People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil **

Peck, M. Scott

Simon & Schuster, 1983

p. 41

People never ask “Why is there good in the world? It is as if we automatically assume this is a naturally good world that has somehow been contaminated by evil. In terms of what we know of science, however, it is actually easier to explain evil. That things decay is quite explainable in accord with the natural law of physics. That children generally lie and steal and cheat is routinely observable. The fact that sometimes they grow up to become truly honest adults is what seems the more remarkable. Laziness is more rule than diligence. If we seriously think about it, it probably makes more sense to assume this is a naturally evil world that has somehow mysteriously been ‘contaminated’ by goodness than the other way around.”

pp. 42-43

Evil has to do not only with killing bodies, but also with killing spirits. Life includes besides heartbeats and brainwaves such things as “sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will.” Some people try to kill these things in others. So Erich Fromm says in The Heart of Man that evil people try to control others, “to foster their dependency, to discourage their capacity to think for themselves, to diminish their unpredictability and originality, to keep them in line.” The evil want to turn others into their puppets—“by contrast to Jesus’ ‘abundant life.’”

p. 47

You can be “blessed by guilt” in a way that prompts repentance and growth.

p. 62, 66

Peck points out that children are mightily and mostly confused by the presence of evil in trusted adults. They are filled with consternation. Further, one clear law of child development, specific to the problem of evil is that “when a child is grossly confronted by significant evil in its parents, it will most likely misinterpret the situation and believe that the evil resides in itself.” Now p. 66: Adults too are often mightily confused by evil. They feel as if they have suddenly “lost their ability to think.”

pp. 63-65

Therapists sometimes “refer to a patient’s psychopathology as being ‘overwhelming.’” This is literally meant. There is a “labyrinthine mass of lies and twisted motives and distorted communication into which we will be drawn if we attempt to work with such people in the intimate relationship of psychotherapy.” Therapists fear not only the inability to help such people, but also the chance of being pulled under themselves. “’Countertransference’ in such cases (transferring one’s own feelings back to the patient) can include feelings of revulsion toward evil people. Healthy people do feel this toward evil people. It’s an early-warning system telling you to flee!”

p. 64

Evil people will usually not submit to psychotherapy. They hate “the light-shedding process of therapy” and they fear it.

pp. 70-72

None of us is really honest. We lie to ourselves and to many others. Healthy people confess their dishonesty and sin. Evil people have “an absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness.” Guilt is a blessing. Shame is a sign of health. To be poor in spirit is to be blessed. “Evil is not committed by people who feel uncertain about their righteousness, who question their own motives, who worry about betraying themselves.” Evil is committed by the “spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisees of our own day, the self-righteous who think they are without sin.” The sense of sin is a very great blessing, a safeguard.

p. 76

“The crucial component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense.” Paradox: “At one and the same time, the evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid that awareness.” For them it’s all rationalization all the time. Conscience is not given its due. “Evil originates not in the absence of guilt, but in the effort to escape it.”

pp. 242, 249

242: In the Vietnam War era Americans let national leaders (e.g., President Johnson: Vietnam War) lie to them because they were too lazy to press for the truth. Americans had other things to do. P. 249: Practically nobody who fought in Vietnam knew anything about the area or its history. So with Defense Department civilians who directed the war. Americans are too lazy and arrogant to have to know such things before we kill people.