Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Embodiment of Evil

Sometimes Giles Fraser scares me. I've agreed with him twice this year. But thankfully he's back on form with his piece: on making the Devil redundant.

First up it's the way he complains about kicking the Dark One out of the baptism service - at great length - and then reassures us that he doesn't exist. Which betrays a great inconsistency. If we are going to insist that non-existent embodiments of evil are in the liturgy of the church, surely Giles Fraser should go further. He should be asking the Bishop for permission to include in the Baptism service a host of other baddies from fiction. This has the advantage of putting something more dynamic into the service. Let's face it, the Book of Common Worship has turned what should be a celebration of life over death into a celebration of words over bladder control. Also, by using more contemporary baddies, Canon Giles will be able to appeal to a new generation of churchgoers who otherwise find white, balding , middle-aged ex-public schoolboys somewhat irrelevant to their normal lived experience.

So I suggest that the Canon might like to consider the following:

Minister: Do you reject Voldemort and all his works?

Candidate: I reject them.

Minister: And Jadis the ice witch?

Candidate: I reject them.

Minister: And all her Turkish Delight?

Candidate: I renounce them.

Minister: And Moriarty and his schemes?

Candidate: I do flee from them.

Minister: Even if this latest Sherlock is morally ambivalent and and bit psychotic himself?

Candidate: Yeah, but Martin Freeman is always so lovely, isn't he?

Minister: That reminds me: Do you reject Smaug and all his treasures?

Candidate: I reject all dragon-sickness.

Minister: And Sauron and all his minions? [the traditional language version may substitute Morgoth for Sauron]

Candidate: Oh, definitely.

Minister: And Jihadi John?

Candidate: I will not view his videos. Especially as I fear the Tories' attitude to Internet security only slightly more than the Islamic State.

Minister: Guardian reader, eh? 

Candidate. Yep.

Minister: So I can't interest you in rejecting Polly Toynbee then?

Candidate: You reckon she's an embodiment of evil?

Minister: Probably a matter of opinion. OK then -  Do you reject Christian Grey and all his perviness?

Candidate: I reject them. That first book was unreadable. I had to read the lot to confirm to myself they were really that bad.

Minister: And Dr Evil?

Candidate: And Mini Me.

Minister: And Doctor Hook?

Candidate: Don't you mean Captain Hook?

Minister: Yeah, sorry. And the Hooded Claw?

Candidate: And the suspiciously-similar Sylvester Sneekley, and also Dick Dastardly.

Minister: And Gargamel?

Candidate: I should smurfing well think so.

Minister: And Doctor Eggman?

Candidate: I reject him and Blofeld.

Minister: And the Wicked Witch of the East?

Candidate: And the Wicked Witch of the West.

Minister: And the Mysterons and all the Illuminati and Alien Lizards?

Candidate: I reject evil, however it may be embodied.

You see, to me that word "embodied" is important. The Devil is the embodiment of all that is evil. The world today, old and full of cares as it is, has as much evil as it ever has. The Devil is - mostly - a bit part in the Bible, but appears at critical points. In the Gardens of Eden and Gethseman; in the desert; when Job faces his trials; when all hell breaks out in Revelation. There are times when he seizes the day - or is flushed out, when Jesus is casting demons out.

But he mostly wants to stay quietly hidden. Lurking behind the scenes, doing his stuff or letting others do his stuff for him. Pulling the strings on the nasty bits of capitalism. Nudging the communist regimes to notice that "atheism" is part of their creed, so Christians must be the enemy. Persuading Inquisitors and Islamists that other people are on his side, so they don't notice the parts of their own lives that are dark. Justifying the Blitz on London or Coventry - or the firebombing of Dresden.  That's where he wants to be - in the shadows. Because whenever he comes out in the open it ends up badly for him.

But maybe deep down we known he's there. So we keep dragging him into the open as all those other embodiments of evil - putting form to him. So we can see him for what he is. And reject him - again and again. We know he's there. We have to know what he looks like - just enough to ensure we're not on his side. And we have to remember that he's not embodied as Jesus is. He doesn't take on human flesh and keep it forever. He's restricted to a nudge here, a suggestion there, a distortion of the truth there, a system of government over there. The stuff that God makes the earth out of is actually too good for Satan to keep a permanent hold.

So please, shorten that interminable prayer over the water. But don't throw Satan out of the baptism service. Well, actually - do throw him out, if you see what I mean. And if you're going to keep him in, it's not because he's a kind of pantomime villain so Giles Fraser can feel like there's some theatre in the service. He's not the Ugly Sisters or The Evil Emperor Zurg.

Except, of course, in a way, he is. But he's more than that.


  1. I think it is a little cruel to describe Giles Fraser as the embodiment of all evil. Nor am I totally convinced by arguments that he doesn't exist.

    1. It's never happened to me, but I know people who swear blind they've met him.


    2. I reject Benedict Cumberbatch and all his works,although I did like the bit where he fell out of the sky over Laketown and crushed Stephen Fry in Hobbit 3. . I suppose that makes me a moral relativist.

  2. I think the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" should be mandatory listening for all preparing for baptism.


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