There comes a point before holiday becomes a reality when the desk has to be reordered, the email inbox emptied, the office in-tray cleared and the clutter of the previous year’s indecions (where to put things and whether or nto to keep them) sorted. I put off this point until as late as possible. Today that point has been reached.
Fortunately, I was able to postpone much of this because I got distracted by the need to select which books I want to take away with me – which novels need to be read and which theological books can continue to hold their guilt-inducing stare at me while they sit un-opened on my soon-to-be-organised desk. Apart from a couple of Robert Harris novels, I pulled off my shelves several books I haven’t read for a very long time. Unfortunately, they all seem to be miserable: Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Elie Wiesel’s Night. Oh dear.
Eagleton’s point is basically that evil is frequently portrayed as dramatic, sexy and glamorous. In some wonderful language he debunks all this and claims evil is basically boring and banal. Try the following:
[Evil] is boring because it keeps doing the same dreary thing, trapped as it is between life and death. But evil is also boring because it is without real substance. It has, for example, no notion of emotional intricacies. Like a Nazi rally, it appears spectacular but is secretly hollow. It is as much a parody of genuine life as the goosestep is a parody of walking.
Isn’t that perfect? He goes on:
Evil is philistine, kitsch-ridden, and banal. It has the ludicrous pomposity of a clown seeking to pass himself off as an emperor. It defends itself against the complexities of human experience with a reach-me-down dogma or a cheap slogan.
Wonderful! And then:
Hell is not a scene of unspeakable obscenties. If it were, it might well be worth applying to join. Hell is being talked at for all eternity by a man in an anorak who has mastered every detail of the sewage system of South Dakota.
I think I’ve met him!
But Eagleton, taking in Aquinas, Augustine and Blake, goes on to conclude:
…evil is a kind of spiritual slumming… The evil, then, are those who are deficient in the art of living.
This opens the provocative question of whether it is possible to think you are a Christian (Jesus talked of giving ‘life in all its fullness’) while actually being a life-denying, over-simplifying, boring, philistine, purity-obsessed, fear-driven (of hell?) parody of the real thing? It’s a question I am now asking of myself as well as of the Church.
Anyway, his book is now on order. I never expected to laugh at prose about ‘evil’. Thanks to the Church Times for publishing the extract – it’s brilliant.
Or, as my son would put it, wicked.