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Facing Evil

One of the television shows I like to watch is “THE MENTALIST.” If you haven’t seen it, it centers on a man named Patrick Jane, an ex psychic/con man who helps the California Bureau of Investigation solve various homicides.  As I am card carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, I find this show entertaining on many different levels (I have even gotten some good tricks out of it!).  While each episode centers on an individual crime, the overarching mission of Jane and the CBI is to capture the serial Killer ‘Red John’, responsible for the murder of Jane’s wife and child.

The progression of this man-hunt has been interesting to watch.  At the beginning of the series, the hunt was for a solitary killer.  Red John was seen as a single person who was responsible for countless murders.  Yet as the program has progressed, “Red John” has morphed into a more systemic evil.  It is clear that what Jane and the CBI truly face is not a solitary person, but a whole network of villains.  Red John’s devout followers seem to have infiltrated every level of agency and government and are always at the ready to do his bidding, or protect his identity.    With Red John at the helm, the evil that is inflicted upon the world is wide-spread and insipid.  Jane and the CBI are continually one-step behind this devilish force, and are somewhat powerless against him.

This idea of systemic evil seems to be all over the television these days.  Kevin Bacon stars in a similar program called “THE FOLLOWING.”  Its premise is that like “THE MENTALIST” where Bacon stars as Ryan Hardy, an FBI Agent attempting to capture serial killer Joe Carroll and his band of murderous followers.   The CW program “CULT”(just recently cancelled)  developed this theme in an interesting manner.  In this program, devoted fans of a hit TV show (also called CULT) re-create the crimes from the show at the request from producer/cult leader Stephen Rae.  Even “ELEMENTARY” has adopted this theme.  Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, has been changed from a man of wicked brilliance, to a puppeteer who has devoted killers to do his work.

These aren’t your everyday cop shows.  The evil in these shows are beyond that of a ‘bad guy doing bad things.’   These shows depict an system of evil that has embedded itself in the intricacies of the world.  While the good guys may receive little victories along the way, these victories do nothing to stop the central evil which always remains illusive and in control.  What is more, with each passing episode, the evil becomes more wide-spread, more insidious, and more powerful.  Thus the viewer is left questioning as to whether or not the good guys will ever save the day.

I wonder if that’s the question that the culture around us is struggling with.  With a seemingly unending line of school shootings, marathon bombings and other atrocities being committed, one has to questions our ability to combat such evils.  Like the television shows that we watch, we may capture individual culprits, but still the systemic root of evil which causes such things goes untouched.

Perhaps this is where the church has a role to play.  After all, systemic evil has always been part of the doctrine of the church.  The Church has understood that underneath the misdeeds of humanity is a spiritual root and force.  Scripture depicts Sin (big ‘S’ sin) as spiritual force which dominates the individual, and has infected the entire world.  This is why Paul writes in Ephesians “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (6:12). It seems to me that this is what the culture is struggling with.  It is struggling to understand the dynamic of an unstoppable evil; it aching for a language to describe why, despite all our best efforts, horrors still abound.  What is more, it is to yearning for way to combat such a force, when all evidence points to the fact that good guys will never fully win.

If the church has a role here, maybe it is in reclaiming our message about sin, death, evil, and even the Devil.  Maybe the culture doesn’t need yet another message about how to love one another; maybe it needs to hear about the reality of evil and sin, and how they will be thwarted once and for all.

Because the fact is, this is the side of the story that is missing in the culture.  Unlike the television world, where the vanquishing of evil seems but a dream, the church voices a message of hope.  As we join together in our struggle with evil in this world, and sometimes in ourselves, we also join together in the message of our redemption.  Through the cross, we claim ultimate victory over the spiritual cause of all evil and wrong in this world.  In the message of the cross, we encounter the truth that God has dealt the definitive blow to these spiritual forces.   And while we still live in the reality of a fallen world, this does not deaden the reality of our salvation, or the promise of victory.

The truth is we know the end of the story:  Evil doesn’t win.  As rampant as it may seem, as unstoppable as we may fear it, it is powerless against the selfless love found in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It seems to me that the culture is looking for this message. May we be bold in its proclamation.

What is the way that you tackle the issue of sin, evil, and wrongdoing in this world?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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8 Responses to Facing Evil

  1. I think the incidence of evil and sin is so prevalent in our society that we don’t even realise we are engaging with it so often. And I don’t think we do need to embrace the unique Christian message of hope if we are to overtake that evil.

    I enjoyed hearing Jian Ghomeshi’s Q interview with Mandy Patinken where he details that he left his role on “Criminal Minds” because the presence of evil within the plotline was too much for him, and not the psychological aspect he had believed it would be. Imagine if we all had the integrity to walk away from what we perceive as an evil presence despite it’s popularity…


  2. Kyle Norman

    LauraMarie, I agree with you mostly. In some respects, we all have the ability to stand against evil through the various actions that we choose.  Mandy Patinkin is a wonderful example.  I remember hearing of the guitarist for a heavy metal band (Korn I believe) who began getting rid of his collection of serial killer memorabilia because he began seeing a negative impact in his family.  Evil is so prevalent in a world, and seen in so many avenues and structures, that we are called to actively work against it.

    Yet I do think there is something about the gospel message that helps cut through that so prevalent force.  I think in a world with so much evil, the church’s message of hope and ultimate victory is one that the world desperately needs.  The message of evil’s downfall through the sacrificial love of God is one that puts our struggle with evil in appropriate context, and thus connects us to the one who is able to claim the ultimate victory.

    Definitely a difficult subject, and one that deserves a lot of wrestling.  Peace.

  3. Hi Kyle and nunrs,

    I apparently had a typo on my first post (I’d blame my tech but the lack of proof read is human error)- I very strongly *do* think we need to proclaim the message of hope in the face of evil. I don’t think we can be quiet about it. If we’re complacent, we are allowing the evil to become more of a force – and that to me is unacceptable.

    Some days it may feel like shouting into the wind, but I’m willing and wanting to keep it up.

  4. Kyle Norman

    Coffee, LauraMarie.  You need more coffee.

  5. As ever was! I hear sleep is also good…

  6. Fr. Bengry

    Great reflection Kyle+!


  7. I  think  we  need  to  realize that evil  exists , see 9/11 or  the  events in Cleveland this . But then I think we  need to  realize  that we  have   as  believers  the  tools to deal with all that stuff. So we  can  be useful in these  situations  and  not the  wimps  some people  see Christians  as . blessings   Paul

  8. Good post, Kyle. I think you’re right about the unique message that Christianity gives about evil, that it cannot stand against Christ’s selfless giving of himself and his life. That is what reminds me when we face the dramatic and undramatic evils and injustices of life that evil doesn’t have the final word. It is the hope that evil’s days are numbered that provides so much hope for so many people who have suffered the marks of evil in their lives through, to name only a few recent manifestations, kidnapping, bombings and wars.

    Yet, I do sometimes get worried when we talk about evil as if it were an outside force as something abstract and separate from us. Reflections on my own spiritual life tell me that the lies and the self-centredness which is characteristic of the early stages of evil are present in the way I think and behave each day. I want to be the centre of the universe and I want to manipulate the universe so that what I want is what I get. Now, I have enough experience to know that that is pride, vainglory and most of the rest of the spiritual vices talking, but it is in the challenging of these thoughts that I confront the distorting lens of evil in my life. Where it comes out, of course, it is in trivial things like getting angry, or saying hurtful things or ignoring the good that I can do. Yet, it is still a manifestation of what is sinful in me and something that I know I need to take seriously.

    I often wonder if our culture really gets evil, for all of its preoccupation in it in pop culture because it sees it as something external to themselves. We watch pretty horrific things on our computer/tv screes and call it entertainment. We react to news of the horrendous things we do to each other by explaining away the criminals who do them as ‘monsters’, not accepting that they are just as human as we are, even if they have submitted to the lies and distortions of evil more than most. It is easier to call someone a monster, rather than to accept that, like John Woolman, ‘there but by the grace of God go I’. The kind of evil which leads to bombing people at marathons or kidnapping people and terrorizing them for a decade is, at its heart, a refusal to see other people as God’s, but rather as obstacles or raw material for what one really wants. When we de-personalize someone, we run the risk that we stop seeing God’s image which, however distorted, remains in all people and gives real hope for redemption whatever horrible things someone has done.

    I’m not, however, saying that we must pat those who do evil in the world and the head and let them go because they are so broken and misguided. Of course not. Actions have consequences and even repentance doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t suffer the consequences for one’s actions.

    I think all this is implicit in what you’re saying, Kyle, but that is what came to me as I read your excellent post.

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