All this talk of Black Mass at Harvard has me thinking about the Devil. Again.
When our New Hampshire house was newly built in 1988, but before we had moved in, I drove over alone one winter night to do some painting. There is something both magical and terrifying about being in a house at night, where only one room at a timer is illuminated with work lights, while the rest of the place perches in the gloom.
While in what would one day my younger son's room, a sudden fright came over me. A feeling that I was not alone and that a malevolent presence was in the house with me. Though not a churchgoer at the time, I reached back to my boyhood faith and started saying Hail Marys to myself. Until the fear passed. Whereupon I packed up my paint brush and paint can and decided to finish the job another day.
In this day and age, and in my secular culture, it's fashionable not to believe in the Devil. He seems associated with the kinds of people who view our current president as the Antichrist. Or with those mentally ill parents who beat their "possessed" kids to death or burn them with hot water. For the less insane, there are many reason to think that a Devil is not necessary to explain the chaos and "evil" in the cosmos -- gravity and soil cohesion explain landslides, nuclear fusion explain solar flares and supernovas, and evolution explains animal predation. Greed, stupidity and pettiness seem enough to explain most human evil. Besides, there's the possibility that natural selection favored populations that perceived evil beings lurking out of sight and beyond the safety of community fire. Maybe a little built in paranoia and fear of the dark is good for us a a species.
But what if there's more to it? In my experience, just talking about evil is enough to begin to feel defensive and aggressive -- evil, in short. I wrote a snarky letter to the Harvard group who wanted to stage a Black Mass. I was grumpy and on edge for a week until my wife got me to look inward at what was making me such a touchy jerk. Had I just generated an interior sense of peril? Or had I attracting something dark and unholy into my soul?
If there is Devil, or a dark force impelling us toward evil, it is incredibly weak. And it works in the moral universe, since evil in the physical world has its explanation elsewhere. And it is not chased away by sprinkling it with holy water, since any number of evil churchgoers is unchanged by the spray from the aspergillum. The Devil works by sowing discord, and by persuading us of adopting a framework of fear and paranoia by which we view the world.
In my experience, the Devil is not chased off by incantations or oil or water, but by a change of perspective. The Devil's flowers bloom in a soil of fear. His blighted garden blooms when we are afraid of those different from ourselves -- whether in skin color, language, religion or modes of thinking; when we see persuade ourselves that we are victims and persecuted; and when we accept that progress, cooperation and reconciliation are impossible. It's when we accept that hope is gone that we give in to the terrified reactions that bring about the evil in our homes and communities.
Let's commit ourselves to abandon that darkness, and allowing ourselves to bathe in the light of new hope, possibility and progress,