"Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

The Common Enemy

Karl Menninger

JKarlMenningerIt is difficult to know just how to designate our common enemy for rhetorical purposes of a presentation such as this. Evil goes by one name in a course on philosophy, by another name in the chemical laboratory, or the law court, or the church lobby, or the seminar on ego psychology in the psychoanalytic in­stitute. Evil is one thing in France and another thing in the Congo ‑ or is it? Maybe the best word, after all, is "The Devil". It is a curious thing that some people get around to believing in God by way of first discovering the Devil. Faced with the undeniable existence of the latter, they go on to find his adversary.

Pro­fessor Cyril Joad put it well for many of us when he declared, "For most of my life I have been a Ration­alist...my name app­earing regularly with that of Bertrand Russell as a derider of religion... All things, I held, are theoretically discover­able by reason, and when the universe had ceased to be mysterious, God would go to the scrapheap of man's discarded superstitions... Then came the war, and the existence of evil made its impact upon me as a positive and obtrusive fact. All my life it has been staring me in the face; now it hit me... I am not seeking to pretend that this belated recog­nition of evil constituted...an argument". He goes on to say that he had been taught to believe that the evil in man was due to economic circumstances or other such explanations, that if certain things were only removed, good would prevail and virtue reign. "I have come flatly to dis­believe all this", he said. "I see now that evil is endemic in man, and the Christian doctrine of original sin expresses a deep and essential insight into human nature.

"Reject it and you fall victim, as so many of us whose minds have developed in an atmosphere of left‑wing politics and rationalist philosophy have fallen victim, to a shallow optimism in regard to human nature which causes you to think that the millennium is just around the corner waiting to be introduced by a society of adequately psychoanalyzed, prosperous Commu­nists...". Joad is correct; earlier Freudian tenets did permit facile and shallow meliorism: "There are no bad children ‑ just bad parents". "Adult misbehavior only reflects the frustrations of childhood", etc. I myself have indulged in some of these pious evasions, and with a good deal of concurr­ence at the time. For they are not untruths, but half‑truths. They empha­size, and properly, the redemptive possibilities, the saving grace of the "life‑force", the power of love, the constructive and creative instinct. (I use these as synonyms). But they neglect the in­trinsic, endemic, de­structive urge that cannot be successfully controlled so long as its very existence is denied.

A colleague, Dr. Bruno Bettelheim, in a provocative article entitled "Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank", begins by raising the question of why so many millions of people let themselves be systematically executed in large masses without more uprising. The Frank family, he says, could have escaped and probably all members could have been saved. He reminds us that the play based on her diary ends by Anne implying her belief in the good in all men. He attacks this one‑sided emphasis. "If all men are basically good", he says, "and if just going along with intimate family life means everything, then indeed we can all go along as usual and forget Auschwitz". "Anne Frank died", says Bettelheim, "because she couldn't get her family to believe in Auschwitz".

There are even some psychiatrists who still do not believe in Auschwitz ‑ the Auschwitz element in every human being. They repeat sweetness‑and‑light platitudes and denounce belief in the innate destructive trend of mankind as superstitious, or as "an unnecessary postulate".

(K. Menninger, "The Common Enemy", in W.A. Sadler (Ed.), Personality_and_Religion (Harper & Row, 1970), pp.240‑242.)