People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil

M. Scott Peck

This book was written by Peck after his conversion to Christianity. It never achieved the general popularity of The Road Less Traveled among the general public, but Christians received it with acclaim. His treatment of the problem of evil is really excellent. Most of my notes relate to that.


There are 3 major theological models of evil according to Peck.

  1. Evil is just the other side of the coin (Hinduism/Buddhism) – growth/decay, creation/destruction, life/death. (i.e., evil isn’t really “evil” but rather an integral part of existence)
    Christian Science belongs here.
  2. Evil is distinct from good but is nonetheless of God’s creation. To endow us with free will (essential for creating us in His image), God had to permit us the option of the wrong choice and hence, He had to “allow” evil.

    Peck says, “This model, which I call ‘integrated dualism’ was the one espoused by Martin Buber who referred to evil as “the yeast in the dough,” the ferment placed in the soul by God, without which the human dough does not rise.” (Good and Evil)

  3.  Peck continues, “The final major model, that of traditional Christianity, I label ‘diabolic dualism.’ Here evil is regarded as being not of God’s creation but a ghastly cancer beyond His control. While this model (which is supported in chapter 6) has its own pitfalls, it is the only one of the three that deals adequately with the issue of murder and the murderer.”

Peck refers to Erich Fromm who studied the evil of Nazism. Wrote The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil.  Also he wrote a more elaborate but “less seminal work:” The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.

p. 41:

The problem of evil, for instance, can hardly be separated from the problem of goodness. Were there no goodness in the world, we would not even be considering the problem of evil.

It is a strange thing. Dozens of times I have been asked by patients or acquaintances: “Dr. Peck, why is there evil in the world?” Yet no one has ever asked me in all these years: “Why is there good in the world?” It is as if we automatically assume this is a naturally good world that has somehow been contaminated by evil. In terms of what we know of science, however, it is actually easier to explain evil. That things decay is quite explainable in accord with the natural law of physics. That life should evolve into more and more complex forms is not so easily understandable. That children generally lie, steal and cheat is routinely observable. The fact that sometimes they grow up to become truly honest adults is what seems the more remarkable. Laziness is more the rule than diligence. If we seriously think about it, it probably makes more sense to assume this is a naturally evil world that has somehow been mysteriously “contaminated” by goodness, rather than the other way around. The mystery of goodness is even greater than the mystery of evil.

Immobilization due to free will:

Peck mentions in a quote from Malachi Martin that there was a medieval philosophical conundrum about a donkey–“ …the donkey medieval philosophers had fantasized as helpless, immobilized, and destined to starve because it stood equidistant from two equivalent bales of hay and could not decide which one to approach and eat.”

As C.S. Lewis put it, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” (from Christian Reflections.”

p. 204

Yet to give us free will God had to forswear the use of force against us. We do not have free will when there is a gun pointed at our back. It is not necessarily that God lacks the power to destroy us, to punish us, but that in His love for us He has painfully and terribly chosen never to use it. In agony He must stand by and let us be. He intervenes only to help, never to hurt. The Christian God is a God of restraint. Having forsworn the use of power against us, if we refuse His help, He has no recourse but, weeping, to watch us punish ourselves.

p. 205

Of the Holocaust as well as of lesser evils it is often asked,

“How could a loving God allow such a thing to happen?” It is a bleeding, brutal question. The Christian answer may not suit our tastes, but it is hardly ambiguous. Having forsaken force, God is impotent to prevent the atrocities that we commit upon one another. He can only continue to grieve with us. He will offer us Himself in all His wisdom, but He cannot make us choose to abide with Him.

“For the moment, then, God, tormented, waits upon us through one Holocaust after another. And it may seem to us that we are doomed by this strange God who reigns in weakness. But there is a denouement to Christian doctrine: God in His weakness will win the battle against evil. In fact, the battle is already won….Christ impotently nailed upon the cross is God’s ultimate weapon… Necessary and even dangerous and devastating though our own personal battles may be, unknown to us they are but mopping-up operations against a retreating enemy who has long since lost the war.”

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