Over the years my position on Evil has been that it is exclusively human, that an “animal” can’t be Evil because so much is about forming the intention that destroys. I was also arguing that a natural tragedy, like an earthquake or tsunami, cannot be Evil. I see it as an example of imputing agency to something that doesn’t care and I say that the planet, the cosmos, and your ordinary backyard rock doesn’t have thoughts about humans one way or another. They are simply indifferent.

So a quick glance at Google to see how far off I might be, and I’m waaaaay behind. To them “Evil” is a good name for a TV series that claims Evil is supernatural and carries plots about the various religious franchises to see what they believe and what the consequences might be. (Atheism is treated as a religion, which I consider fair.)

This has been a year that one could fairly call Evil, because intentional destruction and suffering has been the goal of so many people from those who refuse masks to those who poison rivals. No wonder we’re ready for a TV series on the subject. Or are sociopaths simply human stones without the ability to even perceive Evil, not aware of the suffering of others.

One of my fav genres is CSI (Criminal Scientific Investigation) particularly the ones about cold cases. I like that not much violence is depicted, just bloody results, but more than that I appreciate the investigators: calm, detail-conscious, but not cold. They are patient but motivated. Most of the cases that persist until solved — no statute of limitations — are about death. This frees it somewhat from society’s prejudices about what is Evil and what is not, just offensive to this particular demographic.

This series called “Evil” is taking on the Other, the supernatural, the longest established white dominant politico/governing force. It includes women and blacks as investigators. And it wrestles with psych to some degree but not directly. For instance, “possession” is considered in the old traditional sense of having an actual demon getting inside someone.

In contrast, I believe that brains organize identity in systems and are capable of managing dissociation (unbearable reality) by creating several identities in one person. The precursor might be our ability to shift among attitudes, points of view, and empathies. Or maybe acting.

As well, we are more aware now after the present technical exploding of knowledge about things we never could record or measure or theorize in the past. We are more aware than ever that human thought — even with the help of computers — can never grasp all there is in existence, going on everywhere without our knowledge or imagination.

A third way we learn about evil is in dreams when our under-consciousness brings up in illustrations of things we don’t usually let ourselves think. (Like sex, in this culture where there are so many rules.) And, cleverly, the writers of this first episode include kids just coming to consciousness and therapy based on telling everything..

The writers also include money and the clever ways to make a profit from “evil”. But the evil content definition is not always there — just the scary realization of unknown. We know about bad drug trips but I’ve not read much about them being access to evil — just torment. The terror of blackouts pulls in alcoholics.

There’s a performance aspect to religion that I’ll look at closer later. But as the show says, demons love an audience and part of their power comes from us watching the reactions of the others. The sadist-in-chief we know best is a performance artist. He feeds on our shock and fear because he believes it means power and control by him.

CSI investigators know better. The best programs describe the killers through the clues they have left, including their psychological configuration — sometimes stupid, often controlled by bad templates created in infancy through neglect and pain, and maybe as part of a chain of internally mutilated people who have formed into a system with power because of ignoring social standards. Or maybe they’ve just developed a taste for it, the way it is used by people fighting the system through media and arts. Outrageous, chaotic, and sexy.

I like the inclusion of an infrastructure “fix it” guy on this ghost busters team. The inscrutability of modern appliances often seems to me to be demonic. Old houses develop “minds” of their own, creaks and pops for no apparent reason until they cost you a lot of money to rebuild. A parallel can develop between that and the infrastructure systems of our cellular brains that support our thought-structures.

Are damage from failure to act, from omission, from not monitoring — which happen all the time — either crime or evil? I guess it depends on the consequences. I just watched “The Crown” episode in which a whole school of children were killed by ignoring rules about coal waste management. We seem convinced that destroying children is worse than destroying old people via inattention. Would one say killing children is evil but killing old people is merely criminal? Both are culturally variable.

I have a friend who insists that the universe itself is evil, stalking us and tainting our lives. Some would say this is paranoid and, of course, it’s not if the universe really IS evil, intentional. But I don’t think the universe is hostile or evil or capable of intention. It is indifferent, not at all either the killer kings of the Old Testament or the scribes and Pharisees of the New Testament, early lawyers. Those are projections. We control projections if we recognize them. We can control paranoia — until the tiger turns out to be real.

The trouble with paranoia is that it blocks perception of the anti-evil, the good and the grace that sometimes comes to us. If it feels like a trap — like an uninvited friendship — then it is evil? Don’t answer quickly. It’s not an easy question. Sly evil slips into your life so subtly so luxuriously.

I go back to the opening of this series of programs on evil that is beginning on CBS and is also on Netflix. It is a tour of a fabulous glass and marble house, the kind often used as a set in a popular series about upper-class people, but entirely empty. NOT a shack, NOT a deteriorating trailer, but a place with NO people. I have a clerical colleague who likes to joke about fabulous and esteemed places like universities and resorts. “This would be a really nice place if it could be rid of all the people.” Is this evil of him?

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.

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Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.