In his Albion’s Seed–Four British Folkways In America, author David Hackett Fischer writes about five major Puritan doctrines and ideas that were brought to Massachusetts from England in the 17th century.
These five were depravity, covenant, election, grace and love.
Here is what Mr. Hackett writes about the idea of “depravity”—
“…depravity…to Calvinists meant the total corruption of “natural man” as a consequence of Adam’s original sin. The Puritans believed that evil was a palpable presence in the world, and that the universe was a a scene of cosmic struggle between darkness and light. They lived in an age of atrocities without equal until the twentieth century. But no evil ever surprised them or threatened to undermine their faith…. They believed as an article of faith that there was no horror which mortal man was incapable of committing. The dark thread of this doctrine ran through the fabric of New England’s culture for many generations. “
While I’m not religious, I do suscribe to some of these ideas about so-called depravity. Life is often a battle between good and evil. And there is nothing so horrible that it can’t happen.
Maybe I find agreement because on one side of the family I’m descended from Puritans off the boat in 17th- century Massachusetts. Or maybe it is because I’m an ideologue and can relate to fanatics. Or it could just be that I have lived in our world and these are the conclusions I’ve reached.
Evil is not just about brutal acts in foreign nations. Evil is a relevant term for our leaders lying to get us to declare war on nations that pose no threat to our security. Evil is a relevant term for the willful mismanagement of our economy for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.
Martin Luther King saw evil as an active force in the universe. Here is what he said in his great sermon ”Unfulfilled Dreams”
“….. you must face the fact that there is a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil. It’s there: a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil. Hinduism refers to this as a struggle between illusion and reality. Platonic philosophy used to refer to it as a tension between body and soul. Zoroastrianism, a religion of old, used to refer to it as a tension between the god of light and the god of darkness. Traditional Judaism and Christianity refer to it as a tension between God and Satan. Whatever you call it, there is a struggle in the universe between good and evil.”
Like Martin Luther King, I’m hopeful that evil can be challenged and, at times, overcome. It is good that while evil is a fact of our existence, so is the ability to fight back with faith, reason, kindness and hard work.
(Please click here for the best Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List on the web. I’ll be updating it with two new titles early in 2009.)