How Evil Works Within Our Society and What We Can Do to Combat It
A few weeks back in our discussion we turned to how we address evil thoughts. I agreed to preach on it and in the weeks that passed, we’ve seen the most horribly evil acts done in American political life in modern times.
So today, I hope to explain how evil works within us and our society, particularly politics, and what we can do to combat it.
What is the Purpose of Evil
Let’s start with the purpose of evil. Many thick books have been written trying to address and explain the role evil plays in our world. I’m going to try to explain it in a few paragraphs. We can address questions in our discussion time.
Evil is the force working against us as we seek to love God and each other. The only way that can truly love is if we have a choice not to. To be able to choose good, we must be able to choose something else. That something else is evil. Evil is our turning away from our love of God and others toward selfish love of ourselves.
An analogy might be to think of our time on earth as a spiritual workout, evil is the gravity we’re fighting against us. The resistance creates the healthy muscle of our souls.
How does it work?
We live our lives with the freedom to choose good over evil, but the choice to do evil is always there and approaches us constantly. We are in a state of spiritual tension. Will we be more selfish or more loving? Will we give in to fear and lies or hope and love? The tension is constant throughout our life on a daily basis.
Evil comes at us in many ways. First, we inherit evil from our ancestors. None of us are immune from it. Throughout our lives, the most common areas where evil enters in us is our desire for status; a desire to accumulate dominion over others through power or money; and it plays on our sincere worries about meeting our basic needs of food and housing.
In today’s gospel, Jesus faces evil through temptations. One is to have power over others standing on the highest pinnacle, the other is to meet his immediate hunger need by turning stone to bread, and the other is a dramatic act of throwing yourself down from a high tower to prove yourself to others and gain status.
Jesus faced temptations from evil throughout his life up to the cross and in this way teaches us that we can overcome evil.
The process of being tested throughout our life is through temptation. The process of overcoming evil is turning to God for self-awareness, a desire to be better, and taking concrete action to grow is called regeneration.
Each day evil forces are working against our angelic forces. The goal of evil forces is to get us into a state of fear, shame, and anxiety deep enough that we feel we cannot get out. Evil seeks to get us to spiral down.
I recently preached on addiction, and this is evil’s way of getting so wedded to a certain bad habit that we will create delusional rationales for our behavior. Slowly but surely, we can come to love the evil so much that anyone who reveals it or questions us will be sidelined.
How to Know Evil
How do we know evil in our lives?
We all hear voices in our heads. Psychology would call this our constant chatter. Buddhism calls it our monkey mind. Our tradition would teach that there are also forces constantly trying to influence you toward selfishness or toward service.
Here’s how to know the difference.
Angelic voices never shame or criticize. They reveal things that need to change with compassion and even humor.
When you hear voices, for example, that says, “You are a phony,” “No one likes you.” “Your ugly.” “What a fool.” “If everyone knew who you really were they’d hate you,” you are tapping into the hells. We all hear some versions of this. Recognize that these voices are not from heaven, they are from hell. These are the voices of demons seeking to make you feel bad about yourself and the world. If you give into them they will run with it and pull you down deeper into depression.
When you think of the things you need to change or get moments of self-awareness or get honest feedback from people who love you, that’s your angelic trainer inviting you to work out. They do not truck in shame or fear.
Swedenborg offers an extremely helpful view of how evil works in our lives and in groups. He points out that it never comes to us as evil directly. Evil always comes to us as some deceptive solution. It also never comes out of thin air, but always builds on things in our own lives and memories. It takes a bit of the truth and a part of our experience and twists it into a believable falsity.
We know it has a hold on us when confronted by the reality that what we are doing is not good, so we deflect. Yes, this might not be great but I’m not as bad as X. You are complaining about this, but what about that?
Once evil has a hold on us, it will deflect self-awareness, ramp up more fear and cause us to focus on the splinter in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log within our own eye. As Swedenborg says in today’s reading, we ultimately get fog in our thinking and we become delusional sometimes to the point of a breakdown. We seek out others who will help us keep the charade going.
How Does Evil Playout in Society
How does this play out in society?
The dark forces are not working on us in an isolated manner. They will seek to connect us to others who share the same selfishness. Evil plays on our fears of status, career, and safety in groups.
This reinforces our negative behavior in mass deception.
This movement from our individual engagement with evil to the group is what leads to a mob mentality. This is what happens in our nation’s capital. Evil forces look for leaders where they can use dark rhetoric to light the fuse of resentment, fear, and anger. Soon, participants are feasting on hate. This is the ultimate goal of the dark forces. Their goal is the destruction of souls and lives.
Politics and the Church
Two favorite group venues for evil are politics and the church. Both places engage tribal loyalties. They inspire in groups and out-groups. They create leaders who demand unquestioned loyalty They have their own systems of agreed truth. This is why so many horrors come out of religions wed to political movements. They both work to stop self-examination. That’s the first step in every evil engagement. The goal is to get you to stop looking within and focus your attention on them – the enemy.
You have heard me share many times from one of my favorite books, “The Screwtape Letters” by CS Lewis where an older it demon mentors his nephew, Wormwood. The head demon explains why politics is such a good venue for evil.
“Your best plan [Wormwood], would be to attempt a sudden, confused emotional crisis from which he might emerge as an uneasy convert to patriotism. Let him begin by treating patriotism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the state at which the religion becomes merely part of the cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the effort. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meeting, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours.”
This is a good warning for all of us to be very much aware of tying ourselves to any political party or church. When you sense either your political group avoiding self-awareness and are not open to criticism, be on your guard your free will is in danger.
With the decline of religion, more people are finding their belief systems in political groups and conspiracy theories.
What Can We Do to Combat It
Now that we can see how evil works, what are some practical things we can do to combat evil in our lives and society. The battle against evil is within us. Our desire will be to fight it out there, but it starts within us.
In our own life, we must find new ways to become more self-aware. That means making it a spiritual practice to seek out opinions and viewpoints different from ourselves. It means praying daily for God to make us aware of where we need to change. This ability to face the truth within will require courage.
Finding a minister, spiritual director, therapist, or friend who will tell you the truth about yourself is another great gift you can give yourself. When you hear feedback from any of these sources does not argue. You don’t have to agree but sit with it. If their goal is love and care for you, they probably see something you are blind to.
Personally, reading the scriptures had a power greater than the intellectual knowledge gained. Attending worship in a sincere way as we do each week engages you with Scripture and prayer and teachings that can really help.
Sometimes evil will seek to break you from these strategies. I’ve discovered that people often tell me they are having deep spiritual breakthroughs in church. But months later they are incredibly angry at me over something I said or didn’t say. Seeing this many times, I conclude they were about to breakthrough, and the darker forces needed them away from this evolution.
Another exercise is to ask, “Who just said that?” when a thought comes into your head.
Keep asking where that thought comes from. This personal self-awareness will help you realize where thoughts are coming from. Any of them that are cruel or vicious is not yours but hellish. On the other hand, thoughts that come through to call someone in need, help out, give thanks would be angelic.
There are also phrases that help when you feel those gremlins whispering in your ear. Jesus uses the phrase, “Get be behind me Satan.” Using the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm are also excellent strategies. They clear your thoughts. They also make the dark forces aware that you are aware. Secrecy is their strategy, which is why they work so hard to build off of your own ideas and mix in truths to your thoughts.
When you feel the negative voices clouding your thoughts call in your angels.
When this level of evil exists within us we’ll seek out others who share our delusion. The internet has made this much easier. This is one reason we are seeing a dramatic increase in conspiracy theories, political fanatics, and cults. Now a demonic message can be shared with thousands instantly.
Mobs literally transform our ability to make appropriate decisions. The guy descending down from the Senate balcony told the press that he just got caught up in the moment. Ironically, that haunting image with the inscription in Latin behind him “annuit coeptis” which means God approves of our work.
That man said:
“[I] sincerely apologize to the American people. I recognize the actions that have brought shame upon myself, my family, my friends, and my beautiful country. In the moment I thought I was doing the right thing.” He reports getting caught up in the moment. Mobs do that. There’s a good chance he was caught up in the moment. That’s how evil works within crowds. Yet so many of those arrested seem surprised that they did anything wrong continuing to boast online about their role.
Leaders can play a major role in getting a mob energized in tribal anger, so we should be wary of allegiance to political leaders. President Trump knew what he was doing when he promised to march to the capital saying, we must fight. Germans under Hitler talk about being memorized by the comments and the mob. And Jesus who is hailed when he arrives in Jerusalem faces a mob days later yelling, “Crucify him.”
Events like riots bring out dark energy and it isn’t tied to any political party. They all share a common desire for chaos and destruction. These types of people will be drawn to the chaos. Evil thrives on chaos and destruction like a moth to a flame. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Antifa types at the capitol because their common magnet is mayhem.
What Can We Do About Mobs?
The trick of evil is to get us focused outside ourselves. The enemy is over there. They are bad. This is another form of deflection. If you are a Trump supporter right now you’ll want to engage in conspiracy theories that the whole thing was staged by the left. Or you’ll share stories proving Antifa lead the charge. Or you’ll want to point out that the rioting this past summer or in Seattle is worse. Or you’ll point to the use of “peaceful” in the president’s speech. All of this will cause you to double-down with your tribe.
The pain of having to acknowledge a part in any way with fostering this environment will force you to deflect and blame. Some will have the courage to wake up from their delusion. If you supported this president, this is a time to reflect on what role you played.
If you are opposed to the President, evil will work on you in a different way. Self-righteousness and vengeance are powerful venues for evil. You will point out to everyone that you were right. You opposed him and this gives you the feeling of being good while they are evil. There will be energy within you that wants to move beyond justice toward vengeance. You’ll literally want to destroy all of those involved. You’ll seek to cast a wide a net as possible of your enemies. It feels good to be on the right side. This energy within yourself also requires self-awareness to address it.
As you see evil works with us where we are but none of our immune. Facing this challenge, you need to remember that these people in the riot live in fear. They have been lied to that their national election has been stolen. If you feel this energy coming on, stay calm and remind yourself of the humanity of those involved. Understanding doesn’t mean they shouldn’t face justice, but it is a spiritual discipline to avoid creating a space for evil in your own heart.
Evils’ goal here is to jack up fear and a desire for reprisal on both sides. The ultimate goal is a tit for tat that leads to violence and destruction. At that time, even darker forces can move in.
There you have it.
Evil is the product of our choice to love or not to love. We must choose love.
Evil within mobs and multiplies the potential for destruction and chaos. We must build communities of compassion.
To break this cycle, we must speak the truth. Evil thrives off falsity. We must be aware of false ideas of, being morally superior and the inability to question our cause.
To fight evil. love one another. There must be justice, but we must avoid the temptation for vengeance and not give evil a foothold in our hearts and nation.