Bad things are afoot and ascendant, says Guinness, and “at a time when intellectual and moral responses to evil are weaker, more controversial, and more confused than they have been for centuries.”
Evil stalks the earth because humans do, it’s part of the angel-and-demon dichotomy. Yet, Guinness (The American Hour, 1992, etc.) writes, evil casts an ever-larger shadow, and disturbing trends require us to rethink evil in our day: it has steadily increased in reach and scale in modern times; modern people don’t know how to respond to it; and—contra those who see religious fundamentalism as an engine of intolerance and other unpleasant behavior—secularist regimes are the cause of the worst atrocities of the day, and secularist regimes are everywhere. Gore Vidal, who has lately been condemning monotheism, won’t buy the argument, and neither will many other people with a memory for names such as Bosnia and the Taliban: set religious absolutism and nonreligious absolutism side by side, they might object, and you wind up with much the same bleak landscape of the soul, save that it’s easier to get a drink in an atheist country. But no matter. Nominally ecumenical, Guinness soon gets around to the need for religious faith in the war against evil; nonbelievers, it appears, just aren’t up to the job. “Freedom,” he writes in a nicely circular turn, “requires virtue, virtue requires faith of some sort, and faith requires freedom.” Moreover, against the ills of dualism and utopianism, Guinness posits that the Christian and Jewish “realism” is uniquely equipped for the fight; “Judaism and the Christian faith,” he continues, “are now credited for keeping alive the dream of justice that transcends all wrong.” Fans of the Dalai Lama and Gandhi may have objections there, but again, no matter; only faith, Guinness concludes, and presumably only of the Christian and Jewish stripes, “can provide the best truths to come to terms with evil.”
Of less appeal than Lance Morrow’s Evil (2003), which covers much the same ground in a rather more inclusive and certainly more thought-provoking way; still, of interest to the choir.