The catholic church cannot be reformed; it needs to be restructured.  Whether you look at it doctrinally, spiritually, socially, morally or politically the Catholic Church has structural defects that are fatal.  They are beyond “adjustment.” 

  • Its doctrines  often contradict modern science and history.  Many were formulated to support the power and control projections of theRoman Empire.  Catholic Dogma demeans and demonizes other religious traditions and any version of Christianity except its own.  Any serious reform must include a radical review of all these matters; dogmas that are false and untenable cannot simply be ignored, they must be repudiated and the entire intecon­nected doctrinal complex reformulated. 
  • its spirituality  is the expression of the sexual inversions of the jaded elite of late antiquity.  Those anti-sex, anti-body prejudices and the psychological-moral damage for which they were responsible must be recognized, rejected and reversed.
  • its social stance  runs from ultra-conservative to reactionary in practice, and is at odds with what it claims is its “social doctrine.”  This is a major discrepancy that reflects an unstated ideological bias that contradicts official pronouncements.  It is not sufficient that episcopal policy be made consistent with the stated goals of “Catholic social doctrine,” the reasons for this disconnect must be unearthed, and dealt with.   
  • Its morality  is a set of rationalized abstractions imposed inflexibly on individuals for the purpose of maintaining internal consistency and the illusion of its own infallibility.  The recalcitrant prohibition of artificial birth control may be considered a prime example of this phenomenon.  Dealing with this will require a correction not only of the way moral principles are derived, but of the Church’s paralyzing and reform-proof self-definition.
  • and politically  it is authoritarian, autocratic and totalitarian in its self-governance.  The hierarchy is impervious to change or reform in this regard.  It rejects democracy and stifles maturity and responsibility among its people.  The authority structures of the Catholic Church are anti-democra­tic, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-gospel, anti-ecumenical.  In terms of political alignment, even in countries with a reputation for “liberation theology,” the majority of the hierarchy remain shamelessly in league with the powerful, wealthy and empire-sub­mis­sive elites dedicated to maintaining control of the ordinary people.    

 The valid practice of distinguishing these structural pathologies from the life and work that goes on at the level of the “base communities” — parishes, prayer groups, schools, clinics, social justice projects and the spontaneous service to others performed by Catholic people — should not blind us to the undermining influence of a hierarchy dedicated to corporate success, episcopal prestige and the projection of political power.  These penetrating defects do enormous damage to base activities.  They contaminate the good work of Catholic people as they struggle to enflesh the spirit of Jesus in their lives.   The Church’s totalitarian imperial ideology, body-hating spirituality, inhuman individualist morality, anti-populist policies, self-aggran­diz­ing authoritarian leadership wed to power and wealth with an aggressive resistance to efforts to end the systematic exploitation of the majority by the wealthy few, neutralizes and even corrupts  Catholic peoples’ efforts to humanize the social environment. 

 False prophets, however, cry all is well.  Using a strange involuted argument, they contend that an anti-gospel superstructure can exist alongside a faithful spirit-guided base because the people, miraculously, insulate themselves from the hierarchy.  They say the very fact that the faithful pay no attention to their bishops on any number of issues, means the dysfunctional superstructure of doctrine and authority can do no damage … and therefore does not have to change.  They say the majority of the Catholic people, for example, do not believe that the Church is the “only true Church” without which none can be saved; they respect other traditions.  Most do not believe in “Original Sin,” the existence of Satan and other untenable doctrines. They disregard the Church’s teaching on the prohibition of divorce, they reject the ban against artificial birth control, and increasingly, the condemnation of abortion or doctor assis­ted suicide without exception.  The recent support of a majority of the Catholic population to permit gay marriage in NY state — despite the strident opposition of their bishops — is the latest example of this disconnect.  We can still be “Catholic,” the false prophets  declare, with the doctrines, authority structures and power projection that has characterized the Church since the days of Constantine, because these failings do not affect the Catholic people in the practice of a vibrant Christianity.   I deny this.  I claim there is no way to inoculate the people against the poisonous effects of the bishops’ anti-gospel leadership, and there is no way to calculate the amount of damage done.

 But let’s even grant their argument … let’s say the people are able to insulate themselves from their leaders … I would then ask: how exactly do they manage to do this?   The revisionist answer is that the people pick and choose what they will believe and what they will obey.  They pick and choose, you say?  On what basis, what criterion do they employ?  Why their natural human instinct, of course. 

 There you have it!  Even the revisionist defense recognizes that the Church is “saved” because its people are human beings.  The goodness and holiness resides in humanity, not in the ministrations of a dysfunctional Church.  The Catholic people are human beings despite what Roman Christianity would do to them.  It is humanity, no matter how battered, trammeled, stifled, suffocated, repressed, exploited, abused, misled and deceived whose indomitable groping for life and goodness squeezes through the cracks of the restraining cages and lives, in spite of and in total disregard for the demands of a parasitical authority and its sychophants.  This resident holiness  is actually powerful enough to defend itself from the negativity embedded in the ecclesiastical superstructure.   Self-serving Church authority promotes doctrines, practices and a  politics that would defraud us of our humanity.  It’s time we recognized this.  It is not Christianity that saves humanity, it is rather humanity that saves Christianity  from the destructive effects of its doctrinal and disciplinary distortions. 

 Outrageous!  You say.  What could uneducated plebians  possibly know that the infallible multi-millen­nial Catholic Church authorities do not?  This is an impudence of staggering proportions.  These people do not know their place!

 Neither did Jesus, apparently.  It was he who first prodded us to trust what we were born with. It was he who told us, brazenly, impudently, to sit in judgment on those who would rule our relationship to our “father.”  “By their fruits,” he told us, “YOU will know them.”

 Tony Equale



I have used the word dualism in these blogs to refer to a metaphysical theory that claims there are onlytwo kinds of “things” in existence: spirit and matter.  Each is said to have properties that are diametrically opposed to the other.  All phenomena of what­ever kind in this universe can be explained by one or the other.   I have consistently maintained that this dualism is erroneous, and because of its undisputed sway over the popular imagination due to traditional religion, distorts the human project. 

But there is another kind of dualism also fostered by religion that is much more dangerous.  It is a moral-cosmic vision that imagines the world ruled by two contending superna­tu­ral powers, “good and evil.”  This theory entered by way of Persia just before the beginning of the common era and ultimately meshed with “spirit and matter.”  Matter became associated with the evil power, and spirit with the good.  Since we are made of matter, the evil resides  within us.

Exploring the significance of cosmic dualism is not just an academic exercise.  For it seems there are no limits to the violence that people will employ to protect themselves from what they are convinced is an immanent annihilating force against which they have no defense.  The term I use for this force is “resident evil.”  It is taken from the horror movies where it is employed to evoke fear of an implacable inhuman enemy embedded in our flesh.  The “resident evil” storyline imagines a parasitic “t-virus” capable of turning humans into man-eating zombies.  Once infected, humans become agents of the evil force.   Belief in “resident evil” has not only been used to excuse unthinkable  behavior, but also unleashes an unparalleled ferocity — demonic hatred, visceral repugnance, and blind rage.  The fact that “suicide bom­bers” have become commonplace in our time should not blind us to what is behind this insane behavior: a horrified dread of invasive evil.

The fear of “resident evil” triggers a terrified reflex responsible for a level of self-imposed human torment that far exceeds what any other species suffers from the predation, natural disasters, diseases and death that are common to all living things.  Self-muti­lating and genocidal behavior is absolutely unique to humankind.  That fact alone suggests that the explanation lies in what is unique about us — what makes us differ­ent from the animals — our heads.   

Original Sin

But it has been traditional to ignore that clue, and to ascribe such behavior to the coercions of an alien force.  Wouldn’t human self-destruc­tion be proof enough of that?   After all, who attacks them­selves?  There must be an enemy out there!

It will be my thesis in this essay that it is exactly the reification and alienation of “evil,” — the claim that “evil” is a reality independent of human imagination and choice — that is one of the principal obstacles to the control of human violence.  This alienation is functioning even if we attribute “evil” to an innate corruption — a “flaw” — of the human organism.  For the “flaw” is not natural; like the “t-virus,” it is an alien reality.   It is not we who do evil … it is the “flaw” dwelling in us.  We are all familiar with that phrase and those sentiments.  Every version of “Original Sin,” no matter how simple … or how sophisticated, must identify something foreign, inhuman, as the source of all evil. 

Let’s take the Christian doctrine of “Original Sin.”  The traditional version is that “matter” became corrupt after the “fall” and no longer obeys the commands of the “spirit.”  Evil resides in our flesh.  Our “carnal” lusts and desires, now grotesquely deformed from the way “God” created them, refuse to follow the dictates of “spiritual” reason.  The body doesn’t belong here the way it is.  It is alien.  That means first of all, it has to be exposed  for the imposter that it is … for it comes disguised as ourselves.  It has to be treated as hostile and subdued … or it will destoy our “souls.”   Some very committed and knowledgable Christians took this quite seriously.  The great theologian Origen of Alexandria, who died a martyr in 253, actually castrated himself in an attempt to control concupiscent evil resident in his human flesh.  

This theory became the accepted wisdom of the western world.  If those who believed such things hated the “resident evil” in themselves, they necessarily hated it in others.  Being “human” did not correlate to an appreciative wonder at human diversity around the globe … it meant learning how to mistrust people of other traditions who were not aware of the contagion they bore in their flesh.  Thus was our humanity demonized by Christian theory, and it opened the door to the denigration, plunder and enslavement of dark-skinned primitive peoples.  Wes­tern racism comes from there, and from nowhere else. 


Then there is the more sophisticated version of “Original Sin” proposed by Sigmund Freud.   He theorized the existence of a “death wish” embedded in organic matter, adduced to explain human self-destruc­tive behavior.   Freud’s hypothesis (cf Beyond the Pleasure Principle) was that the forces of equilibrium, which might be identified with entropy in physics, exert a pull on living organic matter to return to the inanimate state — the pool of inert particles from which all life emerged.  Sometimes known as thanatos,  the “death wish” counterbalances “eros” — the “pleasure principle” — the drive to live, to reproduce, to preserve the vital integrity of the organism. 

While Freud’s theory may be said to correlate, in a broad sense, with the findings of science, it is not science.  It is pure conjecture.  But it preserves the core dynamic we found operating in the theory of “Original Sin.”  Thanatos is an embedded organic drive, totally subliminal, beyond any human consciousness or control, that is responsible for self-destructive behavior.   Self-destructiveness is entirely attributable to something alien to human free choice.

I find this theory difficult to embrace for two reasons.  First, if, as Freud claims, it is the unsuppressible “pull” of all living matter to return to the inanimate state, then every form of life would manifest self-destructive behavior.  And yet none does, only humankind.  What does humankind have that no other living organism possesses … ?  The power to imagine and symbolize images with words.  If there is an explanation for for our unique self-mutila­ting inclinations, it must be in what we think and choose to do, not in the quarks and gluons of pre-integra­ted material energy.   

The second is that Freud confronts the issue in a highly conditioned environment i.e., early 20th centuryWestern Europe.  There is no attempt on his part to adjust for the influence of two thousand years of history that has molded Western man with “Original Sin.”  To discount such an intense, long-term and universal belief disregards the power of social conditioning.  What Freud was studying and trying to explain, I contend, was the effect on the European psyche of two thou­sand years of Christian “spiritual” formation.


But the most damaging belief is the personification of evil in “Satan,” imagined to be the god-like ruler of an evil empire.  Not only has the existence and function of Satan, the “Devil,” never been repudiated by the Church, it was actually reaffirmed as recently as 1992 with the publication of the Vatican Catechism.[1]  In ##391 to 395  the Catechism speaks about the “fall of the angels” as an event in which Satan and other devils were supposedly spawned: 

391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”(IV Lateran Council, 1215)

392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. …

393 It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable.  …

394 …   “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” In its consequences the gravest of these works was the mendacious seduc­tion that led man to disobey God.

395 The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite.  He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign.  Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries – of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature – to each man and to society, the action is permit­ted by divine providence … .  It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity.

Satan, the “Devil,” is claimed to be a “person” of god-like abilities, “hell bent” on destroying “God’s” masterpiece, the human species.   He is attended by hordes of minor spirits — devils — who do his bidding.  They are all “pure spirit,” and therefore invisible, able to change locations with the speed of thought.  How all of these “spirits” are able to exercise such disruptive control over a corrupt “matter” which does not belong to them, when humans are virtually powerless over their own bodies rendered uncontrollably disobedient because of the corruption of that same matter, is not explained.  Besides, if they were damned to hell, how is it they are out and about and able to cause so much mayhem?   Also there is no explanation as to how “Satan” controls these “followers” of his, i.e., what coercion he applies to prevent each from going their own way.   They are, after all, by definition, “little devils.”

Angelic “rebellion” is declared to be an irrevocable rejection of “God.”  This “irrevocability” is traditionally grounded in the me­ta­physics of a branch of mediaeval theology called “angelology,” which claims that each angel’s essential being is ratified in a single self-actuating choice.  How these “once-and-for-all” spirits can then begin to react to the sequence of events on earth in order to corrupt and seduce humankind is not clarified. 

 The Catechism says, “It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity.”  A mystery indeed!  In this conception, what they call “providence” turns the business of living a good moral life into a dangerous game … with the principal dangers provided  by “God” himselfThe absurdity here becomes self-evident.  For if it requires “God’s permission” for the devil to be unleashed, who then, I ask, is responsible for what he does?   Thus, to my mind, does the Roman Church in its official doctrine blaspheme, by painting “God” as a trickster who uses “evil” as a plaything to trip people up.  If this inanity were true, any decent human being would be morally superior to “God.”   Absurd!  The Church that insists that all this actually occurred, undermines its own credibility, but that such things are, moreover, declared to be infallibly true, in my opinion, borders on the psychotic.[2]

In all these cases “evil” cannot be conquered without divine help.  “Original Sin” is an insuperable flaw, dwelling like a parasite in the human organism, passed on from parents to children “by propagation, not by imitation[3] that cannot be extir­pa­ted.  With Satan, we have an insidious intelligence, a god-like power, hordes of obedient minions and a fiendish passion that we cannot defend  against.  Only the miraculous power of “God” can save us from these sources of depravity and dysfunction.  So it is no great surprise that the Roman Church promotes the factual reality of both these theories of “evil.”  In such a world, evil can come at us at any moment, from anywhere, outside or inside, and it can “devour” us because we have no ability to withstand its power.  We are utterly dependent on “divine” help, mediated through the Church, against Satan and our own innate degeneracy.  The combination — a true one-two punch — is devastating.  The only thing we can do without divine help is to try to elimina­te  the source of the evil by exterminating it.  Does this sound at all familiar? 

“natural” evil

Whereas the fact is, there is nothing “supernatural,” independently personal, or inescapable about evil.  Evil does not exist outside of human (mis)percep­tion, choice and behavior.  Evil is not a “thing” or a “person” or an open suppurating wound.  Evil is what we do when we allow our conatus — the urge and instinct for self-preser­va­­tion and self-enhancement — to be improperly activated by things that have nothing whatsoever to do with our well-being.   Evil is what we do when we don’t know what we’re doing.  It has no independent existence whatsoever in any form or fashion.  There is no “corrupt matter,” there is no Satan — there is no “resident evil.”  And most cer­­tainly there is no “God” who “gives permission” to Satan to torment, punish and test human­kind.  Evil is simply human error set in motion by a misinterpretation of what is really threatening to our well being, or conversely, what is really of benefit to us.  What is evil is what doesn’t work  … it’s what we do when we haven’t yet figured out what does.[4]

A long time ago I was in “group therapy.”  Two of the people in the group were a young married couple, and the woman was slowly emerging from a severe catatonic break­down.  (Catatonia is a psychosomatic disorder where the body “shuts down”: the victims actually lose the ability to see, to hear, to speak, to function.)  The cause of it, in her case, was “shunning.”  She belonged to a religious group that was so strict about inter­marriage with outsiders that when she married the “wrong kind” of person, the community, including her family, shut her out completely.  The effect on her psyche was devasta­ting.  When I met them, she was doing better, and working hard to understand what had hap­pened to her.  It was a revealing experi­ence that I never forgot.

There is no way to explain this phenomenon except by recourse to a binary  belief system.  There has to be a “world of light” separate from and opposed to a “world of darkness” for it to make sense.  The “sinner” falls into “darkness” and the rest of the community must “shun” her to keep the darkness from spreading.  It is the psychic equivalent of annihilation, and the young woman’s body “got the mes­sage” and reacted accordingly.

If evil exists independently of human perception and choice, then there are only two pos­sibilities: there has to be EITHER  an independent, absolute “principle of evil,” a Satanic “God” as power­ful and original as the “good God” to explain it, OR  the “evil” world would have to exist dependent on the good world and its “God.”  Now, the latter scenario is exactly what our tradition has always main­tained, because it insists that “God” controls everything.   But please notice: this would mean that “God” ultimately is the author of evil,  for he is the “reason” why it exists at all.  Think about it:  God has total control … Satan and his buddies can do nothing with­out divine per­mission.  It is utterly, utterly absurd

But if the only “evil” there is, as I claim, comes from a false application of the energies of the conatus  then all these absurdities diappear.  “Evil,” like every other thing we do wrong is a mistake, whether inadvertently or maliciously chosen, and reflects a fail­ure to include all the rele­vant effects of our choices.

If there is no world of damnation into which we descend, then all immoral activity, even the most heinous and tragic, is simply an erroneous choice.  It is radically reform­able,[5] and the agent of that error does not have to be annihilated or extermina­ted.

It is interesting that Paul Ricoeur’s acclaimed book on evil confines itself to the “sym­bo­lism of evil” (one level removed from the subject of our enquiry); it does not tackle the issue of its reality.  And his pamphlet-sized follow-up volume, is revealingly entitled “Evil: A problem for philoso­phy and theology.”  Of course it’s a “problem.”  People like Ricoeur who are committed to a religious vision, hide behind their “phenomenology” to avoid directly challenging the cos­mic dualist claims of “salvation” and “damnation.”  They ambi­guously suggest that the “psy­cho­logy of evil,” which they do  address, “says nothing” about the possibi­lity of a cosmic me­ta­physi­cal “resident evil” — a question which they, inexplicably, do not  address.  But I have no such loyalties: I stake my claim on the exclusive thrust of the conatus  — which is to exist.   The conatus characterizes all of existence.  There is no “resi­dent evil.”  Evil, I say, is in the mind and choices of man; nowhere else.  It is then trans­ferred by habit to the human organism.  Habit and repeti­tion (leading perhaps to addiction) is the only “resi­dent­ ­evil” there is, and in that form it is a derivative of im­mo­ral behavior  not its cause, and dies with the organism.  It lives on in others in only the same ways: through ideas and habits of thought and practice — imita­tion.  Evil is a purely human phenome­non, a pro­duct of the virtual world that is created by our heads.  It is a function of our heads … and only our heads can bring it under control. 

The true role of Religion

Given this clarification, the role of Religion, then, is turned around 1800:  Religion should coun­teract, not reinforce  the belief in the inde­pen­dent existence of evil.  Our Religions, however, inspired by “the Book,” have unfortunately perpetuated belief in a reified indepen­dent evil.  Reli­­gion should rather restore to hu­man beings the domin­ion over what they do.  Religion should once and for all refute the bogus claims that there is any other world, resi­dent evil or damnation.  There is nothing that forces us to do what we do not want to do.  There is nothing happening in the universe except the inno­cent, intention­less ope­ra­tions of the natural world.  There is neither a “God” helping us, hurting us or testing us, nor is there any indepen­dent source of “evil” dedicated to our destruction whether in the form of a corrup­tion of our flesh or a Satanic god-person who “goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” 

Jewish theologians insist that the myth of the Garden was created precisely to say that human evil is human — it was not created by “God,” it does not antedate hu­mankind.  The first three chapters of Genesis, they emphasize, is a ringing declaration of the unmixed goodness of God and his Creation.  The meaning of the story of the Garden is that evil comes from human choice … nowhere else.  The serpent is a symbol of hu­­­man rational calculation and the “selfish intent” is nothing but the natural bent of the cona­tus.  From this point of view, Augustine’s nightmare that the “first sin” produced a meta­­phy­si­cal transfor­mation of our flesh so profound as to turn evil back into an original organic condi­tion over which we have no control, actually reverses the Genesis authors’ inten­tion. 

Evil, as Augustine would have it, provides justification for the total dependency of the indi­vidual on “supernatural assistance.”  For him that meant the Roman Church.  The correlation between the two should not be ignored or passed over as coinciden­tal.  I am con­vinced that Augustine elaborated the doctrine of Original Sin in the com­pletely in­human form he did — gutting the intention of Genesis and insisting that unbaptized babies merited eter­nal torment — with the full intention of establishing the absolute indispen­sa­bility of the Church for salva­tion.  I claim that each side of this cor­re­lation implies the other.  You can’t have an inde­pen­dent “resident evil” without precipita­ting the search for a “supernatural” mechanism of salvation … and you cannot have a Church that is “absolutely necessary for salvation” with­out a belief in a supernatural “evil” from which we need to be “saved.”

 Tony Equale


[1] It might just be coincidental that Cardinal O’Connor of NY performed exorcisms and publicized the early ’90’s.  He specifically adduced fear of the Devil as a “help to maintaining belief in God.”

[2] There is a traditional counsel that says that a clear sign of diabolical influence is the claim that “Satan does not exist.”  This provides a “fail-safe” mechanism that insures that belief in Satan will never be challenged for it directs the full force of the “terror” of evil at the dissenter.

 [3] Council ofTrent1545

 [4] There is no intention to deny the crippling, immobilizing effect of emotional disorder.  Emotional equilibrium is a pschosomatic balance that can be severely disrupted.  The intense anxiety that may attend these conditions may yield to the kinds of religious imprecations that have been directed in the past against “resident evil,” because that’s the symbolism they take on.  I am not denying human vulnerability to emotional disturbance or to any number of other “mental” disorders, I am simply saying that none of it has a metaphysical ground.  It is all in our heads, and we use our heads to neutralize its power over us as best we can. 

 [5] (Of course we are speaking philoso­phi­­­ca­l­ly here, not “psy­cho­logi­cal­ly.”  If someone has, by repeated choices and habit, gotten to the point where change is no longer probable, then it is a ques­tion for other disciplines, like psychiatry or the courts.  Here philosophy simply declares there is no ontologi­cal “resident evil.”  “Evil” is what and where we think it is.  And there is no divine help beyond what we do with our heads.)