Chris Hedges: The Evil Within Us

Those who blind themselves to their capacity for evil commit evil not for evil’s sake, but to make a better world. This collective self-delusion is the story of America.

Original illustration by Mr. Fish.

By Chris Hedges

Robert Aaron Long, 21, charged with murdering eight victims, six of whom were Asian women, at three Atlanta-area massage parlors, told police that he carried out the killings to eliminate the temptations that fed his sexual addiction. His church, Crabapple First Baptist Church, in Milton, Georgia, which opposes sex outside of marriage, issued a statement condemning the shootings as “unacceptable and contrary to the gospel.”

The church, however, also immediately took down its web site and removed videos, including one that was captured by The Washington Post before it was deleted where the church’s pastor, the Rev. Jerry Dockery, told the congregation that Christ’s second coming was imminent. And when Christ returned, Dockery said, he would wage a ruthless and violent war on nonbelievers and infidels, those controlled by Satan.

“There is one word devoted to their demise,” the pastor said. “Swept away! Banished! Judged. They have no power before God. Satan himself is bound and released and then bound again and banished. That great dragon deceiver – just that quickly – God throws him into an eternal torment. And then we read where everyone – everyone that rejects Christ – will join Satan, the Beast and the false prophet in hell.”

I heard a lot of these types of sermons by fundamentalist preachers during the two years I crisscrossed the country for my bookAmerican Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. I attended Bible studies, prayer groups, conventions, tapings of Christian television shows, rallies held by Patriot Pastors, talks by leaders such as James Dobson, D. James Kennedy and Tony Perkins and creationist seminars. I visited the 50,000-square-foot Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, took an Evangelism Explosion course, joined congregations at numerous megachurches for Sunday worship and participated in right-to-life retreats. I spent hundreds of hours interviewing scores of believers.

The simplistic message was always the same. The world was divided into us and them, the blessed and the damned, agents of God and agents of Satan, good and evil. Millions of largely white Americans, hermetically sealed within the ideology of the Christian Right, yearn to destroy the Satanic forces they blame for the debacle of their lives, the broken homes, domestic and sexual abuse, struggling single parent households, lack of opportunities, crippling debt, poverty, evictions, bankruptcies, loss of sustainable incomes and the decay of their communities.

Satanic forces, they believe, control the financial systems, the media, public education and the three branches of government. They believed this long before Donald Trump, who astutely tapped into this deep malaise and magic thinking, mounted his 2016 campaign for president.

Core Beliefs

January 25, 1899 issue of Puck magazine. (Wikimedia Commons)

The killings in Atlanta were not an anomaly by a deranged gunman. The hatred for people of other ethnicities and faiths, the hatred for women of color, who are condemned by the Christian right as temptresses in league with Satan, was fertilized in the rampant misogyny, hyper-masculinity and racism that lie at the center of the belief system of the Christian right, as well define the core beliefs of American imperialism.

The white race, especially in the United States, is celebrated as God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war are divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, is shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism are intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. In short, the worst aspects of American society are sacralized by this heretical form of Christianity.

Believers are told that Satanic forces, promoting a liberal creed of “secular humanism,” lure people to self-destruction through drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography and massage brothels. Long, who had frequented two of the massage parlors he attacked, was arrested on his way to Florida to attack a business connected with the pornography industry. He had attempted to block porn sites on his computer and sought help for his fascination with porn from Christian counselors.

The secular humanists, along with creating a society designed to tempt people into sin, are blamed for immigration programs that fuel demographic shifts to turn whites into a minority. The secular humanists are charged with elevating those of other races and beliefs – including Muslims whose religion is branded as Satanic – along with those whose gender identities challenge the sanctity of marriage as between a man and a woman and patriarchy.

The secular humanists are believed to be behind an array of institutions including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the Trilateral Commission, the United Nations, the State Department, major foundations (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford), elite universities and media platforms such as CNN and The New York Times.

In D. James Kennedy’s book, The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail: The Attack on Christianity and What You Need to Know to Combat It, he writes that although the United States was once a “Christian nation,” that is no longer the case because today “the hostile barrage from atheists, agnostics and other secular humanists has begun to take a serious toll on that heritage. In recent years, they have built up their forces and even increased their assault upon all our Christian institutions, and they have been enormously successful in taking over the ‘public square.’ Public education, the media, the government, the courts, and even the church in many places, now belong to them.”

The incendiary rhetoric creates an atmosphere of being under siege. It imparts a sense of comradeship, the feeling that although the world outside the walls of the church or the home is dangerous and hostile, there is a select community of brothers and sisters. Believers only owe a moral obligation to other Christians. The world is divided between comrades and enemies, neighbors and strangers. The commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself” is perverted to “Love your fellow Christians as yourself.” Nonbelievers have no place on the moral map.

When Christ returns, believers are told, He will lead the elect in one final apocalyptic battle against the people and groups blamed for their dislocation and despair. The secular world, the one that almost destroyed them and their families, will be eradicated. The flaws in human society and in human beings will be erased. They will have what most never had: a stable home and family, a loving community, fixed moral standards, financial and personal security and success and an abolition of uncertainty, disorder and doubt. Their fragmented, troubled lives will become whole. Evil will be physically vanquished. There will be no more impurity because the impure will no longer exist.

God Judging Adam, William Blake, 1795. (Tate Gallery/Wikimedia Commons)

This externalization of evil, however, is not limited to the Christian Right. It lies at the core of American imperialism, American exceptionalism and American racism. White supremacy, which dehumanizes the other at home and abroad, is also fueled by the fantasy that there are superior human beings who are white and lesser human beings who are not. Long did not need the Christian fascism of his church to justify to himself the killings; the racial hierarchies within American society had already dehumanized his victims. His church simply cloaked it in religious language. The jargon varies. The dark sentiments are the same.

The ideology of the Christian right, like all totalitarian creeds, is, at its core, an ideology of hatred. It rejects what Augustine calls the grace of love, or volo ut sis (I want you to be). It replaces it with an ideology that condemns all those outside the magic circle. There is, in relationships based on love, an affirmation of the mystery of the other, an affirmation of unexplained and unfathomable differences. These relationships not only recognize that others have a right to be, as Augustine wrote, but the sacredness of difference.

External Force to be Destroyed

This sacredness of difference is an anathema to Christian fundamentalists, as it is to imperialists, to all racists. It is dangerous to the hegemony of the triumphalist ideology. It calls into question the infallibility of the doctrine, the essential appeal of all ideologies. It suggests that there are alternative ways to live and believe. The moment there is a hint of uncertainty the ideological edifice crumbles. The truth is irrelevant as long as the ideology is consistent, doubt is heretical and the vision of the world, however absurd, absolute and unassailable. These ideologies are not meant to be rational. They are meant to fill emotional voids.

Evil for the Christian fundamentalists is not something within them. It is an external force to be destroyed. It may require indiscriminate acts of violence, but if it leads to a better world this violence is morally justified. Those who advance the holy crusade alone know the truth. They alone have been anointed by God or, in the language of American imperialism, western civilization, to do battle with evil. They alone have the right to impose their “values” on others by force. Once evil is external, once the human race is divided into the righteous and the damned, repression and even murder become a sacred duty.

Immanuel Kant defined “radical evil” as the drive, often carried out under a righteous façade, to surrender to absolute self-love. Those gripped by radical evil always externalize evil. They lose touch with their own humanity. They are blind to their own innate depravity. In the name of western civilization and high ideals, in the name of reason and science, in the name of America, in the name of the free market, in the name of Jesus, they seek the subjugation and annihilation of others. Radical evil, Hannah Arendt wrote, makes whole groups of human beings superfluous. They become, rhetorically, living corpses before often becoming actual corpses.

This binary world view is anti-thought. That is part of its attraction. It gives to those who are alienated and lost emotional certitude. It is buttressed by hollow cliches, patriotic slogans and Bible passages, what psychologists call symbol agnostics. True believers are capable only of imitation. They shut down, by choice, critical reflection and genuine understanding. They surrender all moral autonomy. The impoverished language is regurgitated not because it makes sense, but because it justifies the messianic and intoxicating right to lead humankind to paradise. These pseudo-heroes, however, know only one form of sacrifice, the sacrifice of others.

Human evil is not a problem to be solved. It is a mystery. It is a bitter, constant paradox. We carry the capacity for evil within us. I learned this unsettling truth as a war correspondent. The line between the victim and the victimizer is razor thin. Evil is also seductive. It offers us unlimited often lethal power to turn those around us into objects to destroy or debase to gratify our most perverted desires or both. This evil waits to consume us. All it requires to flourish is for us to turn away, to pretend it is not there, to do nothing.

Those who blind themselves to their capacity for evil commit evil not for evil’s sake, but to make a better world. This collective self-delusion is the story of America, from its foundation on the twin evils of slavery and genocide to its inherent racism, predatory capitalism and savage wars of conquest. The more we ignore this evil, the worse it gets.

The awareness of human corruptibility and human limitations, as understood by Augustine, Kant, Sigmund Freud and Primo Levi, has been humankind’s most potent check on evil. Levi wrote that “compassion and brutality can coexist in the same individual and in the same moment, despite all logic.” This self-knowledge forces us to accept that no act, even one defined as moral or virtuous, is ever free from the taint of self-interest. It reminds us that we are condemned to always battle our baser instincts. It recognizes that compassion, as Rousseau wrote, is alone the quality from which “all the social virtues flow.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that “some are guilty, but all are responsible.” We may not be guilty of the murders in Atlanta, but we are responsible. We must answer for them. We must accept the truth about ourselves, however unpleasant. We must unmask the lie of our pretended innocence.

Long’s murderous spree was quintessentially American. That is what makes it, along with all other hate crimes, along with our endless imperial wars, police terror, callous abandonment of the poor and the vulnerable, so frightening. This evil will not be tamed until it is named and confronted.

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning NewsThe Christian Science Monitor and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show “On Contact.” 

This column is from Scheerpost, for which Chris Hedges writes a regular column twice a month. Click here to sign up for email alerts.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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18 comments for “Chris Hedges: The Evil Within Us

  1. Juan M Escobedo
    March 24, 2021 at 10:07

    Thanks Chris,for such a brilliant sermon.Evil is indeed,within us all..And White America is in denial..

  2. Ervin Hill
    March 24, 2021 at 06:16

    This sentence “The truth is irrelevant as long as the ideology is consistent, doubt is heretical and the vision of the world, however absurd, absolute and unassailable.” is extremely powerful and speaks volumes. It applies to every ideology across the political and religious spectrum. From woke culture to extreme religious right – the entire spectrum

    Well done sir

  3. Robert S.
    March 24, 2021 at 00:58

    Compassion enables us to see, not only the pain and suffering, but the source of it all. Compassion is indeed a rarity in the late stages of capitalism steeped in greed and selfishness. The all powerful American religion of capitalism has a death grip on the throat of America and will not let go of its own will.

  4. March 23, 2021 at 13:39

    According to the late writer and psychotherapist Alice Miller, evil that manifests itself in a person is the consequence of childhood mistreatment and unresolved childhood trauma, which is stored in a person’s subconscious so the person is not consciously aware of it.

    This is particularly documented in Alice Miller’s now online book titled For Your Own Good and subtitled “Hidden Cruelty in Childrearing and the Roots of Violence”. A link to the book is at

    hxxp:// (scroll down for contents) (using hxxp to avoid active links)

    Alice Miller in her book documents that leading figures of the Third Reich, without exception, and ordinary Germans who acclaimed and went along with Hitler, all had strict (euphemism for soul-murdering) upbringings which they came to accept as being good and normal. Her book has an entire chapter about Hitler and his childhood, and his brutal upbringing by his father and the lack of love in any real sense from his mother.

    Two web sites with articles by Alice Miller are at



    She has two short articles advancing the thesis that the roots of violence are not unknown:



    In the latter link Alice Miller states these as facts:

    1. The development of the human brain is use-dependent. The brain develops its structure in the first four years of life, depending on the experiences the environment offers the child. The brain of a child who has mostly loving experiences will develop differently from the brain of a child who has been treated cruelly.

    2. Almost all children on our planet are beaten in the first years of their lives. They learn from the start violence, and this lesson is wired into their developing brains. No child is ever born violent. Violence is NOT genetic, it exists because beaten children use, in their adult lives, the lesson that their brains have learned.

    3. As beaten children are not allowed to defend themselves, they must suppress their anger and rage against their parents who have humiliated them, killed their inborn empathy, and insulted their dignity. They will take out this rage later, as adults, on scapegoats, mostly on their own children. Deprived of empathy, some of them will direct their anger against themselves (in eating disorders, drug addiction, depression etc.), or against other adults (in wars, terrorism, delinquency etc.)

  5. March 23, 2021 at 11:08

    Chris, you have made a valid realization regarding the potential for evil that lurks in all of us. However, your conclusion that “Human evil is not a problem to be solved. It is a mystery” is wrong on both counts. It is not a mystery because we have evolved by Natural Selection (nature read in tooth and claw, survival of the fittest, etcetera) and Mother Nature is a wicked old witch. So the potential for evil that lurks in all of us should be expected. And it IS a problem to be solved if humanity is to survive and be eclipsed by descendants. Think CRISPR:


    … and our burgeoning capacity to take our evolution out of the hands of the wicked old witch.

    Yes, gene editing is a slippery slope, but compared to what? We are sure to go extinct without descendants of we don’t try, and any probability of success is infinitely greater than zero.

  6. March 23, 2021 at 10:51

    What these Pastors say is one reason I do not believe in unlimited freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These people have great power over the weak minded followers among us. It is time to limit some so called freedoms. Add the gun pssetion laws to this too!

  7. Tom
    March 23, 2021 at 09:20

    Thanks for this!

  8. Teresa
    March 23, 2021 at 08:43

    Yes, and I am sure the church provided the requisite counseling that he needed to pray harder to wash away his sins. And really, who doesn’t know how to delete porn? C’mon, that is a stretch. We are a very sick nation who has relented to government for so long as to become neutered. Let it burn.

  9. March 22, 2021 at 23:48

    Excellent article Chris. I make an analogy with a malignant tumour.
    A ‘body’ can be 99 percent healthy yet one cancerous cell can cause much damage growing into a tumour. Although it realizes that by destroying the very body it feeds on it is also destroying itself yet that end does not prevent its greed for reproduction. Most US citizens are well aware where the tumour lies and its progress.
    The US is suffering a malignant tumour in three areas.The three areas are the war machine, wall street, education

  10. douglas kaufman
    March 22, 2021 at 23:41

    What is it that needs to be “named” and “confronted”.
    It is a factual fact that blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and other minorities among us now and in the past have been systemically “redlined, not just in real estate, but jobs, schools, food, and a myriad of other topics. It’s not a black thing, or a white thing, or even a Hispanic or Muslim thing, it’s a GREEN thing/ money!
    THE best way to eradicate poverty, crime, the injustice of the lower class is to educate. It won’t be cheap, it won’t be fast and it certainly won’t allow you to have a warm fuzzy feeling until the first class goes through and graduates from their college, vo-tech, or trade school. It is when they are out looking for jobs, places to live, cars to drive, food to buy and cook, and mates to find that the payoff will happen. Once an education has been introduced and placed into a child’s mind, they can not cut it out and throw it away as having never heard or learned from the lesson, Part of that is the understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Being educated in today’s world works for making America great again, by educating all of our citizens, not the selected or white students. Now granted, there will always be some students that will be smarter than other students of all races. But how do you know who will be the next breakthrough NASA scientist or the next hedge fund manager, or who will invent the next bigger, better mousetrap!

  11. John OCallaghan
    March 22, 2021 at 22:12

    The truth is always frightening and confronting, and a lot of us tend to run away from it in case one day we may have to come face to face with it… but face it we must in order to deal with it.

    I would love to attend an evening with Mr Hedges to hear him speak, but alas am a long long way away so will keep watching and following him on YouTube……. I am hoping one day he will come to Australia!

  12. Janice Tone
    March 22, 2021 at 21:27

    Grateful for the Clear, Unwavering, Unapologetic, and Humble markers for those who are seeking to follow. You are the only person I have heard in decades, call out evil in its manifestations.

  13. James Charles
    March 22, 2021 at 19:35

    Not long now?

    ‘We’ have ten years?

    “ . . . our best estimate is that the net energy
    33:33 per barrel available for the global
    33:36 economy was about eight percent
    33:38 and that in over the next few years it
    33:42 will go down to zero percent
    33:44 uh best estimate at the moment is that
    33:46 actually the
    33:47 per average barrel of sweet crude
    33:51 uh we had the zero percent around 2022
    33:56 but there are ways and means of
    33:58 extending that so to be on the safe side
    34:00 here on our diagram
    34:02 we say that zero percent is definitely
    34:05 around 2030 . . .
    34:43 need net energy from oil and [if] it goes
    34:46 down to zero
    34:48 uh well we have collapsed not just
    34:50 collapse of the oil industry
    34:52 we have collapsed globally of the global
    34:54 industrial civilization this is what we
    34:56 are looking at at the moment . . . “


    March 22, 2021 at 18:57

    As I read this, I could not help but think of the two Great Commandments, love of God with all our being and love of neighbor with the love we have of ourselves. Then all through the article I had the image of Jesus as given to us by the authors of the four Gospels. Particularly His approach to those who were different and those who opposed Him, because many of them came to believe Him and love Him.

  15. Carolyn M. Grassi
    March 22, 2021 at 18:08

    a long quote of Freud and short one of Jung….a convergence at the end of their lives….ah they call for compassion and humility ….
    ? Sigmund Freud , Civilization and Its Discontents
    “. . . the super-ego can be more easily detected in its behavior in the cultural community than in the separate individual. The cultural super-ego has developed its ideas and set up its demands . . . under the heading ethics…the sorest spot in every civilization.
    Ethics is thus to be regarded as a therapeutic attempt – as an endeavor to achieve, by means of a command of the super-ego, something which has so far not been achieved by means of any other cultural activities. …
    In our research and therapy, we are led to two reproaches against the super-ego of the individual. In the severity of its commands and prohibitions it troubles itself too little about the happiness of the ego, in that it takes insufficient account of the resistances against obeying them—of the instinctual strength of the id and of the difficulties presented by the real external environment in the second.
    Consequently, we are very often obliged, for therapeutic purposes, to oppose the super-ego, and we endeavor to lower its demands.
    Exactly the same objections can be made against the ethical demands of the cultural super-ego. It too, does not trouble itself enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human beings. It issues a command and does not ask whether it is possible for people to obey it.
    On the contrary, it assumes that a person’s ego is psychologically capable of anything that is required of it, that his/her ego has unlimited mastery over their id. This is a mistake and even in what are known as normal people the id cannot be controlled beyond certain limits. (pp 108. 109)
    . . an enormous inflation of (the command to) love can only lower its value…Civilization pays no attention to all this; it merely admonishes us that the harder it is to obey the precept the more meritorious it is to do so.
    …What a potent obstacle to civilization aggressiveness must be, if the defense against it can cause as much unhappiness as aggressiveness itself! “Natural” ethics, as it is called, has nothing to offer here except the narcissistic satisfaction of being able to think oneself better than others.” (pp 108. 109)
    and from C.G. Jung “The Undiscovered Self”
    “Recognition of the shadow leads to the modesty we need in order to acknowledge imperfection… A human relationship is not based on differentiation and perfection, for these only emphasize the differences or call forth the exact opposite; it is based, rather, on imperfection, on what is weak, helpless and in need of support — the very ground and motive of dependence. The perfect has no need of the other, but weakness has, for it seeks support and does not confront its partner with anything that might force him/her into an inferior position and even humiliate him/her. This humiliation may happen only too easily where idealism plays too prominent a role.”
    pp. 104, 105

  16. Truth first
    March 22, 2021 at 17:59

    Another good one Chris however getting the evil of American propaganda replaced by the truth is an uphill battle.

  17. evelync
    March 22, 2021 at 17:53

    Yes, great piece!
    Proving also that we owe it to ourselves to become better informed about the thinking or non thinking of the candidates who run for office.
    Are they capable of self awareness including how their unconscious minds may impact their decision making.

    Are they capable of understanding the possible unintended consequences of their actions?
    Do they care about the impact on others? How do they handle pressure.

    This article shows what we’re up against with the darker side of humanity including the fears that are so easily manipulated.

  18. Calvin E Lash Jr
    March 22, 2021 at 17:25

    Great piece.

Comments are closed.