M. Scott Peck is a psychiatrist and well known author. His first success was The Road Less Traveled. Most recently he penned Glimpses of the Devil in 2005 which is a consideration of demonic exorcism from the perspective of a psychiatrist.
In People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, written in 1983, Peck gives us the first real view of his interests in demonic possession. Although I had a brief interest in Road, I came to People of the Lie first because of the issue of evil. I am presently reading Glimpses and will review it soon.
His stated goal in authoring People of the Lie is to begin a discussion on the merits of scientific investigation into the claimed phenomenon of demonic possession. Peck had come to the conclusion that there were some people, encountered in psychotherapy, who did not fit into any established psychopathic category but were nevertheless very ill. He came to believe that some of these people were themselves evil.
With this background he seeks out individuals thought to be possessed. He finds himself involved with two clients whom he assists to remove the possession. During these experiences he comes to observe what he believes to be Satan. In both cases the devil is cast out and the clients enter intensive psychotherapy to complete their return to mental health.
He concludes by discussing group evil especially in regards to American war efforts and makes some suggestions to move forward with a scientific examination of evil.
People of the Lie: What I Think
Demonic possession was certainly a reality of the first century and provided a powerful image to Jesus and his apostles who cast demons out of people. I have no doubt that such possession was very real and that Bible accounts on the subject are very true. However I am not convinced that such involuntary possessions occur today. Satan is bound (Revelation 20:2) and no person is compelled to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13) today. In fact Peck even concedes that the idea of a person walking down the street and suddenly being pounced upon by a demon is not what he has seen. Instead, people make themselves vulnerable to the demon and he enters them.
Can a person give himself to Satan? I think so. If a man can give himself to Christ he can likely give himself to the devil. However that possession,by Christ or Satan, is not fixed until death.
All of the flamboyant Exorcist techniques applied to Linda Blair are Hollywood. Even among the apostles we find no such services involving hours of restraint, holy water and head spinning green vomit. But Peck does claim such. He describes one woman who developed snake-like hooded eyes and a serpentine body during the exorcism. He records:
When the demonic finally spoke clearly in one case, an expression appeared on the patient’s face that could be described only as Satanic. It was an incredibly contemptuous grin of utter hostile malevolence…when the demonic finally revealed itself in the exorcism of this other patient, it was with a still more ghastly expression. The patient suddenly resembled a writhing snake of great strength, viciously attempting to bite the team members. More frightening than the writhing body, however was the face. The eyes were hooded with lazy reptilian torpor-except when the reptile darted out in attack, at which moment the eyes would open with blazing hatred. (1)M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie, pg. 196
I wonder if there is some hyperbole here?
One of the problems with Peck’s methodology is that he went hunting for people thought to be possessed. It was these he focused upon. He notes that true possession is rare and that possession by Satan rarer still. Yet his two cases, the only two at the time of writing, were both Satanic cases. Certainly curious. Sorry, something just seems less that rigorous here.
We should add that Peck’s theology is very shallow. In fairness he was still learning and would later develop an eclectic faith. But he largely accepts Roman Catholic teachings on the subject with little questioning. He doesn’t deal with Biblical teaching very much, but when he does it is usually skewed.
People of the Lie: Over the Top Analogies
Having spent much of the book discussing individual evil he next turns his eye to a discussion of group evil. He makes many very good points about evil which occurs in teams or mobs or even gangs. But he presents a side of himself I could do without.
Peck equates the U.S. Military in Vietnam with Nazi Germany. His view focuses on the My Lai incident but he moves from the massacre by a single task force to indict the entire nation.
“For the reality is that it is not only possible but easy and even natural for a large group to commit evil without emotional involvement simply by turning loose its specialists. It happened in Vietnam. It happened in Nazi Germany. I am afraid if will happen again.” (2)Peck, pg. 231-232
He further argues that career military men actually want war. “The state of war is therefore not only psychologically satisfying to the career soldier but economically as well.” He continues “It is inevitable, then, that the ordinary career military man, unconsciously if not consciously, desires – longs for – war.” (3)Peck, pg 234 Peck clearly has an axe to grind against the military and goes over the top in pointing out weaknesses and failures. He does a horrid disservice to many servicemen and women.
Had he kept his antiwar ravings out of the book he would have done a much greater service to his subject.
People of the Lie: Science and Faith Combined
When someone suggests combining science and faith in some common approach the sparks begin to fly. Peck’s idea is that evil should become a defined scientific diagnosis. He offers clear warnings to such an approach.
However I am uncertain that science will be willing to cross the bridges necessary to properly study evil. Evil is not, it seems, about brain chemistry and environment. It is a spiritual issue which science simply cannot confront. Science is unwilling to consider that some things may lie beyond their closed systems. The supernatural, which is where evil resides, will not be consider by science let alone studied. Furthermore, science is always changing, as it must be. Therefore there can be no final objective word on evil.
I think Peck shares those same concerns:
In our intellectual laziness we forget that scientific thought is almost as faddish as taste. Since the current opinion of science is only the latest and never the last word, we must for our safety as a public bear the responsibility of being skeptical of our scientists and their pronouncements. In other words, we should never relinquish our individual leadership.” (4)Peck, pg. 258
Evil is real and objective but its understanding lies in faith not science. The Bible can and does have the last word on evil.
People of the Lie from Simon and Schuster is available online and in bookstores. It is interesting and certainly should be on your list of secular reads about evil. But use caution and discernment. Peck is clearly not an expert in this area.
If you have read the book please do comment below. You may make anonymous comments.