In June of 2016, Marietta and I were planning what to pack as we prepared to leave on our next vacation. The first part would be spent in Park City, looking across the pond on our patio at the Deer Valley ski run, Big Stick and watching the Osprey fish, the paddle boarders float past us, the muskrat swimming at dusk and the ducks herding their babies back and forth among the ponds. All this while I would be editing my novel and outlining a new psychology book.
I also planned to read some about Nietzsche, Bonhoeffer, Wagner and Freud, preparing for our pilgrimage to Europe. We were going to Munich, Cesky-Krumlov, Vienna, and Prague. My purpose for this trip was to understand evil. I want to comprehend how fear and hurt transform into anger and hate and then become a mass movement of evil like the world saw in the first half of the twentieth century when over 100,000,000 people were killed.
Some of the same forces seem to be at play now. As we prepare to leave, we are witnessing the emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President and watching the British vote to leave the E.U. and a recent election in Austria where a radical anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-sematic candidate came within a hair of winning the election for the Austrian Presidency; and in the Philippines where Duterte, a strong man with a history of using goon squads to get his way, won the Presidency by campaigning against democracy.
The belief that evil is an inevitable force represented by Satan, created by God to have a cosmic battle against the forces of Good represented by the Archangel Gabriel died with the Enlightenment. The kind of evil that I am interested in for this trip is not merely an impulsive act of one person’s murder of another, although that is certainly evil. It is the murder of millions of people ostensibly justified by a flag, a culture or a widely-held belief. Such beliefs would include misogyny, racism, nationalism, and any wholesale entitlement that values one human’s life and an individual’s sacred right to choose above another’s.
Before the eighteenth century and the Enlightenment, metaphysical versions of reality were sometimes used by various human cultures to subdue evil. But as often as not these constructions of God were used as justification for the perpetuation and the prosecution of evil. (See the wars that followed the Reformation, the Inquisition, and the Crusades).
For many, science and the Enlightenment destroyed any metaphysical constraints, releasing humans from any reason to fear God. The Newtonian discovery of natural physical laws of nature suggested that there were also laws of human nature and that if we followed these laws in our behavior toward ourselves and others, we would develop a Utopia where evil would not exist. Before the Enlightenment people refrained from evil because of their fear of God. After the Enlightenment, many worried that there would be no reason for avoiding evil because there was no god to fear. Then some Enlightenment thinkers believed that if people conformed to Natural Human Laws that life would work better for them and everybody else. So instead of being afraid to do wrong, people would be naturally rewarded for doing right.