When the news broke that North Korean despot Kim Jong Il had died, I felt relieved, as if the death of this man whom many considered a tyrant, was a heavy blow against evil. Yet, the next morning I still felt anxious about global warming, disheartened with the complexity of poverty and reminded of the harsh nature of the world with news of violence and murder. I even grumbled to myself when I couldn’t find any clean socks. The death of Jong Il didn’t revolutionize North Korea, the country simply traded one despot for another, whom some are suggesting will be even worse. We had focused so much energy and news coverage on these representatives of evil that we we’re surprised when the world didn’t revert to the garden of Eden once Jong was dead and buried.
Sometimes I wish evil had a face. I wish a Dark Lord sat in a dark tower looming over some forsaken waste, plotting the destruction of peace, love and clean socks. I wish all wars and pestilence could be directly attributed to his dark mind and his hordes of heartless minions. To kill someone like Jong Il would then mean a large measure of evil has left the world.
If it had, fighting the good fight would’ve become wonderfully straightforward: Launch a missile strike directly over the tyrant’s fortress or hire a talented assassin. It sure beats donating money without knowing whether it will make a dent in poverty or hoping my facebook status will change people’s perspectives. Instead of faceless corporations or crippling apathy to contend with, we’d be knocking off evil masterminds. No more picketing outside my local parliament, no more writing letters to congress or misguided fundraisers and publicity stunts, just send in James Bond to do our dirty work.
But as a Christian, I recognize the futility of missile strikes. Any attempt at battling true evil, begins with recognizing it’s source.
I was surprised to find this illustrated in the fantasy world of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I was tasked with cleansing a house haunted by a Daedra; simply go in, kill the demon and evil is gone. It was a fool-proof plan, until the door sealed behind my companion and I and a malevolent voice filled the room, whispering dark thoughts of murder in our heads.
My friend was driven mad by the evil suggestions and turned on me. I killed him in self defense, knowing his death would ultimately serve as just a small road block to routing out the true evil inside the house. I continued deeper into the home, down through the basement and into an ominous cavern below. Eventually, I found the source of the haunted house in the form of a gnarled, black shrine, from where the dark voice inside my head originated. But there was no monster to kill, and no way to remove the altar. It had all been a ploy to shape me into a servant of evil.
It’s an atypical picture of how evil operates in fantasy fiction, not as a dark lord in a high tower, but a subtle suggestion, just a voice in my head trying to shape my thinking for it’s own purposes. Evil didn’t need to defeat me in combat, but only influence my decisions. I didn’t enter the house with the intent to murder my companion, but it was introduced into our thoughts, doubts were planted in our mind, and finally urged to action I killed my companion in the name of purifying a greater evil. Only I had become the evil inside the haunted house.
Skyrim gave me a chance to take the fight to the enemy. But instead I wound up ignoring the true battle, the war raging inside my soul. We can’t always fight evil corporations or dictators like you’d fight an orc, and expect to win a victory over evil. Evil doesn’t exist solely in foreign dictators or brooding demons, but in our own choices and attitudes. As a Christian I do not see myself as a doctor handing out the cure, but as a fellow patient on life saving dialysis. This moment in Skyrim reminded me that I can’t save the world by charging into haunted houses or assassinating tyrants. Before I attempt to save anyone, I realize I need to be rescued from the evil inside myself.