self-destruction are already present in totalitarian societies and in the devil, because the single-minded, uncreative, let’s face it-stupid-drive to lie, kill, steal and destroy-is unsustainable. We humans may have a dark side, but we also have a (much stronger because open and creative) light side and we will not tolerate evil forever.
Better, of course, to never let it get a toehold in the first place. What are the warning signs? What is written on the devil’s calling card?
Human beings have no value.
I am the best. I am right, I am the most powerful, fear me.
When you hear this, when you detect this whiff of sulphur, remember it is rising straight from the pit.