the evil character

One of the movies up for a lot of Oscars this year is No Country for Old Men. I just read the book; it's by Cormac McCarthy. He's a pretty good author, though I probably wouldn't recommend this book because it's so violent. And depressing. One of the main characters is apparently without conscience, or soulless, with a rigid sort of personal ethics to him but without any mercy or compassion.

The possibility or existence of a purely evil person seems to be fascinating for people. I've seen it in a number of books or articles. I don't believe in it myself. But this story was interesting in that it didn't seem to be trying to distance the bad character from the other, more normal, moral characters in the story. Their faults were brought out by the encounter with the evil person (and sometimes they were even judged by him). The main good guy, a sheriff, ends up confessing a wrong deed in his past that has plagued him for years. And finally he quits his job, feeling that he has been beaten because he is afraid of the evil character, not only afraid of dying at his hand but afraid that a direct encounter with him might destroy the sheriff's own soul. Whether through anger, or by being shown the weakness of his own commitment to truth and goodness, perhaps. He feels he has lost confidence in his ideals and doesn't have what it takes to be sheriff any more.

For some reason this story made an impression on me. Its brutal honesty, perhaps. I mean it's honesty about how afraid and impure and dishonest with ourselves we all are. I don't think the story tells the whole truth; God's intervention seems to be missing, or denied. But it makes me think that it's important to admit how false and empty we are. Often we don't see or admit that, until we are faced with some threat or catastrophe and our response to it shocks us because it shows us what we are.

I think I often get very disappointed or depressed or angry because people don't turn out to be as good as they appear, or because I don't live up to the ideals I profess. But perhaps a big part of my problem is that I don't admit the truth about people (or about myself) at the beginning. "Sinner" is not just a religious category. If true goodness ever comes through us, then it's a miracle, an intervention of God that we should be desperately thankful for.

Maybe people are fascinated with the evil character because it is something they are too afraid to look at in themselves.