A treatise that has often come to mind during the past septennium is a book authored by M. Scott Peck, M.D. entitled People of the Lie, The Hope For Healing Human Evil (© 1983). Peck had previously published his bestseller The Road Less Traveled, A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spirit (© 1978). The pictured quote, “Life is Difficult” is from that book. The Road Less Traveled sold more than 10 million copies. I read both books in the early 80s. I also attended a conference at which Peck spoke in the mid-’80s.
Jesus urged the adoption of the kingdom priority. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33, NLT) Seeking the Kingdom of God involves the pursuit of Truth. Living righteously requires living in the light of Truth. God the Father cannot lie. Jesus is the self-proclaimed Truth. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Truth has been under assault since the Garden of Eden when the serpent queried, “Did God indeed say?” When confronting the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees of his day, Jesus rebuked them, saying, “You’re from your father, the Devil, and all you want to do is please him. He was a killer from the very start. He couldn’t stand the truth because there wasn’t a shred of truth in him. When the Liar speaks, he makes it up out of his lying nature and fills the world with lies.” (John 8:44, The Message)
M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist, served in the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The army assigned Colonel Peck to investigate the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. The My Lai massacre was the mass murder of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968. United States Army soldiers of ‘Charlie’ Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the America Division committed this atrocity. Most of the victims were women, children, infants, and elderly people.” Peck draws on this investigation and presents it as a case study in his book, People of the Lie. Peck examines group evil in his text, discussing how human group morality is strikingly less than individual morality. He considers this a result of specialization, allowing people to avoid personal responsibility and “pass the buck,” resulting in reduced group conscience.
The tendency of groups to quickly degenerate into unethical or immoral behaviors is a reason for one of my core values regarding leadership. “When it comes to leadership, godly character counts!” A leader of godly moral character among the soldiers of Charlie Company that day in My Lai could have prevented that atrocity.
During his practice as a psychiatrist, Peck also engaged individuals resistant to any form of help. He came to regard these people as evil. Peck attempted to describe the characteristics of evil in psychological terms and even proposed that Evil could become a psychiatric diagnosis. Peck points to narcissism as a type of evil in this context.
According to Peck, an evil person:
* Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection.
* Deceives others as a consequence of their self-deception.
* Projects his or her evils and sins onto specific targets (scapegoats).
* Attacks others instead of facing their failures. ”
* Hates with the pretense of love for the purposes of self-deception as much as the deception of others.
* Abuses political (emotional) power by the imposition of his or her will upon others by overt or covert coercion.
* Lies incessantly to maintains a high level of respectability.
* Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins but by their consistency.
* Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim (scapegoat).
* Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.
Peck’s description of an evil person closely parallels the characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder as described by mental health professionals. Most mental health professionals affirm that narcissistic personality disorder is the most challenging mental health disorder to treat. After all, the narcissist always regards himself or herself as the most intelligent person in the room.
If not confronted, evil can become systemic in a society. Currently, the term “systemic racism” is often reflected in current events. For example, the accommodations to slavery and slave states during the founding of the United States government introduced systemic racism into its governmental system. It is taking decades of concerted effort to purge our constitutional system of this systemic evil.
(As a theist, I acknowledge the existence of a spiritual realm in creation. Evil is a spiritual power as well as a mindset and behavior.)
In the run-up to the 2016 election, I was alarmed that Donald Trump put his hat in the ring for President. I became aware of his public persona about the time the book authored by Tony Schwartz, The Art of the Deal (© 1987), hit the shelves. After watching Trump for three decades, my conclusion about the man was that he could be an apt poster-boy for Peck’s characterization of an evil person. As a trained and experienced pastoral counselor, I agreed with my professional mental health colleagues in their assessment of Trump. He consistently displays behaviors associated with a narcissistic personality disorder. Most notable about his narcissistic personality is his propensity to lie. According to the Washington Post, Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims during his term in office. Of course, I did not need the media to tell me he was a chronic liar. I could read his deceptive Tweets and hear his televised lies for myself. I was especially alarmed when Trump won the election. Now the evil he practiced could become systemic in his party, in the executive branch of our federal government, and eventually in our society. Rooting out systemic evil from society is one challenge. Identifying a new rooting of evil in a system of society is another equally challenging and critical endeavor.
The “big lie” spouted by Trump resulted from his failed reelection attempt. Despite the absence of any verifiable truth to his false claims, he continues to assert the lie of massive voter fraud. The insurrection on January 6, 2021, is tangible fruit of Trump’s big lie and the attempted rooting of this evil in our society. The insurrection also provides a visible demonstration of the nature of group evil as described by Peck. A President of godly moral character present on that day, instead of a President absent of any moral compass other than his narcissistic self, could have averted that atrocity against our democracy.
Recent behaviors by Republican Party leaders expose the attempted systemic rooting of this evil in that party. If not rooted out, that evil will pass from generation to generation of Republicans. If not rooted out of the Republican Party, it could potentially take root in our governmental systems and society beyond that particular political party. Hopefully, the Republican remnant, leaders such as: Senators Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Pat Toomey, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Congresswoman, and former Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, former Senator Jeff Flake, and Cindy McCain, the widow of former Senator John McCain, will remain faithful to the virtue of Truth and keep the evil of the big lie from establishing a more secure and permanent root among the rest of their party.
Only by standing firm for the necessity of Truth in all our systems of society will we as a society continue to root out systemic evils and prevent new evils from establishing their roots. Our nation must not become known as the people of the lie!
(Disclaimer: I am registered to vote as an Independent.)