These days, to my surprise, people want to talk to me about evil.
In an essay 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 three 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 — 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 impulse 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. 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. Before he could mount a counter-revolution against Stalinism, Leon Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico City in his bath.
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 into at least half of the humans on Planet Earth.
I reluctantly came to the conclusion that 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 (Remdesivir)” at scale.
Also look at the speed of change. Institutions turned overnight into negative mirror images of themselves, with demonic policies replacing what had been at least on the surface, 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 that Jews were sacrificing Christian children to make matzo, to the flareup of hysteria around witches in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, to the “irrational exuberance” of Tulipmania, also in the 17th century, in the Netherlands, 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; none of these lasted for years 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 it cannot be accounted for without venturing into metaphysics. 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; so it must be directed at something at least as powerful that was all good.
At the time I wrote my initial essay, I knew that “Satan” was, at least for me, an insufficient explanation for the evil I saw. 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 that of the rather majestic adversary of God who appears fully-fledged in the Christian tradition — an elaborated character who 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, in contrast, “the Satan” or “ha-Satan” — “the accuser” makes a number of appearances; but “ha-satan” is an opponent, rather than being the majestic villain of the New Testament, and of course of Dante and Milton’s characterizations, that so influenced Western ideas of “the devil.”
The way in which 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.
Because our (Jewish) tradition of Satan is more impressionistic than the character who appeared later under Christian narratives, I felt that “Satan” was not sufficient to explain fully the inexplicable, immediate mirror-imaging of what had been our society, from ordered at least on the presumption of morality, to being ordered around death and cruelty. But I did not at that time have a better concept with which to work.
Then I heard of a Pastor named Jonathan Cahn, who had written a book titled The Return of the Gods.
The title resonated with me.
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 — feels right.
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.
In The Return of the Gods, his 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 reoccupy, in us.
He argues that they have indeed done so.