Friday, October 06, 2006

Ellen Goodman and the Devil

A columnist for the Boston Globe named Ellen Goodman wrote a wickedly satirical syndicated column in which she points out that much of our public discourse has become a lot of name-calling, especially invoking Satan.

Obviously, if you want to demonize your opponent, why mess around with a novice like Wormwood, or even a balding middle management hellion like Screwtape - when you can just go right to the top (or the bottom, as it were) and just call your opponent Beelzebub?

I think she does have a point. We're very quick to toss about the term "evil" and the name of "Satan" in a casual way, almost in a way as to make him seem symbolic, or as a literary figure, along the lines of the argument of the author Miss Goodman quotes in her piece, Elaine Pagels. Dr. Pagels is an extreme left-wing theologian that hardly anyone could conclude represents the mainstream of biblical scholarship. Pagels believes Satan is imaginary, a social construction whose purpose is for us to drag down our enemies.

Miss Goodman is unabashedly leftist in her politics, and makes no bones about her lack of endorsement of orthodox Christianity. Her article is very funny and tongue in cheek (she even quips that Pope Benedict XV "channeled" the Byzantine emperor, whose quote got him into trouble with some Muslims).

But of course, her humor is a "channel" of its own, a conduit to make a serious political and philosophical point. She argues that there really is no good and evil, that the world is really much more nuanced than orthodox Christians who believe in absolutes (not to mention the real person of Satan) believe. In fact, she concludes with the finger-wagging Bostonian school-marm judgmentalism that: "When we resort to nonnegotiable language, we've entered the world of absolutes. And when we fall into the clash of cultures at home and civilizations abroad, all hell breaks loose." Nanny-no-no meets prophet of postmodernism!

Problem is: I suspect she too is just as "absolutist" and "nonnegotiable" as the pope, as Jerry Falwell, and as Hitler when it comes to issues she feels are important. In other words, when orthodox Christians pronounce that homosexuality and abortion are sinful, that these things are "wrong" and "immoral" - she would scold us for being "dogmatic" and "absolute." But let's turn the tables...

What about those who want to outlaw abortion, are they "evil"? What about gay-bashers? What about racists? What about Nazis? What about wife-beaters? The proponents of apartheid? The advocates of segregation? Those who defend capitalism at the expense of the poor? Those who destroy the environment? Those who abuse animals? Those who shoot up schools? Those who commit genocide? Rapists? Arsonists?

I would find it hard to believe that a person even of Miss Goodman's sophistication and nuanced view of the world would really oppose calling such people and things "evil." Surely, she would not try to argue that Pol Pot is not evil, but rather just "misunderstood" nor would she defend the fascists based on their skill at running trains. I would think there are times when even Miss Goodman would become "nonnegotiable" and use the word "evil" - even if she thinks "evil" is nothing more than a "social construction."

Of course, her theology and anthropology about evil are entirely and absolutely wrong. There really is evil. All we need to do is open our eyes and look around. The evil that plagues this planet can't be fixed with counselling, with trendy programs, with prozac, with social programs and engineering, with education, with left- (or right-) wing politics, or even with destroying Christianity and others who believe in absolute truth. Mankind is disordered and warped, and every last person-jack (note my inclusiveness and sensitivity!) suffers from the fatal disease.

There is a solution - but it involves the eradication of the very evil that she denies exists, and it has been accomplished by the only Man to walk the earth who was not infected and infested with evil. Contrary to the author's family name, man is not "good." He has been corrupted, and the name we give this corruption is "evil."

Miss Goodman has identified the problem to an extent by pointing out man's folly, but she is in denial when it comes to what the root of the folly is, and how it has been fixed, is being fixed, and will be fixed, now and unto eternity.

Satan must be very pleased with her colomn, indeed. He likes nothing more than to read that he doesn't exist. I would imagine the Boston Globe is in the diabolical favorites on the browser (which, if Bill Gates really is the antichrist, must be Explorer).


Chris said...

Amen! I posted a lengthy entry where I mention the devil's nonexistence being the greatest trick he ever pulled....but I seconded it (or tied it) with "I can get into Heaven if I'm a good person."


Father Hollywood said...

Hi Chris:

Your remark reminds me of C.S. Lewis in the intro to Screwtape when he says the greatest danger in dealing with the devil lies in the two extremes: 1) Not thinking enough about him, or 2) thinking too much of him.

Thanks for the post!