Ted Bundy seduced and murdered thirty eight women. At his trial, a whole bank of extremely beautiful women showed up every day and sat in the front rows of the courtroom, giggling and making eye contact with him.
Sometimes this kind of thing comes from a place of utter despair, but more commonly it comes from the fascination of the beautiful with the evil and brutal. And it constantly takes us by surprise because we forget that beautiful people—whether they be physically beautiful or makers of beautiful music, art, buildings or simply beautiful people to be around—are (like us all) fallen creatures. And with beauty comes the temptations of beauty, one of which is to wield power over others: to even get drunk on power.
We human beings (especially civilised ones) can find a special delight in being able to arrange our lives, the lives of those around us and even our entire world, in such a way that everything is ‘just so’. But we fail, get desperate and then long to somehow borrow or steal some of God’s magic in order to make it all #*X! work. Rather than longing to be filled with the things God wants to give us—like love, joy, peace, patience and kindness; we long for the unattainable qualities of God: perfect beauty and eternal youth, absolute power, infinity and so on.
Frustrated by our impotence and tired of all the talk of God’s love and grace, we look for something that works! and beauty—real stunning beauty—works like magic. If you’re looking for those kind of results that is. And so does evil: as in what might be called ‘white line evil’: the kind that says ‘I don’t care what it takes—I’ll make a bargain with the devil, I’ll do whatever brutal things it takes to get what I want.’
Chesterton explains it this way: ‘I believe that the black magic of witchcraft has been much more practical and much less poetical than the white magic of mythology. I fancy the garden of the witch has been kept much more carefully than the woodland of the nymph. I fancy the evil field has even been more fruitful than the good. To start with, some impulse, perhaps a sort of desperate impulse, drove men to the darker powers when dealing with practical problems. There was a sort of secret and perverse feeling that the darker powers would really do things; that they had no nonsense about them.’ He continues, ‘Sooner or later a man deliberately sets himself to do the most disgusting thing he can think of. It is felt that the extreme of evil will extort a sort of attention or answer from the evil powers under the surface of the world. This is the meaning of most of the cannibalism in the world… It is notable not only in ethics but in aesthetics.’ 3
‘A South American idol was made as ugly as possible, as a Greek image was made as beautiful as possible. They were seeking the secret of power, by working backwards against their own nature and the nature of things. There was always a sort of yearning to carve at last, in gold or granite or the dark-red timber of the forests, a face at which the sky itself would break like a cracked mirror.’
Chesterton goes on to talk about the way that ordinary souls are often blind to this sort of thing because it is so alien, so awful and almost impossible to imagine and thereby hides itself under a cloak in broad daylight, even when we are looking right into its face. He says, ‘This inverted imagination produces things of which it is better not to speak. Some of them indeed might almost be named without being known; for they are of that extreme evil which seems innocent to the innocent. They are too inhuman even to be indecent. But without dwelling much longer in these dark corners, it may be noted as not irrelevant here that certain anti-human antagonisms seem to recur in this tradition of black magic. There may be suspected as running through it everywhere, for instance, a mystical hatred of the idea of childhood.’4
This antagonism towards humans, especially to children is a hallmark of evil in every culture. In our own society for example, which has ironically launched a national investigation into pedophilia (which an excellent thing in itself) at the same time that our homes, families and especially our children are being systematically torn apart by things we deeply cherish in our way of life. Like those women filing into the courtroom each day—where evil in one heart communed with evil in another and both hearts celebrated a perverted form of power—we are participating in a denunciation of one form of evil whilst at the same time communing with and celebrating something we have in common with it.
Walter Brueggemann suggests that instead of just getting angry at it or joining in with it, we need to recognise that the darkness holds a clue to the puzzle. He suggests that the problem with us is that it’s not just that we are afraid of evil, we are afraid of all that is mysterious, awe-inspiring or numinous. And that our society (and even at times our ‘Christianity’) has a vested interest in the elimination of wonder and “abiding astonishment,” because ‘In our modern experience but probably also in every affluent culture it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness … The remarkable thing about Israel is that it did not banish or deny the darkness from its religious enterprise. It embraces the darkness as the very stuff of new life. Indeed, Israel seems to know that new life is rooted nowhere else.’5
So perhaps, rather than scoffing at those beautiful women entranced by blatant evil, and rather than joining in with them, we could have a conversation with them.