There are many disturbing things that go on in the world that deserve our attention. Yet, it seems that as a society, we tend to focus more on mundane things that have little to no value.
“We’re very focused on Anthony Weiner or we’re very focused on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sex trafficking, we don’t even care about; you don’t hear about it, you don’t read about it,” says Jeffrey Pugh, Elon’s Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies, who explores this human tendency in his latest book, Devil’s Ink: Blog from the Basement Office.
Written from the perspective of Satan, the book holds up a mirror to culture and modern society and engages in a form of social critique. If the devil were to exist, Pugh says, the devil would enjoy distracting us with things like marital scandals involving politicians or celebrities so that we wouldn’t pay attention to areas where real evil takes place. He hopes his book challenges readers to explore questions such as, what are you putting your energies into? What are you creating with your economies, politics or worldviews? Who suffers at the hands of the institutions you are creating?
Often, Pugh says, we don’t think about our social, economic and political systems as manifesting evil because we are embedded within these structures. They become things we live our lives by; we internalize them and accept them. For instance, he says, we internalize and accept that there are going to be millions of people who are not going to have enough food to eat, a place to live or access to power.
Pugh says we’ve been trained to think about evil as an individual action. He points to Nazi Germany, where people making individual decisions about how they would look at the other – whether it was the Jewish “other” or anyone different from them – started thinking, acting and reacting in certain ways individually. But when those individual acts started coming together, they created great energy and power that plunged the world into chaos. He says people need to be aware that their individual actions can acquire the same shared energy and have devastating effects down the line on societies and cultures.
In a section of the book, Pugh presents Satan talking about the splitting of the atom. Satan rejoices, knowing that humans have not yet developed the necessary spiritual resources to handle that kind of power, which becomes apparent when they decide to use it to build a bomb. Despite destroying thousands of lives as a result, humans still justify it as something that was absolutely necessary.
“I would want a reader of this book to read that section given from the voice of Satan and then stop and say, ‘Maybe the ways that we are constructing society are not leading to human flourishing and are not beneficial to all humanity,’” he says.