These days, to my surprise, people want to talk to me about evil.
In a Substack essay from last year, and in my book The Bodies of Others, I raised a question about existential, metaphysical darkness.
I concluded that I had looked at the events of the past two and a half years using all of my classical education, my critical thinking skills, my knowledge of Western and global history and politics; and that, using these tools, I could not explain the years 2020-present.
Indeed I could not explain them in ordinary material, political or historical terms at all.
This is not how human history ordinarily operates.
I could not explain the way the Western world simply switched — from being based at least overtly on values of human rights and decency, to values of death, exclusion and hatred, overnight, en masse, in lockstep — without resorting to reference to some metaphysical evil that goes above and beyond fallible, blundering human agency.
When ordinary would-be-tyrants try to take over societies, there is always some flaw, some human agency undoing the headlong rush toward a negative goal. There are always factions, or rogue lieutenants, in ordinary human history; there is always a miscalculation, or a blunder, or a security breach; or differences of opinion at the top. Mussolini’s power was impaired in his entry to the Second World War by being forced to share the role of military commander with King Victor Immanuel [https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/fascist-king-victor-emmanuel-iii-italy]; Hitler miscalculated his ability to master the Russian weather — right down to overlooking how badly his soldiers’ stylish but flimsy uniforms would stand up to extreme cold. [https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/hitlers-winter-blunder/]. Before he could mount a counter-revolution against Stalinism, Leon Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico City in his bath. [https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/leon-trotsky-assassinated-mexico]
But none of that fracturing or mismanagement of normal history took place in the global rush to “lockdowns”, the rollout of COVID hysteria, of “mandates”, masking, of global child abuse, of legacy media lying internationally at scale and all lying in one direction, of thousands of “trusted messengers” parroting a single script, and of forced or coerced mRNA injections of at least half of the humans on Planet Earth.
As I wrote in the earlier essay, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that the madness we saw unveiled since 2020 could not have been brought about my normal history or by ill intentioned individuals, using human agency. Human agency alone could not coordinate a highly complicated set of lies about a virus, and propagate the lies in perfect uniformity around an entire globe, in hundreds of languages and dialects. Human beings using their own resources alone, could not have turned hospitals overnight from having been places in which hundreds of staff members were united in and collectively devoted to the care of the infirm, the prolongation and salvation of human life, the cherishing of newborns, the helping of mothers to care for little ones, the support of the disabled, to killing factories in which the elderly were prescribed “run-death-is-near (Remdesevir)” at scale.
Also look at the speed of change. Institutions turned overnight into negative mirror images of themselves, with demonic policies replacing angelic ones.
Human-history change is not that lightning-fast.
The perception of the rollout, the unanimity of a mass delusion, cannot in my view be explained fully by psychology; not even as a “mass formation.”
There have been other mass hysterias before in history, from “blood libel” – the widespread belief in medieval Europe in the that Jews were sacrificing Christian children to make matzah [https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/blood-libel], to the flareup of hysteria around witches in Salem, MA, in 1692, [https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1098/salem-witch-trials], to the “irrational exuberance” of Tulipmania, also in the 17th century, in the Netherlands [https://www.history.com/news/tulip-mania-financial-crash-holland], detailed by Scottish journalist Charles MacKay in his classic account of group madness, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841).
But all of these examples of mass frenzy had dissidents, critics, and skeptics at the time, and none of these lasted for years universally as a dominant uninterrupted delusional paradigm.
What we have lived through since 2020 is so sophisticated, so massive, so evil, and executed in such inhumane unison, that in my view it cannot be accounted for without our venturing into a metaphysical explanation. Something else, something metaphysical, must have done that. And I speak as a devoted rationalist.
I concluded that I was starting to believe in God in more literal terms than I had before, because this evil was so impressive and so palpable, and so it must be directed at something at least as powerful — that was all good.
I knew at the time I wrote my initial essay, that “Satan” was, at least for me, an insufficient explanation. One reason that I felt that “Satan” was an insufficient name for what we were facing, is that I am Jewish, and we don’t have the same tradition of “Satan” that Christian Western culture inherits and takes for granted.
In Jewish tradition, this entity’s role is not so much the fully developed, rather majestic adversary of God that appears fully fledged in the Christian tradition — an elaborated character that was developed subsequent to, as some scholars point out, the influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism, and then on Christianity, in the years leading up to and after Jesus’ life and death.
In the Old Testament, rather, “the Satan” or “ha-Satan” — “the accuser” makes a number of appearances; but the “accuser” here is an adversary or opponent, rather than being the majestic villain of the New Testament, and of course of Dante’s and Milton’s later characterizations, that so influenced Western ideas of Satan or of “the devil.”
This explanation of how the Hebrew “ha-satan” differs from the Christian Satan is important: “Likewise, in Old Testament Hebrew, the noun satan (which occurs 27x) and the verb satan (which occurs 6x) are often used in a general way. If I “satan” someone, I oppose them, accuse them, or slander them. David uses it this way in the psalms, “Those who render me evil for good accuse [שׂטן (satan)] me because I follow after good” (Ps. 38:21). If I act as a “satan” to someone, therefore, I am their adversary or accuser, as the messenger of the Lord stood in the way of Balaam “as his adversary [שׂטן (satan)]” (Numbers 22:22) or as Solomon told Hiram that he had no “adversary [שׂטן (satan)]” who opposed him (1 Kings 5:4).
Thus, in Hebrew, the noun and verb שׂטן (satan) can have the non-technical meaning of “stand opposed to someone as an adversary.” In the case of Balaam, even the Lord’s messenger was a “satan” to him, that is, a God-sent opponent. That is the first point to keep in mind: unlike in English, where “Satan” always refers to a malevolent being, in Hebrew satan can have a generic, non-technical meaning.” [https://www.1517.org/articles/the-devil-in-the-details-of-the-old-testament-is-satan-in-the-hebrew-bible].
Because our (Jewish) tradition of Satan is less developed and more impressionistic than this character became later under Christian narratives, I felt that “Satan” was not a sufficient explanation, at least not sufficient to me personally, to explain fully the inexplicable, immediate mirror-imaging of what had been our society, that I saw around me, to explain how our institutions had inverted themselves in the flicker of an eye. But I did not have a better concept with which to work.
Then I heard of a Pastor named Jonathan Cahn, who had written a book. The title was “The Return of the Gods.” [https://www.christianbook.com/return-of-the-gods-jonathan-cahn/9781636411422/pd/411429]
The title resonated with me, even before I read the book.
Though I don’t agree with everything in his book, Pastor Cahn’s central argument — that we have turned away from the Judeo-Christian God and thus we opened a door into our civilization for the negative spirits of “the Gods” to re-possess us — actually felt right to me.
Jonathan Cahn is a Messianic Jewish minister. He is the son of a Holocaust refugee. Formerly a secular-atheist, Cahn had a near-death experience as a young man that led him to accept Jesus — or, as he refers to this presence by the original Hebrew name, Yeshua — as his Lord and Savior. Pastor Cahn has a ministry based in Wayne, New Jersey, which brings together Jews and Gentiles. [http://bethisraelworshipcenter.org/about%20Us/AboutJC.php]
In The Return of the Gods, his surreal, improbable, and yet somehow hauntingly plausible thesis is that ancient dark and metaphysically organized forces, “the Gods” of antiquity, have “returned’” to our presumably advanced, secular post-Christian civilization.
Pastor Cahn’s theme is that, because we have turned away from our covenant with YHWH — especially we in America, and we in the West, and especially since the 1960s — therefore, the ancient “Gods”, or rather, ancient pagan energies, that had been vanquished by monotheism and exiled to the margins of civilization and human activity — have seen an “open door”, and thus a ready home to re-occupy, in us.
He argues that they have indeed done so.
Pastor Cahn makes use of a parable in the New Testament to make this case. I cite the King James Version:
“43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation”. [https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Matthew-12-43/]
Pastor Cahn makes the case that the ancient “gods” were initially, in essence, put on the defensive, as the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) recounts, first by Yahweh, and by the introduction of monotheism and the revelation of the Ten Commandments, and then that they were vanquished altogether and sent into outer darkness, by the arrival to humanity of the being whom he sees as the Messiah, Yeshua.
One might right away resist such a phrasing; what do you mean, “the Gods”? But Cahn is both careful and accurate in his translations and his tracing of four millennia of religious history through a set of phrases.
Cahn accurately points out that the Hebrew Bible refers to what in Hebrew is rendered “shedim” or negative spirits (in modern Hebrew, this word means “ghosts”). Cahn correctly points out that these spirits, powers or principalities were worshipped in the pagan world in many guises — from the fertility god Baal to the goddess of sexuality Ashera or Ashtaroth; to the destructive idol, Moloch. He rightly points out that the ancient world was everywhere consecrated to these dark or lower entities, and that worshippers went to the point of sacrificing their own children to propitiate these forces. He correctly reflects the central narrative of the Tribes of Israel as alternately embracing Yahweh and his Ten Commandments and ethical covenant, and finding it all too taxing, and thus falling away to whore after these pagan gods. He notes that the gods of the Old Testament world descended in updated guise into Greco-Roman life, taking on new names: Zeus, Diana, and so on.
He correctly notes that the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, rendered “shedim” as Daimones. This word is rendered also as “spirit personifications”; conversationally today, we receive this word in English today, as “demons.”[https://www.theoi.com/greek-mythology/personifications.html]
Having correctly traced the lineage of pagan worship and pagan forces, Cahn makes the case that they were never simply overcome by the embrace in the West of Christianity; but rather that they were simply pushed to the margins, the outskirts of Western civilization; weakened by our covenant with God or with Jesus, depending on whom we are.
He argues that these negative but potentially powerful forces have been dormant or suppressed for two millennia, by the Western Judeo-Christian covenant. [https://www.theoi.com/greek-mythology/personifications.html]. And that they have now taken this opportunity, of our turning away from God, and returned.
We, thus, are the house that has been cleaned — by the covenant with the Judeo-Christian commitment. But that we subsequently abandoned the house, he maintains, and left it vulnerable; open, for negative energies to re-enter.