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Bent on evil

Sorry that posts are skimpy this week. I’ve been at work on a project: Kathleen has inveigled me into doing two sessions on evil at adult education at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson.

The first, this Sunday, will be on Milton’s Satan and rebellion. The second, a week from Sunday, will be on Voldemort and Hitler and the exercise of power over the Other.

As is always advisable with good churchgoing people, I will emphasize that evil, rather than being remote and exotic, is close at hand and mundane.

I should be returning to whinge at full strength about editing and journalism in a few days.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:53 PM | | Comments (8)


"Evil is close at hand and mundane."

One might even say "banal". From _Eichmann in Jerusalem_:

"Despite the best efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a 'monster', but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown. And since this suspicion would have been fatal to the whole enterprise, and was also rather hard to sustain in view of the sufferings he and his like had caused to millions of people, his worst clowneries were hardly noticed and almost never reported. What could you do with a man who first declared, with great emphasis, that the one thing he had learned in an ill-spent life was that one should never take an oath [...], and then after being told explicitly that if he wished to testify in his own defense, he might "do so under oath or without an oath", declared without further ado that he would prefer to testify under oath? Or who, repeatedly and with a great show of feeling, assured the court, as he had assured the police examiner, that the worst thing he could do would be to try to escape his true responsibilities, to fight for his neck, to plead for mercy -- and then, upon instructions of his counsel, submitted a handwritten document containing his plea for mercy?"

If I recall correctly...
The Shadow also wore a fedora.

'Preacher' McIntyre,

Hmm..... so in other words, are you saying your 'whinges' have been clipped?

Now we know how those fallen angels must have felt.

But seriously, John, full marks for spreading 'the light' in the face of pervasive evil in all its many guises. "Close at hand, and mundane", indeed.

Not having read any of the brilliant J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, or even seen nary a one of the many film adaptations, I do know this much, that the arch villain of the series, Voldemort----young Harry's malevolent nemesis throughout these spellbinding chronicles---was fanatically bent on forming a pure-blood master race of evil wizards, particularly hellbent on exterminating the allegedly tainted, magic-challenged Muggle population; not unlike Adolph Hitler's maniacal 'final solution'------his systematic master plan to kill all European Jews, gypsies and homosexuals, so that the allegedly pure, lily-white, superior Teutonic race would ultimately prevail.

ironically, not unlike the fictional character,Voldemort, who was rumored to be of 'mixed blood', there was some compelling evidence that Hitler had some Jewish blood in his lineage, which in an almost compensatory over-reaction, I would maintain, appeared to actually have emboldened his monstrous, diabolical master plan of totally exterminating all the Jews in Europe---actualized in the unfathomable horrors of the Holocaust.

I gather you are going to address the Voldemort/ Hitler equation more from the angle of their uncanny ability to sway the masses, or as you put it, hold sway over "the Other", which. if I interpret you correctly, are those persons deemed inferior, imperfect, or just different, and thus expendable in the grander, most evil scheme of things?

Oh to be a fly on the wall, or better still in the audience, taking it all in, at both your upcoming Sunday sessions at Towson's Trinity Episcopal Church.

I wish you well.


Your mention of power over the Other as an example of evil reminded me of the typical Charles Dickens villain: almost always it is someone who seeks to psychologically dominate another person, usually weaker, like a child, an underling, a spouse (certainly wives were at great disadvantage in those days), or someone weaker mentally, like Barnaby Rudge.

Not only was this aspect always present, it was shown as the worst aspect of their villainy, which also (almost as an afterthought) could involve murder, mayhem, or misappropriation of property.

Perhaps Dickens could be said to show that one of the worst effects of evil is that victims not only suffer the initial assault (the violence, deprivation, etc.) but they themselves can change for the worse as a result of the experience. I suppose in his day people might have said that villainy degraded its victims. I recall Jimmy Stewart's character in It's a Wonderful Life turning into a twisted, desperate and angry soul in Potterville.

Some cultures have developed ways to try to cleanse or somehow return victims to balance (or harmony) by ritually purging them of such influence. Lustration, for instance, or the healing ceremonies used by the Navajo are examples.

However, evil is not a force out there; it is part of all of us. To the extent that we have suffered, we carry the contagion. We should not so consistently treat it as outside of us, or outside of everyday life.

Good luck with the classes; evil is a broad and difficult subject.

This discussion reminds me of Father Brown's explanation of how he catches the murderer (in The Secret of Father Brown): He himself becomes the murderer - he finds the murderer within himself - and thus understands how the crime was committed. He describes this process as a religious exercise, and explains: "No man's really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; … till he's got rid of all the dirty self-deception of talking about low types and deficient skulls; … till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat."

To me one of the most powerful lessons from the Harry Potter saga is the importance of looking evil in the face and calling it by name (none of this "He-who-shall-not-be-named" pussyfooting).

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.

Laura Lee,

Since my generally reliable long-term memory has maybe slipped a tad, of late, from say when I was a tad younger, and my brain tended to fire more on all cylinders (or synapses), I would have immediately recognized your most recent citation as coming from Mr. Elliot's poem, "Ash Wednesday". But I must confess I had to do a quick Web search confirmation just to be sure.

I almost accredited those rather dark, angsty, thought-provoking lines to Baltimore's own Edgar Allen Poe, but now realize the error of my initial suspicion.

Interestingly, all I had to do was Google the last line-----"The deceitful face of hope of despair", and .......voila!...... the mystery was solved.

Oh, I trust our Prof. McI. talk at his local Episcopal kirk, today, on the subject of evil re/ Milton and the notion of rebellion went very well; the audience coming away w/ a good dose of mortal sinners' remorse. HA!

"Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat...."

--------Opening lines of John Milton's "Paradise Lost"

Laura Lee, hope all is well w/ you and yours, and a wonder-filled, blissful week awaits. Fall beckons, and summer is on the wane. (Although here in L.A. we San Fernando Valleyites are preparing for daytime temps stretching into the mid-90s F. for this entire week. Ugh!)


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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