I went to see "Paranormal Activity" this weekend. I love a good scary movie and this one didn't disappoint. It's a far cry from the usual, wretched gorefests that Hollywood produces en masse.
The scares were subtle, the monster virtually unseen, and the story not all that implausible in my opinion. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys being creeped out every now and then. Don't take the kids!
With Halloween just around the corner, my thoughts have turned to the dark side of spirituality:
namely evil, including its biblical personifications as Satan or the Devil. This is one topic that liberal theologians are guilty of glossing over, in my opinion. In fact, one of my misgivings with those further to the left than I am is that they don't seem to take evil seriously.
When people do bad things it's not uncommon for progressives to blame poverty or lack of education or mental illness. I suspect that's because it's difficult for a basically good person to think that anyone could willingly and gleefully indulge their propensities for malicious selfishness. That is what I believe underlies most of the truly horrific things we hear about on the news and read of in history books. Mix these two thoughts together: "all that matters is what I want" and "it might be fun to hurt someone else." The result is monsters worse than anything dreamed of by Edgar Allen Poe or Stephen King, because they're real. Think Charles Manson, Josef Stalin, or the man whose name comes up in any discussion of evil, Der Fuhrer.
The other side of the Christian spectrum has its own misconceptions about evil. They look for it behind bushes, peek in the shadows, and dream up wacky conspiracy theories. They read badly written novels about secret Illuminati - New Age cabals trying to outlaw the Bible and teach past life regression techniques to kids. They not only recognize evil's existence, they give it an arcane mystique and blame demons for such earthly woes as mental disease and financial misfortune.
Worst of all, they look for the Devil in all the wrong places. I recall with cynicism one particular All Hallows' Eve, when I was in Bible college, and a group of my fellow students drove to the top of a hillside after dark. There they prayed to "bind the wicked forces that were rampant that night," i.e. Satan and his henchmen, who were surely lurking in plastic masks, bags full of candy and drive-in slasher movie marathons.
It was all very melodramatic, and surely gave those who participated in it the feeling that they were accomplishing something. But when they came down from the hillside and retired to their safe, comfortable dormitory rooms, there was just as much real evil surrounding them as before their little excursion. The problem was they couldn't see it, despite, or because, it was right in front of them.
A few weeks ago I took a drive in the Tennessee mountains, which are especially beautiful this time of year. But marring the lovely colors of Fall and the rustic cabins and farms was the ugly sight of tobacco drying in barns owned by major agricultural producers as well as part-time farmers. This picturesque land, in which the best apples on earth are grown, is used to produce a toxic weed that gets shipped to the giant cigarette factories in eastern North Carolina. There it's turned into a deadly, addictive product that's sold in almost every retail outlet across the USA as well as the rest of the globe.
Go a little further east in the great state of NC and you'll encounter corporate owned pig farms, where swine are crowded together for the entirety of their short lives, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and then slaughtered to feed our ravenous appetite for things that kill us. These unfortunate creatures do leave their mark on the land, though. They produce countless tons of
feces and urine, which agribusiness tries to control by pouring into massive artificial lagoons. But toxins from these giant lakes of crap leech into the water table, poisoning the impoverished residents of the area, who rely on wells for their water supply. To make things worse the overfilled ponds occasionally burst, releasing rivers of raw sewage that flow through yards and fields where children play. Sometimes they even make it to the ocean, where it turns the waters foul and kills thousands of fish.
Saturated fat and tobacco kill millions of Americans every year, and their production isn't only allowed but encouraged by the government. Last year I watched my father-in-law, who smoked most of his life, die a slow, agonizing death as lung cancer ate his body from the inside. People I care about have seemed healthy one day only to collapse the next, dead from arteries clogged by sausage biscuits and bacon eaten in indiscriminate amounts for decades.
Journey back to the mountains I was speaking of earlier. Go just a little south of the part of Tennessee I was in. You'll find yourself in Cherokee, NC, home of a monster casino that was supposed to lift the American Indians who live in the area from poverty yet for some reason never did. I visited it recently, not to gamble but just out of curiosity. I was only able to stay for a few minutes though, because the air was filled with second hand smoke; NC doesn't yet ban smoking in public buildings. In fact the endless rows of electronic slot machines were equipped with ash trays, so that the patrons could destroy their bodies even as they handed their rent and grocery money to a megabucks corporation that offered them nothing in return but false hopes.
The saddest thing about the visit was seeing the throngs of people that were there. Not only was the vast parking lot almost completely full but more vehicles poured in through the entryway by the second. Judging from their dress and language I could discern that most of them weren't the stereotypical well-heeled seniors spending their kid's inheritance. They were people who hold jobs that could provide them and their families with a reasonable standard of living, but for the fact that they were willingly throwing their modest wages away. Maybe their children will learn to eat the Chinese-made ribbons that every patron was given on their way out, so that they would feel like a "winner" no matter how empty their pockets were.
The point of this depressing tour isn't to bash Dixie, the land that I love and that has nurtured me all my life. What I'm trying point out is this: there's no need to look for the Devil in haunted houses, spooky movies or Harry Potter books. Wherever you are, just look around.
You'll see things just as wicked, just as abominable and despicable as the spectacles I've described here. They won't be hiding behind the bushes, they'll be right in your face.
As much as I admire Augustine, he was wrong about evil. It's not merely the absence of good. It's a powerful, active force that corrupts whatever it touches and struggles constantly against God's efforts to redeem His creation. We can no longer afford to pretend it doesn't exist. Nor can we waste time looking for it in the wrong places. If the mission Jesus gave us is to be fulfilled, evil must be recognized, it must be pointed out, and it must be fought. May we be given both the wisdom and courage to do just that. Peace.