The Ugliness of Evil and the Banality of Death

The classical world depicted the deformity and monstrosity of evil with revolting images: the Gorgon Medusa with serpents for coils of hair; the Chimaera with a boa constrictor for a tail and the heads of a lion, goat, and serpent, their mouths breathing fire; Centaurs half human and half horse; and Minotaurs part human and part bull. In the Inferno Dante also portrays evil in lurid forms in which human souls transform into the appearance of shapes that embody their vices, the suicides transformed into trees and the thieves into serpents. In the Iliad Homer captures the horrific barbarism of war in scenes that show brutal violence: “He slashed off his arms and head with his sword, and sent his body rolling like a rounded boulder through the crowd.”

Leon_Bonnat_-_The_CrucifixionThese images evoke a natural revulsion at the ugliness of evil that the five senses perceive. Shakespeare’s line from Hamlet, “Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark,” also conveys an instinctive loathing at the foulness of the evil of murder. Dante’s depiction of hell in the Inferno, not only paints repulsive sights like sinners swimming in filth, but also captures the cacophonous sounds of wailing, shrieks, groans, and curses. St. Augustine’s view as evil as the absence of the good conceives it as poisonous or parasitic, having no independent existence of its own but preying upon the good to corrupt it. Evil, then, has a nature that produces a visceral reaction of loathing. Its sights, sounds, and smells provoke a response of antipathy and disgust.

Likewise, the grisly details of abortion procedures that result in torn limbs, burned tissue, punctured skulls, and mutilated body parts bespeak the unequivocal truth about the enormity of evil in all its stark ghastliness. The instruments used by abortionists to perform functions like scraping, saline solution, suctioning, and crushing also convey the same sense of brutality and deadliness. The macabre techniques of partial birth abortion —the abortionist puncturing the skull and emptying the brain matter of the baby—appall the conscience. Just as pictures of slaves in chains, the photos of emaciated Armenians on a death march through the Syrian desert, and victims of Nazi concentration camps strike human sensibilities as abhorrent and diabolical, the sordid details about abortion techniques, instruments, and chemicals shock human consciousness by the wanton cruelty they inflict. The body parts in Kermit Gosnell’s abortuary or found in dumpsters of medical waste evoke revulsion at the monstrous nature of evil’s vileness.

While it is easy to conceptualize evil as an abstract idea or reduce the issue of abortion to an intellectual debate or political argument based on opinions, ideology, or religious views, the images of abortion procedures on film like Dr. Bernard Nathanson’s The Silent Scream expose the horrific details of evil’s ugliness in its foulest, most vicious form. A weak, innocent pre-born child recoils in self-defense to evade the assault of an aggressor. The reality of excruciating pain torments the child’s life in the womb whose silent scream (if ever heard) would naturally elicit compassion and plead for immediate deliverance from torture. Evil is not a mere word, name, or term but the most tangible of realities—like the blood on Macbeth’s hands after his murder of King Duncan (“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/Clean from my hand?”) or the spots of blood on Lady Macbeth’s hands that she cannot remove by her continual washing (“Out, damned spot! Out I say!”). As long as the public does not see the blood of abortion victims, witness the child’s desperate struggle for survival in the womb, hear the cries of torment in a child’s scream, or behold the mangled body, the horror of evil keeps its distance and loses its concrete reality.

The crucified body of Christ reveals the atrocity of evil in its grossest form—the victim of brute power and the most diabolical cruelty human torture can inflict upon a subject. To look at the corpus with all its wounds, blood, mutilation, and anguish is to stare at raw evil with none of its “bland deceits and civilized hypocrisies” to use a phrase from Melville in Moby Dick. The agony on the face, the scourging of the flesh, the shedding of blood, the excruciating pain, and the torture of the body evoke all the images of hell’s darkest forces. How can any man, ruler, or government ever justify the crucifixion of the God who is Love Incarnate or the crucifixion of any human being? How can any society, political party, or judge ever rationalize the violent slaughter of children, the epitome of perfect innocence and the images of God? Abortions are crucifixions, genocides, and holocausts of a jaded culture desensitized by the “banality of evil” (a phrase from Hannah Arendt) that sees killing and death as commonplace.

To see the effects of crucifixion or abortion is to know evil as it is—shocking, loathsome, and demonic. How can one witness a crucifixion without crying out “Lord, have mercy”? How can one know that a baby is being poisoned, burned, and slaughtered without agony at the atrocity of the act? Only in a culture of death where evil is legalized and administered by an educated class that resorts to jargon (“product of conception”), euphemism (“reproductive rights”), sophistry (“the right to privacy”), and philosophical obfuscation (“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s concept of existence, of the meaning of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” Planned Parenthood v. Casey) do words assume more reality than things. There is no baby in the womb. There is no blood on the hands. There is no stench in the air. There is no evil in killing. There is no pain in crucifixion. There is no knowledge from seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling. There is no common sense. There is no moral law.

There is only the expert knowledge of the professional elite and the legal profession. Only the Illuminati, the enlightened Gnostics with higher knowledge of dark secrets, grasp the hidden meaning in the “penumbra” of the Constitution that allows the right to an abortion. Only they decide when life begins, when euthanasia is mercy, when pregnancy is an illness, when the health of the mother justifies killing the child in the womb, and when abortion is “safe.” Evil, however, is not obscure, equivocal, vague, or imaginary. It is as tangible as the body, as graphic as blood, as concrete as a scream, and as ugly as death. It kills God and it kills babies.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
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