The Death Of Satan: How Americans Have Lost The Sense Of Evil, by Andrew Delbanco
This book is both a compelling one as well as one that challenges the spirit of the times. The contemporary period of the United States (and indeed much of Western culture) is faced with a deep conundrum in that we have the recognition of deep evil and even a hatred of certain forms of evil, but that we lack the language to properly discuss that evil. With a shrewd look at the history of American literature and culture the author discusses the view of Satan that became increasingly ridiculed in the 18th century and later by cultural elites that led to the situation where we lack the conceptual framework to discuss evil. Moreover, the author goes into the discussion of evil with considerable skill, examining evil as privation in the absence and corruption of good, seeking to convince the reader to examine the extent to which evil is something inside of us and not only something that is an other and outside of us, as is frequently argued to be the case by many people who condemn evil but fancy themselves to be good even when they are not.
This book of a bit less than 250 pages is divided into two parts and seven chapters. The author introduces the subject of Satan by discussing his appearance in literature as well as the Bible. The first part of the book looks at Satan and his career in the American imagination and culture during what he terms as the age of belief (I), with three chapters that look at how Satan first appeared when he came to the New World and found a home in American culture as he was increasingly forgotten in Europe (1), as well as how the belief in Satan was assailed in the age of reason (2), and how belief in Satan became increasingly troublesome to people when the birth of the self and personal responsibility (3) made a belief in divine providence as well as pervasive evil seem problematic. After that the author spends four chapters looking at Satan in modern times (II), with a discussion of the loss of a belief in providence that took place after the Civil War (4), politics turned to an age of blame that sought to pin evil on others and outsiders (5), and culture became less straightforward and became filled with irony (6), after which the author talks about the prospects for a revival in the understanding of Satan and evil as privation in an Augustinian sense (7), and closes the book with notes, acknowledgements, and an index.
Although this book would likely be difficult or unpleasant reading for many people, the author has hit upon a very creative and excellent way to discuss one of the key problems in contemporary American culture in a way that demonstrates the cultural and literary roots of our worldview problems. To the extent that we have banished a view of deep personal evil or the idea of evil as privation from our understanding, we have left ourselves unable to properly conceptualize and understand and combat the evils that we recognize but cannot deal with in our present cultural state. The author shows the importance of a worldview to being able to properly deal with the world as it is, and demonstrates that a revival of a proper understanding of evil is necessary for us to combat the evils that we lament and crusade against, while recognizing that the border between good and evil is not the border between different groups or factions of people but is a line that cuts into every person and reminds us that the war against evil is an internal struggle first before it can be dealt with externally.