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Evil is the shadow: Spotting evil within us and without

When we do not recognize evil as our own shadow and see it only as an external enemy, we cannot defeat it. It grows within us. James Weldon Johnson said, "We light upon one evil and hit it with all the might of our civilization, but only succeed in scattering it into a dozen of other forms."

Sometimes we present evil as complex, yet still mostly external to ourselves, as Barry Holstun Lopez wrote of the wolf:

The human mind entertains itself with such symbols and metaphors, sorting out the universe in an internal monologue, and I think it delights in wolves. The wolf is a sometime symbol of evil, and the mind dotes on distinctions between good and evil. He is a symbol of the warrior, and we are privately concerned with our own courage and nobility. The wolf's is also a terrifying image, and the human mind likes to frighten itself.

That evil is in ourselves, too, is probably one reason why self-sacrifice seems to be an effective form of transformation. When we allow ourselves, as M. Scott Peck put it, "to be pierced by the evil of others," we may "survive and not succumb." Their evil kills our evil. By identifying it in them and letting it in, we identify it in ourselves and let it out. Peck:

The healing of evil – scientifically or otherwise – can be accomplished only by the love of individuals. A willing sacrifice is required. The individual healer must allow his or her own soul to become the battleground. He or she must sacrificially absorb the evil.

Then what prevents the destruction of that soul? If one takes the evil itself into one's heart, like a spear, how can one's goodness still survive? Even if the evil is vanquished thereby, will not the good be also? What will have been achieved beyond some meaningless trade-off?

I cannot answer this in language other than mystical. I can say only that there is a mysterious alchemy whereby the victim becomes the victor. As C. S. Lewis wrote: "When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

I do not know how this occurs. But I know that it does. I know that good people can deliberately allow themselves to be pierced by the evil of others – to be broken thereby yet somehow not broken – to even be killed in some sense and yet still survive and not succumb. Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world.


Author and activist James Weldon Johnson, quoted in The Wall Street Journal. The Week, March 21, 2014. p. 17.

Barry Holstun Lopez. Of Wolves and Men. New York, Simon and Shuster, 1978; first Touchstone edition, 1995. p 226.

M. Scott Peck, M.D. People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. (1983) New York: Touchstone, 1998. p. 269. Quoting C. S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (Collier/Macmillan, 1970), p. 160.


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