It seems almost instinctual that when we consider the might and complexity of harmful social and political power structures we turn to our mythologies for succour and guidance. Time weathered tales provide for us a narrative of symbols by which we can begin to make sense of the apparently unfathomable realities of our daily lives. When faced with formidable and global structures of oppression those of us who still say our prayers turn to our own myths to seek better understanding. In the Christian liturgy of the Eucharist, nestled between the Our Father and the Doxology the priest prays on behalf of the people, “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day.” I have been thinking about these words this week. On Sunday just past they resonated with me in a way they have never done before. There was something about this coupling of our deliverance from evil and the grace of peace, and as it started to make sense it troubled me because I have always been uncomfortable with the pre-modern idea of exorcism. We like to be rational, and as rationalists we are discomforted at the lingering memory of a personified devil and evil forces in our modern Christianity. I imagine it is the same for people of other faiths.
"cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause." Isaiah 1—
Annie Harley (@harley_annie) August 10, 2015
As a teenager I rejected the devil and all his works at my baptism, and a little later in life I rejected the idea of the devil, but it is now beginning to dawn on me that all of this language was only ever a narrative of symbols pointing us to a more sophisticated reflection. Evil does exist in the structures of society; in the corridors of political power, the market economy, and in uncritical public opinion. We get no glimpse in all of this of a red little man with horns and a pitchfork, but the devil is in the details. Peace and evil are related in the prayer because they have an intimate and intrinsic relatedness in society. Where there is evil; corruption and injustice, there can be no peace. Evil, through the banality of the working of countless and seemingly insignificant cogs, ensures that the conditions that maintain oppression exist, and in turn oppression robs the individual and society of peace. When we pray for deliverance from evil and ask for peace we are seeking the same thing – Justice. When popular opinion, public policy, and economic and social conditions conspire to deprive the powerless of justice evil abounds, and there can be no peace.