Thursday, October 30, 2008
A friend told me she knew little about Barak Obama’s early life and I realized neither did I. So I looked.
His mother, Ann Dunham, met Barak Hussein Obama (Sr.) in a Russian class at the University of Hawaii. In a short time, they went to Maui and when they returned, they said they’d married. “When Obama was in his early twenties, his mother would reveal to him that her parents were livid about the marriage.” However, in his autobiography Obama wrote that his grandfather, Stanley, viewed the interracial relationship with a sense of pride. It was not so with the grandmother.
There never was a sign of a marriage license, and later in life Ann told a friend “marriage is not essential.” Whether this might have had any effect on her son, Barak Obama Jr., born August 4, 1961, is not known; however, Obama Sr. left her and son, two years later, and it is said she divorced him.
Obama Sr. left Ann to pursue his education and later returned to Kenya with an American white woman he married and who bore him two children. One, a son, is reported to be a mathematician living in China. There is no verification of this. All in all, Obama Sr. fathered nine children.
Ann then married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian student studying in Hawaii. This was her second bi-racial marriage which was extremely rare in the late ’50s and ’60s. In many ways she was an extremely unusual woman. Some report her as a communist but without verification. At that time she would be considered by most mainstream Americans as a left wing kook. That, however, might be as a reflection of her family and the “wildly romantic streak” she shared with her father.
I found little about Lolo Soetoro. I don’t know what he was like, where he worked, if he did. Previously, we’re told, he was a soldier in the Indonesian Army and projected the tough masculine image to his son. The most remarkable information is “After spending two years in Hawaii, he was forced by political upheaval in his native Indonesia to suddenly return to Jakarta.” What does this mean?
A year later, Ann and her son joined him. This begins a period of controversy whether Barak Jr. is or was a Muslim.
At times Ann and Barak Sr. are described as atheists; at other times they are said to be Muslims. For sure Lolo was Muslim. I’m inclined to think Barak Sr., by his wealth and marital style, was a Muslim. Ann? I don’t know; but according to Maya, her daughter by Lolo, “Ann pushed Barry and Maya to assimilate to Indonesian culture as much as possible....” And I’ve known Americans, living abroad, to get taken in by the culture. The only bearing is what role if any religion played in the Jakarta household.
As for Barak Jr., for his elementary schooling, he entered the Roman Catholic Franciscus Assisi Primary School in Jakarta on January 1, 1968 and was registered under the name Barry Soetoro, an Indonesian citizen, whose religion was listed as Islam. Catholic schools, worldwide, accept non-Catholics, who are exempt from religious instruction.
Three years later, in 1971, Barak enrolled as a Muslim in the Besuki Primary School, a government school. All Indonesian students are required to study religion in school and Barak would have been required to study Islam daily in school. He would have been taught to say his prayers, read and recite from the Koran and study the laws of Islam.
In his autobiography Dreams From My Father Barak Obama mentions studying the Koran and describes the school as Muslim.
Fitting into this, in Ann’s obituary in the New York Times it states in Jakarta she woke up her son at 4 a.m. each morning to take a correspondence course in English. It appears he must have been losing his English ability in school.
From the above I conclude Obama was raised a Muslim. What he is today I don’t know. The Trinity church, which he quit for political reasons, accepted all religions. He then joined another church.
Ann separated from Lolo and returned to Hawaii and began studying anthropology.
In the early ’70s Obama Sr. visited Ann and family. A strange incident occurred. Barak was watch the TV presentation of “Tthe Grinch who Stole Christmas.” Obama Sr. exploded. A given explanation was that he felt Barak was studying too hard and should have been resting rather than watching TV. But Obama Sr. knew little about his son’s studying. It’s possible the explosion was something he viewed as apostate in his son’s giving up Islam for another religion, Christmas. It is only my speculation.
In 1977 Ann told Barak she had to return to Indonesia to do field work for her university degree. She was going to study rural blacksmithing. Rural blacksmithing? She asked Barak to return with her and Maya but he didn’t want to.
This raised a question in my mind. What mother would leave her (bi-racial) teenage son in high school to go to a far off country? Wouldn’t most mothers wait until their son finished high school before going? What effect, I wondered, would this have on her son? There is a natural loneliness.
There was the question of arranging for the grandparents to take over raising Barak. The grandmother, Madelyn, didn’t like it. As we know, during the campaign, Barak “threw her under the truck” when, in defending Reverend Wright, he recalled her racial slurs.
In an incident, Madelyn was angry with her husband, Stanley. She had been accosted by a black man and did not want to take the bus to town. She wanted Stanley to drive her. He refused.
It was in this environment that Barak lived.
In another incident, sometimes contested by Obama supporters, Barak became pals with a boy he describes in his autobiography as “Ray.” Ray is Keith Kakugawa. He, too, was bi-racial, I believe black and Japanese, and had come to Hawaii from Los Angeles. He and Barak smoked pot and talked of their loneliness.
Ray later became addicted and served a prison term. On release, he hit upon Barak for money but was refused.
Barak’s time in Hawaii does not appear a happy one but a lonely one.
In his autobiography, he writes of a man “Frank.” He writes Frank was the man who had the most decisive influence in helping him find his identity.
Frank is Frank Marshall Davis who was a drinking buddy of Barak’s grandfather, Stanley. Frank, a black man, was a leading member of the Hawaiian segment of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA). Herbert Romerstein, whom I knew, was the Congressional investigator of the CPUSA. Romerstein wrote that the CPUSA sent Frank Davis from Chicago to Hawaii to organize the island’s Communist Party. Frank was also a journalist who wrote for the “Record,” the island’s Communist Party’s newspaper.
Frank was admittedly bi-sexual and by many was called a pervert. He was an author and wrote Sex Rebel: Black (Memoirs of a Gourmet Gash), which was hard core pornographic with explicit sex memoirs. It was published under the alias Bob Greene. Another of his books but unpublished is Mixed Sex Salad. He also wrote Livin’ the Blues.
This is the most influential man who helped Obama find his identity? When Obama wrote of “Frank,” didn’t he realize Frank’s identity would be tracked down?
And what of Stanley, the grandfather? A drinking buddy of Davis! Introducing him to his grandson!
Such was Obama’s youth.
In the early 1990s, Ann returned from Indonesia and had a job in New York City at the Women’s World Bank. The bank dealt with micro-financing with small loans to start and finance micro-businesses. She was stricken with cancer and returned to Hawaii where she died in 1995.
This happened before most of us knew of Obama. I wonder if they had contact after she returned. Did he go to New York to visit her? Did he know she was failing? Did she stop in Chicago en route to Hawaii? In his speeches Obama says she worried if she could pay her medical bills. He regrets not visiting her deathbed.
Good Lord! In a presidential election that affects all of us, the media has told us of a loving, caring childhood, not this. Unbelievable!
In my past life, I met, had contact with and knew people who were born poor and impoverished in the rural boondocks of Latin America. They had limited education, suffered a hard, hard life and joined the Communist Party. Recognizing their talent, the Party educated them and trained them into leadership roles in which they flourished. I conclude from Obama’s youth and experiences; it was the Alinsky machine that made Obama.
Monday, October 20, 2008
In the early 1980s I gave a lecture on the Theology of Liberation – “the Liberation Theology” - at a prestigious northeastern college. The audience was senior citizens, many of them Irish Catholics, and on hearing the lecture, they rose in protest and reported their displeasure of me to the program director. They disputed vigorously that church leaders would preach a revolutionary doctrine. Thereafter, I let Liberation Theology just lay there. It was too hot for religious American lay people.
However, at least one American religious order, the Maryknoll, embraced Liberation Theology, and we read of their struggles and deaths in Central America in the conflict between revolutionaries and the governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador.
Many who studied the subject believe Liberation Theology began in 1961 when in an unprecedented act, the World Council of Churches (WCC) invited the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to join the organization. Unknown to the WCC, the ROC was a KGB appendage, staffed by intelligence officers. I know this well because of my experience in Israel and Jerusalem.
The Soviets took advantage of the invitational opportunity and sent Metropolitan Nikodim (then of Leningrad), the ROC’s second ranking prelate, to the WCC assembly. He espoused a doctrine known as Liberation Theology which was eagerly accepted by Latin American priests and bishops. Its revolutionary philosophy soon became a vehicle for violent change in Latin America as well as Africa and Southeast Asia. Nikodim did not write the Liberation Theology but was its messenger. Its authors were most probably in Moscow headquarters.
The doctrine’s theme is Jesus Christ was a revolutionary whose purpose on earth was to liberate the masses from the economic slavery of capitalism. It states capitalism produces a “center” and a “periphery.” The center is filled with wealth, progress and riches which are enjoyed by a few. The periphery, the shadow of the center, is a barren wasteland of social imbalance, political tension, overwhelming poverty and out-and-out misery for the rest. The task, the theology states, is to continue Jesus’ task of destroying capitalism.
As liberation theology caught on with the Latin American Catholic clergy, Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian Jesuit, wrote The Theology of Liberation which spread Nikodim’s doctrine everywhere as a bible for revolutionary change.
Gutierrez wrote, “Capitalism and its society are to be wiped out, eliminated by violent revolution. In its place there must be implanted a government with state ownership and management of all sources of goods and energy, education of transportation.”
Latin American masses blindly believed a man of God, and the doctrine spread and spread. In scarcely twenty years, Malachi Martin, the advisor to Popes John XIII and Paul VI, estimated two-thirds of the priests and nuns in Latin America and one-third of the bishops were Marxists who promoted liberation theology. Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca declared, “The kingdom of heaven can come about in our day only through Marxism.”
The Vatican could not allow Latin America, its largest religious constituency, to become Marxist, and it’s highly probably for this reason it chose John Paul II, who resisted communism in Poland. A confrontation between Pope John Paul II and the bishops promoting the liberation theology took place at the Conference of American Bishops (CELAM 3) in Puebla, Mexico. So strong and deeply entrenched were the bishops, the meeting ended in a tie. The Pope kept Latin America within its constituency, and the bishops, priests and nuns continued with liberation theology.
A friend with strong connections to the Catholic Church recently traveled to Latin America and returned to say liberation theology remains alive and well.
It is from this background of Latin America’s liberation theology that James T. Cone, Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary brought liberation theology to mostly liberal, dissatisfied American blacks. He is the author of numerous articles and books on the subject, including A Black Theology of Liberation.
In many ways his theology is more radical and extreme than the Latin American version as it is based not only on wealth but on color. He writes,
“It is evident, therefore, that this book is written primarily for the black community, not for whites. Whites may read it and to some degree render an intellectual analysis of it, but an authentic understanding is dependent of the blackness of their existence in the world. There will be no peace in America until whites begin to hate their whiteness, asking from the depths of their being: How can we become black?”
“My style of doing theology was influenced more by Malcolm X than by Martin Luther King.”
“If Jesus Christ is white and not black, he is an oppressor, and we must kill him. The appearance of black theology means that the black community is now ready to do something about the white Jesus, so that he cannot get in the way of our revolution.”
“The definition of Christ as black means that he represents the complete opposite of the values of white culture.”
“One of the tenets of black theology is that every American is responsible for the plight of the blacks.”
All of the above have a bearing on today’s presidential campaign. The foremost church, the religious spearhead which advances the Black Theology of Liberation, is the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. It is the church where former Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s mentor is James Cone. It is also the church where Barack Obama and his wife attended for over 22 years. Can a man attend a church for 22 years and not be influenced by its doctrine?
Pastor Wright married Obama and his wife; he is Obama’s close friend and until recently was Obama’s campaign' spiritual advisor. He hastily resigned only because of public exposure of his unpatriotic remarks.
In Obama’s capacity as head of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, he promulgated a need for an “Educational Fund.” The reason, roughly, “You cannot release people from slavery without educating them to deal with the outside world.” He has since announced he will increase President Bush’s faith-based charities by $500 million annually to help poor children read.
I write because I am ticked-off. Not at the liberation theologies, which might be another story, but at our national media. Twenty years ago I was almost driven out of town because I gave a lecture on the liberation theology. Today, the same subject is an unmentioned but germane part of the presidential campaign and the media will not touch it with a ten foot pole. What has happened to the once mighty American press?
Saturday, October 4, 2008
by Maria Hsia Chang
Published in New Oxford Review (vol. LXXV, no. 9, October 2008), pp. 20-24, http://www.newoxfordreview.org/article.jsp?did=1008-chang The version below contains footnotes and a couple of minor passages that were edited out of the published article.
“I think the Joker killed Heath Ledger.”
So writes licensed attorney and former public defender Jay Gaskill in his review of The Dark Knight.1 Gaskill is not being melodramatic; he is simply stating what other reviewers only hint at.2
The Dark Knight, the latest Hollywood incarnation of the superhero Batman, broke records for best opening weekend at $158.4 million. The movie ranked top in box office for four consecutive weekends, which pushed its domestic total to a staggering $461 million, making The Dark Knight second only to the all-time ticket revenue champion, The Titanic.3
No doubt, many went to see The Dark Knight out of a macabre curiosity because of the untimely death of one of its main actors. On January 22, 2008, six months before the movie’s opening, Ledger was found unconscious in his Manhattan apartment. Paramedics called to the scene could not revive him. The medical examiner later determined that the 28-year-old had died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs—a lethal brew of sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication, and the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Reviewers have lauded The Dark Knight for its fine acting. In particular, Ledger’s “electrifying” performance is singled out for praise; there is increasing talk of a posthumous Academy Award. His face caked with moldy makeup, with black-shadowed eyes, a red-smeared mouth, and yellowing teeth,4 Ledger’s Joker is more than a master criminal. Instead, reviewers use the language of the supernatural, calling him “demonic” and “diabolical,”5 “a hound fresh out of hell,”6 “a vivid, compelling picture of naked, nihilistic evil . . . with almost preternatural power,”7“a truly frightening vision,” and “like Satan.”8 Michael Caine, who plays Batman’s butler Alfred, said that he found Ledger’s performance so terrifying and disturbing that he sometimes forgot his lines.9
At the time of his death, Ledger had only recently completed his work for The Dark Knight, which was in post-production. Reportedly, the Joker role had taken a decided toll on the actor’s health. For weeks, he was unable to sleep, averaging only two hours a night. He told a New York Times reporter in November 2007 that even after taking two sleeping pills, “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.”10
What is less known are Ledger’s film roles both before and after The Dark Knight. Before he assumed the Joker persona, Ledger already was emotionally drained from playing a heroin addict in the Australian film, Candy. To make matters worse, after the Batman movie, Ledger immediately went to work on another dark-themed film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, without taking a break. The latter is a retelling of the Dr. Faust story, wherein the leader of a traveling theater troupe makes a compact with the Devil and takes audience members through a magical mirror into a fantastic universe of limitless imagination. Ledger’s part was that of Tony, a “charming” and “mysterious outsider” who joins the troupe.11
An Oscar nominee for his acting as a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain, Ledger was known for his total absorption into his film roles. He told a reporter that “the only way that I can act” was to climb inside the skin of the person he was playing. This was Ledger’s way of compensating both for his feelings of insecurity as an actor (he had no formal training in acting) and for an abiding sense of impermanence from having spent his formative years shuttling between the homes of his divorced parents. Though born in Australia, Ledger allowed in an interview that “I’m not a resident of Australia. I’ve never voted in Australia.” At the same time, although he owned homes in Los Angeles and New York, he was a non-resident of the United States. Giving voice to his rootless and uncertain identity, the actor admitted that “I’m not really sure where I belong.”12
To prepare for his part in Candy, Ledger had spent time with a real-life junkie in the dark, troubled milieu of Sydney’s red light district. For The Dark Knight, he spent a month alone in a hotel room to work on his character and voice, perfecting an unhinged cackle that sends shivers up the audience’s spine. But by immersing himself in the role of the Joker, Ledger might well have gazed too deeply into the abyss.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” This famous but cryptic quote by Friedrich Nietzsche is understood to be a warning against too close a contact with evil. As one interpretation has it, if a person gazes too long at evil, it will become a part of him or her.13 Did Ledger fall prey to this mysterious phenomenon?
Nietzsche’s adage is not our only warning about evil. Aldous Huxley opined that “No man can concentrate his attention upon evil, or even upon the idea of evil, and remain unaffected . . . . The effects which follow too constant and intense a concentration upon evil are always disastrous.”14 Similarly, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck cautioned that “an exclusive focus on the problem of evil is actually extremely dangerous to the soul of the investigator . . . . The dangers exist . . . for anyone who becomes preoccupied with the subject of evil. There is always the risk of contamination, one way or another. The more closely we rub shoulders with or against evil, the more likely it is that we may become evil ourselves.”15
Like Heath Ledger, the brilliant historian and journalist Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking (1997), seemed to have been another moth that flew too close to the flame. Her book has the distinction of being the first English-language full-length nonfiction account of the Imperial Japanese Army’s massacre of 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese civilians in 1937. It remained on the New York Times’ bestseller list for ten weeks.
In August 2004, Chang had a nervous breakdown, which her family and doctors attributed in part to constant sleep deprivation. At the time, she was several months into research for her fourth book on yet another atrocity perpetrated by the Japanese military. It was the Bataan Death March in 1942, when some 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners-of-war (POWs), many of them ill and severely malnourished, were forced to march sixty miles in tropical heat from the Bataan peninsula to prison camps. The Japanese inflicted great cruelties on the POWs, including the withholding of food and water, bayonet stabbings, rapes, beheadings, and disembowelments.
Friends and colleagues said Chang was deeply disturbed by her research. She was in Kentucky, en route to the city of Harrodsburg to listen to audio recordings by U.S. servicemen who had survived the march, when she was overcome with acute depression. She was admitted into Norton Psychiatric Hospital in Louisville and diagnosed with reactive psychosis. But her depression persisted even after she was released from the hospital. On the morning of November 9, 2004, she was found dead in her car parked on a rural road not far from her home. The beautiful 36-year-old wife and mother of a two-year-old, whose “celebrated life . . . most people believed had been perfect,”16 had shot herself in the mouth with a revolver.
In the suicide notes she left, Iris Chang wrote: “I am doing this because I am too weak to withstand the years of pain and agony ahead . . . . Each breath is becoming difficult for me to take — the anxiety can be compared to drowning in an open sea.”17
There are others besides Ledger and Chang whose work also brings them into evil’s proximity. Among them are FBI agents who specialize in the most difficult cases, such as murders by serial killers. In his book, FBI veteran Robert Ressler revealed that “many of us” in the bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit had experienced weight losses, pseudo heart attacks, and “other problems”18 such as suicides. Contributing factors for suicides by FBI agents include, most commonly, depression, as well as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).19
PTSD also seems to be an occupational hazard of soldiers and police officers. A recent U.S. Army study of the mental health of troops who had fought in Iraq found that about one in eight (or 18 percent) reported PTSD symptoms. Before deployment, the PTSD rate in the armed forces was 5 percent, about the same as the general U.S. population. Studies done years after the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars showed the PTSD rate at the time was 15 percent for Vietnam veterans and 10 percent for Gulf War veterans.20
More alarming than the high incidence of PTSD is the steep increase in suicides among active-duty soldiers. In 2007 those suicides reached their highest level since 1980 when the Army began keeping such records. In 2007, 121 soldiers took their own lives, nearly 20 percent more than in 2006. Since the Iraq war began, there has also been a sharp rise in the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army. That number was 2,100 in 2007, which is a sixfold increase from the 350 soldiers who injured themselves or attempted suicide in 2002. The increase in suicides is attributed to servicemen’s repeated redeployment due to the military’s stop-loss policy.21
Suicides, PTSD, and other symptoms of distress are also prevalent among police officers who, in their daily work, encounter the grim underside of life that most people rarely see. The police are usually first at the scene when babies are killed, when wives are battered, when addicts die of an overdose, or when people are killed or maimed in accidents and homicides. All of which exacts an emotional and physical toll on even the most hardened officer.
A study of 2376 policemen in Buffalo, New York, found that they had higher mortality rates for cancer, suicide, and heart disease than the white male population at large. Research also shows police suffer a substantially higher divorce rate. Whereas the national divorce rate is 50 percent, estimates for police officers range from 60 to 75 percent.22
Suicide rates within law enforcement are also much higher—perhaps two or three times higher—than those in the general population. A recent study found that New York City officers killed themselves at a rate of 29 per 100,000 a year, more than double the rate of 12 per 100,000 among the general population. The real suicide rates of police officers may even be higher because many suicides go unreported to avoid stigmatizing families and to allow them to collect insurance claims and other compensation. This much is known: more police commit suicide than die in the line of duty. According to a study by the National Association of Police Chiefs, nationally, twice as many cops—about 300 annually—commit suicide as are killed in the line of duty.23
Some of the most vivid warnings about evil’s insidious effects are by writers of fiction. As an example, J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings used the motif of the One Ring to convey the seductive and corrupting power of evil. So terrible is that power, the wizard Gandalf—whom Tolkien identified to be an angel in the incarnate form of an old man24—would not risk taking the Ring into his possession. In the end, even the valiant ringbearer Frodo became so consumed by the Ring that he could not bring himself to toss it into the fires of Mount Doom. Were it not for Gollum, the arduous quest of the Fellowship of the Ring would have failed.
J. K. Rowling is another popular fiction writer who has expounded on the pernicious effect of evil. In the third book of her phenomenally popular series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling introduced demonic creatures called dementors, “among the foulest creatures that walk this earth.” They are soul-less and soul-sucking wraiths who guard the wizard prison of Azkaban until the return of the dark lord Voldemort frees them to wreak havoc upon the world. Dementors are about ten feet in height and have a generally human shape beneath dark, hooded cloaks. Protruding from their cloaks are hands, “glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water.” Where eyes should be, there is only “thin, gray scabbed skin, stretched blankly over empty sockets.” And instead of a mouth, there is “a gaping, shapeless hole, sucking the air with the sound of a death rattle.”25
Infesting the darkest, filthiest places, dementors are visible only to wizards but exert the same baleful effect on wizards and muggles (non-magic folks) alike. The very presence of a dementor makes the surrounding atmosphere grow cold and dark. Along with the cold is a feeling of despair that descends upon the person, who is drained of all happiness and good memories. It is a hopelessness so profound that, as Ron Weasley puts it, “I felt . . . I’d never be cheerful again.” Feeding on its victim’s positive emotions, the wraith eventually performs the Dementor’s Kiss and sucks out the person’s soul. The victim is left in a state worse than death, an empty shell with the brain and heart still working but with neither memory nor a sense of self.26
Given the ill effects of too close a contact with evil, one would think that writers on this subject would provide us with more information than enigmatic warnings about the dangers. Alas, like Nietzsche, those who have broached this subject are hazy on exactly how or why a person can become contaminated by a preoccupation with evil. Worse still, the writers are also vague on whether and how we can protect ourselves should we peer into the abyss.
And so we are left to our own conjectures and speculations.
To begin with, who are the potential victims? It appears that “looking into the abyss” refers to anyone whose work or interests bring them into a close proximity with evil. It can be an actor, such as Heath Ledger, who immerses himself too deeply into portraying evil and, in so doing, invites malefic forces into himself. It can be a writer, such as Iris Chang, whose subject is an historical account of man’s inhumanity toward man. It can be FBI agents, soldiers, and police who enter the arena to directly confront and fight evildoers.
There may be others. If chroniclers of historical instances of evil put themselves at risk, it stands to reason that even more are philosophers and psychologists who aim to unearth evil’s very nature and essence. If FBI agents who specialize in the behavioral analysis of criminal psychopaths gaze too deeply into the abyss, so too must psychotherapists who, in Peck’s words, “tangle therapeutically with an evil patient.” Peck thought that since the ultimate objective of all good psychotherapy is to combat lies by shining the light of truth, such therapists in effect are lay versions of exorcists who wrestle with the demon-possessed. Indeed, Peck maintained that all psychotherapy is but “a kind of exorcism.”27
But how exactly does evil exert its nefarious influence on a person? Evil’s baneful effect may be likened to the invisible, odorless, and deadly radiation emitted by uranium. While it is wholly conceivable that writers such as Iris Chang would be perturbed by their research, why should it trigger such an acute depression that life becomes unbearable and relief is sought only in suicide? All of which leads one to wonder just what is this evil that lurks in the abyss.
It may be that those who sound warnings about the abyss cannot but be vague because the phenomenon is other worldly, beyond our empirical realm.
It is oft said that the greatest achievement of the Devil is to convince us that he does not exist. Catholic priest and scholar Malachi Martin called this “the ultimate camouflage.” As he explained, “If your will does not accept the existence of evil, you are rendered incapable of resisting evil. Those with no capacity of resistance become prime targets for Possession.”28
Today, many among the Christian clergy eschew speaking of the Devil or of Hell. Some no longer believe;29 others are convinced that such talk would only alienate their flock.30 Along with colleges and universities,31 it seems that churches have also succumbed to the relentless drive of the market. Indeed, in an interview in 1984 on the state of the Catholic Church, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger noted that “no other topic unleashes such a storm of indignation among the mass-media of secularized society as that of the ‘devil’.” The attitude of many people, including Christians, is that the Devil is a “vestigial piece of folklore,” something which is “unacceptable to mature faith.”32
What is curious about the clerical reticence is that the Scriptures are replete with references to the Devil. The word “Satan” appears 18 times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the word “devil” appears 35 times and the word “demon” appears 21 times. More importantly, Christ made references to the fallen angels throughout the Gospels. He spoke of “the devil and his angels” in Matthew 25:41, and of “Satan” in Matthew 12:22-28, Mark 3:22-27, and Luke 11:15-22. He referred to “the wicked one” and “the devil” in Matthew 13:38-39, and to “unclean spirits” in Matthew 12:43-45 and Luke 11:24-26. Jesus cured those afflicted with physical diseases and mental illnesses, but also undertook numerous exorcisms,33 thereby making a distinction between mental sickness and demonic possession. Christ also made evident that evil exists and is embodied in personal entities who actively work against God and man. He called the leader of these evil spirits “the father of all lies” and “a murderer from the beginning.”34
The clergy’s reluctance to speak of the Devil and of Hell is all the more ironic because available evidence points to the laity’s belief in both. Gallup polls of American adults found that in 2001, 71 percent believed in Hell. Increasing numbers also believed in a personal entity of evil called the Devil, from 55 percent of U.S. adults in 1990 to 70 percent in 2004. The percentage of Americans who believed that “people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil” also rose from 37 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2001.35
If the Devil wants most of all to have us think he doesn’t exist, then he would have every reason to target those who study and expose evil because they are shedding the light of truth on what would prefer to remain in the shadows. In so doing, the scholars of evil have identified themselves as belonging to the opposing camp, just as much as FBI agents and police officers who take on evildoers in direct combat. No wonder the patron saint of policemen and soldiers is none other than the good Archangel Michael who leads the heavenly host against Lucifer and his co-rebels.
So how should someone who peers into the abyss arm himself ?
Huxley observed that “To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous. Every crusader is apt to go mad. He is haunted by the wickedness which he attributes to his enemies; it becomes in some sort a part of him.”36 Peck, for his part, warned that psychotherapists who have evil patients “may be placing themselves in great jeopardy” and advised against young therapists taking on such patients. Peck also recommended that the therapist “thoroughly cast the beam out of his or her own eye, for a weak-souled therapist will be the most vulnerable.”37
Huxley’s and Peck’s recommendations are not unlike the prescriptions in the Catholic Church’s Roman Ritual of Exorcism, which instructs that the priest chosen to be an exorcist “should be of mature age and be respected as a virtuous person.” He must have “no greed for material benefit,” but only “the necessary piety, prudence and personal integrity.” Above all, the exorcist must prepare himself with prayer and fasting so as to “perform this most heroic work humbly and courageously, not relying on his own strength, but on the power of God.”38
Contrary to the recommendations of both Peck and the Roman Ritual that it should be a mature seasoned individual possessed of a firm and sure sense-of-self who duels with evil, both Heath Ledger and Iris Chang were young. It is also instructive that in all the media accounts of their deaths, there is no mention of either having or actively practicing a religious faith. In the end, the answer to the question of how one who peers into the abyss fortifies himself is found in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (6:10-16):
Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
1. Jay Gaskill, “Bleak Knight: A Review,” The Human Conspiracy Blog, July 24, 2008, http://www.jaygaskill.com/blog3/. Gaskill is a former public defender for Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area.
2. Scott Foundas, “Heath Ledger Peers Into The Abyss in The Dark Knight,” Village Voice, July 16, 2008, http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-07-16/film/heath-ledger-dark-knight.
3. The Titanic is the reigning all-time box-office winner, at $600.8 million.
4. Peter Travers’ review of “The Dark Knight” in Rolling Stone, July 18, 2008, http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/movie/16155928/review/21477208/the_dark_knight.
5. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Office of Film & Broadcasting, http://www.usccb.org/movies/d/dark_knight.shtml.
6. Travers in Rolling Stone, op. cit.
7. Gaskill, op. cit.
8. Maurice Broaddus, “To Job or not to Job,” Hollywood Jesus, http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/movieDetail.cfm/i/7ADEFA07-93DA-E0CE-969501D56848E596/ia/64FFC770-B4A1-F9C0-DF7797A46E88F03D.
9. Dominic Wells, “Dark Knight marks new chapter in Batman's seven decade screen career,” The Times, July 12, 2008, http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/article4295091.ece, viewed July 25, 2008.
12. Mark Chipperfield, “Heath Ledger: Edgy and evasive interviewee,” Telegraph, January 24, 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1576376/Heath-Ledger-Edgy-and-evasive-interviewee.html, viewed August 22, 2008.
13. Http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/32/messages/34.html, viewed August 4, 2008.
14. Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudon (Harper & Row, 1952), pp. 260, 192.
15. M. Scott Peck, M.D., People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (New York: Touchstone, 1983), pp. 42, 261.
16. “Iris Chang—The Woman Who Loved Truth,” Sunday Star Times, February 1, 2008, http://www.stuff.co.nz/sundaystartimes/4373540a19799.html, viewed August 6, 2008.
17. “Iris Chang,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_Chang, viewed July 26, 2008.
18. Robert H. Ressler and Tom Shachtman, Whoever Fights Monsters (New York, NY: St. Martin’s, 1992), pp. 272-273.
19. Vincent J. McNally, “Federal Bureau of Investigation's Employee Assistance Program Response to Suicide,” in Donald C. Sheehan and Janet I. Warren, eds., From Suicide and Law Enforcement (US Dept of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001), pp. 125-138.
20. “1 in 8 returning soldiers suffers from PTSD,” Associated Press, June. 30, 2004, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5334479/, viewed July 30, 2008.
21. Dana Priest, “Soldier Suicides at Record Level,” Washington Post, January 31, 2008, p. A1, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/30/AR2008013003106.html, viewed July 30, 2008.
22. “The Effects of Stress On Police Officers,” a speech (undated) by Dan Goldfarb to a group of union delegates, http://www.heavybadge.com/efstress.htm, viewed July 30, 2008.
23. Claude Lewis, “Police Suicide Is An Alarming Problem Rarely Discussed Publicly,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, no date, http://www.tearsofacop.com/police/articles/lewis.html, viewed July 30, 2008.
24. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000), p. 202.
25. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 1999), pp. 187, 83, 384.
26. Ibid., pp. 85, 247.
27. Peck, People of the Lie, pp. 261, 185.
28. Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), p. xv.
29. Ibid., pp. xvi-xvii. “[I]gnorance, disinterest, disbelief, even adamant unwillingness on the part of many Church officials to so much as discuss demonic Possession and Exorcism, is literally the order of the day.”
30. In the United States, at the same time as church membership is down among traditional Protestant denominations, mega-churches have become increasingly popular. They are non-denominational evangelical churches with congregations of more than 2,000 in which the emphasis is on consumer appeal rather than “anything threatening” such as “fire and brimstone.” See C. W. Nevius, “Supersize Churches Booming,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 2004, pp. B1-2.
31. In “The Twilight of the Professors,” The Intercollegiate Review, 34:2 (Spring 1999), pp. 8-12, Bruce S. Thornton writes that there has been a “decades-long transformation of the university from a haven of truth-seekers dispensing liberal education, into a utilitarian industry, a profit-making trainer of technicians.”
32. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview On the State of the Church (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1985), p. 135.
33. See Matthew 4:24, 8:16, 8:28-32, 9:32-33, 10:1, 10:8, 12:22, 12:29, 15:22-28, 17:14-18, 17:21; Luke 4:41, 6:17-18, 8:26-35, 9:40-42,11:14; Mark 1:21-27, 1:32-34, 1:39, 3:7-11, 3:15, 5:1-13, 6:7, 6:13, 16:9.
34. John 8:44.
35. Http://institution.gallup.com/searchresults.aspx?tab=search&stext=devil& startdate=&enddate=&criteria=all; “Eternal Destinations: Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell,” Gallup Poll News Service, May 25, 2004, http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/beliefs/angels.htm.
36. Huxley, The Devils of Loudon, p. 260.
37. Peck, People of the Lie, p. 261.
38. “Appendix One: The Roman Ritual of Exorcism,” in Martin, Hostage to the Devil, pp. 461, 460.