Great, Satan

Evil: Where would film, TV and religion be without it? Evil drives much of the world and much of the world's people—who are either trying to avoid it, overcome it, root it out or package it for Fox. It's a term deployed by common folk and presidents of the United States with regularity—especially recently—and with certainty that the receiver understands precisely what the word means.

But one man's evil is another man's Pride March. "Evil" is an absolute term in constant flux—Galileo was once considered evil, as were tomatoes—and those who wreak evil upon one group usually do so in the name of fighting evil for another. This would include just about every war ever fought, including the present conflict in which our enemy of "evildoers" addresses us as the Great Satan. "Evil" goes both ways.

We talked to people—some living, some dead, some who've seen evil, some who are viewed as such—about evil. Here's what they thought.


"Before all of this, I don't think I really believed that people could be evil. You know, they say a conservative is just a liberal who has been mugged. Most of us don't want to believe in evil because it makes looking at life very difficult, very unpleasant. We like to play with evil, talk about it, watch it in movies, you know, at a safe distance. But you have no idea what it is until you look the devil in the eye. It rips out your soul. If you're lucky, you can get on with your life, but you never really recover." Marc Klaas, father of Polly Klaas, whose murder at the hands of Richard Allen Davis sparked the Three Strikes movement. Klaas, who at first supported and then withdrew his support from Three Strikes when the law was applied to nonviolent criminals, started the Klaas Kids Foundation, which seeks ways to stop crime against children.


"Politics in Orange County often stinks of mendacity, but is mendacity 'evil'? Probably not. Indeed, I don't think even a 'thin' form of evil is properly characterized as 'evil.' I would hesitate, unlike former and current presidents (among others), to use the word casually. By using it as a synonym for behavior that is "merely" wrong, bad, distasteful, disagreeable or even illegal, we diminish the moral power of the word. If anything can be "evil" by simply saying so, then is there any form of behavior that's not at least potentially evil from someone's perspective? Probably not, if one considers Elie Wiesel's discussion of evil—real evil—in The Night Trilogy. By Wiesel's standard, there is, has been and probably will be "evil" in the world. However, while I find much in politics that is distasteful, wrong, corrupt, disgraceful and even illegal, I am not prepared to cast any such actions as evil. The word should be saved for the real thing—the Jesuit genocide of native Americans in South America during the 16th and 17th centuries; the Turkish genocide of Armenians; the Holocaust; the genocide in Rwanda; or perhaps the recent, brutal murder of Danielle van Dam." Dr. Mark Petracca, chairman, department of political science, UC Irvine.


Liezel Rubin
Photo by Liezel Rubin

"Evil is politicians, things like the Public Corporation for the Arts (they're shysters), these girls named Liz and Cindy, Orange County Republicans—they're all corrupt, they're evil, they're mainstream society, and they're very deceiving. Evil is not having integrity and not being righteous. I mean, I might do weird shit, but I have integrity. Most people think I'm evil—which I am—but I'm good evil because I'm fun evil. Creative evil is different. And my next show is evil—I did really bad things to Marilyn Monroe." Liezel Rubin, artist and photographer whose most recent piece was a series of photos of a woman trying to get a guy in a gorilla suit to jerk off into a cup.


"So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,

"Farewell remorse; all good to me is lost;

"Evil be thou my Good." John Milton,Paradise Lost, a poem that presents Satan as far more attractive than God. Milton believed that those who "lived loosely" in their youth had a better chance of making a successful marriage, while those who were chaste and modest were likely to feel themselves "chained unnaturally together." Milton, a Puritan, was married three times, each time unhappily.


Michael York
from The Omega Code

"Well, that's the problem Milton had with his devil, isn't it? I think [Satan] is completely seductive. That's his great strength, isn't it? The devil would have no power if he couldn't seduce us into doing his will. And I think we're attracted because we live in such a regulated society where you can't go anywhere where you aren't bound by rules of good behavior. I think that like small children, we want to break those rules sometimes, just for the hell of it, to use a phrase, and it just takes someone with great charisma to push us over the that line. In the Omega Codemovies, our version of the Antichrist was not of some bogeyman, but a very charismatic, very seductive media mogul hell-bent on destruction. And I hate to say this, but seeing the way things are coming down, well, I'll just say there is the potential there." Michael York, actor who portrayed the devil in TBN'sOmega Code movies. Another trend York detects is that "movie villains keep turning out to be British. I'm not sure why that is—maybe it's because we sneer so well. It's our upbringing; we can look down on people better than anyone."


"My sense of evil is one of distance from God. I don't really believe there are evil people but that there are people who can act in an evil manner. And I think that's a product of ego. The closer you are to God, the less your ego is going to be. To act in an evil way is to put your ego before God. Now, as to why there is evil . . . You know, maybe it's because I'm a mystic, but I believe that reality is nothing we can see on the surface, that it has a deeper component, one only apparent to God. I think our souls come into the world to heal brokenness, and the world is a broken place. Suffering because of evil is real, and we must try to heal the suffering. We see suffering because we do not have the advantage of seeing the world beyond time and space—these are human categories—as God is able to see all things. It's hard to explain or understand, but it's like trying to train a one-year-old not to run out into the street. There is no way you are going to explain to that child why they can't go out into the road; they think you're cruel for not allowing them to go, but you can see the broader picture, you can see all implications." Rabbi Bernie King, Temple Shir Ha-Ma'alot, Irvine, who came to the religious life after serving on a Navy submarine and marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Aaron Aguilera

"I don't think of it as a role. It's easy for me to be the bad guy because that's how I am in real life. I came up from the street. I had nothing; I had to be that way. I've been in trouble with the law, arrested for stealing cars and assault with a deadly weapon. That's all I knew. It wasn't like I looked at myself as a bad guy; it was just a way of life. I know some guy from Santa Monica might look down on me as being evil, but I don't think that guy could have survived growing up in downtown Santa Ana. I think you either live your life scaring other people or getting scared yourself. I've actually turned down work when people have asked me to be a good guy. I just hang up on them. I don't know what it's like to be a good guy. This is who I am." Aaron Aguilera, who wrestles for Ultimate Pro Wrestling as the malevolent Hardcore Kid, has been known to spit on those who boo him but says he has more hostility for the "weirdoes that think it's cool to cheer for the bad guy. I crap on them even more."


"I think evil is any kind of act that someone consciously knows is going to harm another and cause them physical and mental pain. I was thinking about it with animals—like starvation or neglect or lighting a cat on fire, stuff like that—just senseless acts of badness." Anonymous technician at a veterinary clinic who grooms, tests and occasionally euthanizes pets, some of which are pretty cute.


"I had a client who was a registered sex offender, and he was evil, absolutely without conscience. When he told me that he still struggled with his desire to have sex with prepubescent boys, I sought to find a way to strengthen his resolve. 'Why don't you?' I asked. He thought about it for a moment and replied, 'Only because I might get caught.' 'What about the torment of your victims? What about their suffering?' I asked. He thought about that and replied, 'No, that doesn't bother me.' I never saw him again, but I often think about the fact that he's probably still out there, acting because he wants to, regardless of the consequences to anyone else. And, yeah, sometimes that keeps me awake at night." OC psychologist.


"I don't hold that God lets evil things happen for some greater purpose. I'm sorry, but I can't fathom there is any way that that little girl (Danielle Van Dam) being taken away and tortured and murdered is somehow purposeful and planned by God. The only purpose to suffering is what we draw out of it. But I don't believe God created evil and suffering to somehow test us. One of the aftereffects of Sept. 11 is that all those little girls in Afghanistan can now go to school. That's wonderful, but I don't think God caused those hijackers to get up one day and plow those planes into buildings so those little girls could go to school. Why does it happen? I have no idea. I do know that you must be cautious about using the word evil. In this present conflict, we call our enemies evil, but don't they call us the same thing? Evil is a word that can get thrown around so easily. We need to look at and examine ourselves first. We might not go out individually and commit evil, but we'll demand low prices on clothing and allow that it's okay for others to suffer as long as we get it." The Reverend Gary Barmore teaches classes on religion at Orange Coast Community College and is pastor emeritus at Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa. He signed a letter advocating compassion for drug addicts, arguing it was a "medical and social problem."


"Most crimes are [evil], as far as I'm concerned. Just the fact that you don't care about other people or their property, that's evil. It might be something as small as ripping off a kid's bike, all the way up to molesting a child. It's easy to tell right from wrong: one's right, and one's wrong. The worst crimes for me are sex crimes on children. I had to deal with one boy who was six or seven who'd been molested and raped by his sister and a female cousin for four years. He'd talk about the occasions like they were nothing. 'Yeah, they'd take my thingy and stick it inside 'em.' 'Your thingy?' 'Where I go pee-pee out of.' He'll be totally screwed up by this and may even become a sexual predator himself. Evil." Darren, cop, Long Beach.


"It's the movie I just saw, which was Crossroads with Britney Spears. I feel all tainted now." Anonymous twentysomething girl, currently unemployed, currently pees on guys for money.


"This was at the peak of the civil war, the early '80s, and the whole city was under military curfew. One of my associates in the student movement, a fellow economics major, disappeared around this time. Then so did two other guys I knew—and who knew me. I hid out in a janitor's closet on campus for six weeks. Each night, I had nightmares that the killers had entered the building and were tiptoeing toward me in the dark. They never did. After about a month, just after dawn, all three of my friends were discovered where they had been dumped—probably from the back of a military jeep—right in front of the university's main entrance. They were naked and covered in bruises and had been rolled up like mummies with barbed wire. Sometime either before or right after they died, their penises had been chopped off and stuffed in their mouths. It was a long time ago. I don't have the nightmares anymore, but I can still picture that image." Jose Cerro, who asked that his real name not be used, studied socialist economics in Managua, Nicaragua, in the early 1980s. There, he met his future wife, Marta, who took part in the Sandinista uprising when she was 13 years old and was wounded by a .50-caliber bullet fired from a U.S.- made helicopter gunship. Cerro never became an economist. A Spanish-language teacher who earns about $5 per day, he lives in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, just blocks from the town's military base.


Belinda: Ay, but you know we must return good for evil. Lady Brute: That may be a mistake in the translation. Sir John Vanbrugh from his playThe Provok'd Wife, which was very popular while being attacked as immoral. Vanbrugh wrote it in 1697, five years after serving a jail term in France for espionage.   "I asked someone about this the other day. I said, 'Isn't it weird, when you take the most disenfranchised group of people, you find oppression and discrimination even within them? Do you think that's just what we do?' And he said the people who are the oppressors are role models for the oppressed, so when the oppressed reach that position, they carry on the tradition. And so you would need a big lightning bolt to come down and start us over. So I don't have the utmost faith in the good of humans—but, hey, dolphins? I think they'll do okay without us!" Diana Meier, youth services manager at Garden Grove Youth Drop-in Center, an outreach and support facility for at-risk youth in Orange County, recently discovered the dark side of dolphins. "The females swim in pods together, and if a male comes along and wants to impregnate a female, he kills off all the young she already has so only he can propagate the species. That made me very sad—like, 'Oh, my God, even dolphins have evil!'"   "I was working a [basketball] game—we're talking eight- and nine-year-olds—and this coach is just screaming at the kids. He's yelling at them to take the ball out. He'd even yell good stuff, like nice shot or nice pass, but always yelling. It was pissing me off, and I was just praying he would yell at me so I could ring him up [assess a technical foul], but he never did. I just thought he was the worst guy in the world. Then the game ends, and this guy comes over and shakes my hand and says he hopes he wasn't talking too loud but that he's worked on the runway at LAX for the past 18 years and he's totally deaf in one ear and partially in the other. Then he turns around, hugs his kid and wheels out this old guy in a wheelchair who I guess was his dad. Damn!" Mike Cleary, Long Beach youth and recreation league basketball referee who says his closest rub with evil on the court was the time "some guy in a rec league game at Jordan High School got so mad he punched a guy, ran over to the sidelines, picked up a chair and started swinging it over his head, saying, 'I'll kill all of ya!'"   "Evil is that which is negative for you and that which you cherish. Good is that which has a positive effect for you and those you hold dear. Both are utterly subjective, and anyone who would tell you otherwise are simply fanatics attempting to bind you with their ideology. Of course, if you disagree with them, guess which label you will merit?" Peter H. Gilmore, high priest, Church of Satan.   "All spirits are enslaved which serve things evil." Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose first wife, Harriet, pregnant from an affair at the time, drowned herself after her husband had abandoned her for the 16-year-old Mary Godwin. Percy then married Mary, who had already given birth to their child, to avoid further bad publicity. Two years later, Mary wroteFrankenstein. Four years after that, Percy drowned in the Mediterranean.  


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