Beyond Güd & Weird - Engineering Evil
By any other name.
A life well-lived is a life well-examined. A life well-examined has a little weird and güd within it. This newsletter is an examination of our weird and güd world.
The Temptation of St. Anthony by Martin Schöngauer
The ground is scorched from heat.
The sky threatens to hold the rain hostage to spite the food you grow.
Death floats unseen through the air, announcing itself only too late in the form of blisters, fever, and labored breathing that takes the lives of sinners and saints alike.
Why does the threat of suffering hang above your head every moment, ominous like an ax secured by a single thread?
What is the meaning behind this stable instability? There must be meaning; you live and breath and dream and love.
There must be meaning.
Anything that threatens our existence is part of our existence.
What threatens us becomes the subject of our stories for why this precious existence doesn’t seem so precious to all that endangers it.
In the time when what we could see was as unexplainable as what we couldn’t, the spiritual realm permeated every facet of life. It wasn’t simply a part of everyday life—it was the lens that both the mundane and the unusual were seen through. Evil, goodness, governments, individuals—all were understood and explained through the dominant belief of the day.
Today the spiritual realm is the purview of people who know what a rising moon sign is or who’ve prayed in the last few days. As what we could see began offering more answers than what we couldn’t, we developed a new and equally all-encompassing fascination for understanding life: the material realm.
Every question, every answer, every sinner and every saint are seen through the lens of our purely material world. Evil no longer stems from a dark soul or a sinister demon, but from a corrupt system or a sick culture.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that everyday brings a new theory on our suffering as understood through an identity or institution.
What else is left to blame in a world where nothing matters but matter?
Is there nothing that can be known from the unknown? Art proves that fiction and truth aren’t exclusive.
We build walls around our worldview with data and fight each other with facts, yet some larger answer—some truth—seems to live still beyond the reach of our rationality.
Perhaps demons are nothing but a lazy, ignorant answer to the meaningless, endless suffering of life. Or perhaps demons are true in the way good art is true.
Demons are a larger part of your rational, secular life than you might expect.
The evidence-based therapy you trust to expel your emotional suffering isn’t so distant from the exorcisms that expelled your ancestors’ spiritual suffering.
The natural landscapes whose other-worldly beauty you appreciate are named for the demon whose other-worldly abilities once explained their existence; Devil’s Garden in Utah, Devil’s Kitchen in Arizona, Devil’s Den Cave in Florida, Mount Diablo in California—and that’s just in the U.S.
Even the famous internet radicalism of the early 2000s chose an infamous demon tale as an identity: Legion.
The biblical horror story of Legion is an unusual mixture of evil, exorcism, Jesus, pork, and possible proto-Schizophrenia. (For the bible story itself: click here. For my unhinged Silver Eye Society re-telling: click here).
Found in the Gospel of Mark, the story has Jesus visit a man who lived in alienation among tombs—not exactly prime real estate, but the possessed have a particular taste when it comes to housing.
This man was no regular societal reject, though. In flagrant disregard for the ethical treatment of the demonically possessed, the townspeople chained the man down, but he couldn’t be restrained and spent his days and nights crying out and cutting himself with stones.
When Jesus stood before the man, he asked for a name—not the man’s name, but the name of what possessed him. But what’s in a name?
God granted Adam the power to name all his creations. As the words whose definitions we once felt certain about shift like sand—homeless person becomes unhoused person, woman becomes womxn, then woman becomes anything you decide—what’s in a name becomes clear.
As César Truqui, an exorcist of the Diocese of Chur (seriously), Switzerland, explained:
Naming something, or knowing its name, means having power over that thing. […] At the instant that the demon reveals his name, it shows that he has been weakened; if he doesn’t say it, he is still strong.
It’s at this part of the story that the infamous and chilling statement that still ripples through our culture answered Jesus’ question:
“My name is Legion, for we are many.”
This biblical story ends in a strange way. You might expect Jesus to cast these demons into the pits of hell, prevented from tormenting another human again, but this story ends more like an art film than a Disney film.
The demons beg Jesus to let them possess a nearby herd of pigs and Jesus…grants the demons their request. Legion is cast out of the man and into the pigs, who promptly throw themselves off a cliff and flee into the unknown depths of the sea. A pretty 99% on Rotten Tomatoes kind of ending.
Yet, something eerie lingers in this finale. Jesus saves the man from possession by evil, but he doesn’t destroy evil. Why not give us a feel-good ending and vanquish evil from the world, never to harm another human again?
The answer explains why good art doesn’t obey our ideologies nor sensitivities: what’s true and what we want to be true aren’t always interchangeable.
The story of Legion deals with the kind of unexpected and unfair suffering that’s threatened us for eternity. It subtly shows that only the individual can be freed from his own evil but that evil remains an inherent part of our world.
Scoff at our superstitious, exorcism-loving ancestors as we do, this ancient story is more sober-eyed than many of the experts in academia today.
Even the paradise of Eden only exists for a few pages.
Without a spiritual story behind the suffering in our world, nothing is more rational than eradicating the evil of whatever new name we give it.
If the son of God himself wouldn’t attempt to eradicate evil, what terrible error are we humans courting if we believes ourselves able to do what divinity would not?
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
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