Introduction to
"People of The Lie:
The hope for Healing Human Evil"
by M. Scott Peck

Last modified 13 Nov 2004 22:46 -0500

Posters' Note

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I have written it because I believe it is needed. I believe its over-all effect will be healing.

But I have also written it with trepidation. It has potential for harm. It will cause some readers pain. Worse, some may misuse its information to harm others.

I have inquired of several preliminary readers whose judgment and integrity I particularly respect: "Do you think this book about human evil is itself evil?" Their answer was no. One, however, added, "Some of us in the Church have a saying that even the Virgin Mary can be used for sexual fantasy."

While this crude but pithy response is realistic, I do not find it greatly reassuring. I apologize to my readers and to the public for the harm this book may cause, and I plead with you to handle it with care.

One meaning of care is love. Be gentle and loving with yourself if you find what is written causing you pain. And please be gentle and loving with those neighbors you may come to understand as evil. Be careful--full of care.

Evil people are easy to hate. But remember Saint Augustine's advice to hate the sin but love the sinner. (1) Remember when you recognize an evil person that truly, "There but for the grace of God go I."

In labeling certain human beings as evil, I am making an obviously severely critical value judgment. My Lord said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." By this statement--so often quoted out of context--Jesus did not mean we should never judge our neighbor. For he went on to say, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly. to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (2) What he meant was that we should judge others only with great care, and that such carefulness begins with self-judgment.

We cannot begin to hope to heal human evil until we are able to look at it directly. It is not a pleasant sight. Many observed that my previous book, The Road Less Traveled, (3) was a nice book. This is not a nice book. It is about our dark side, and in large part about the very darkest members of our human community--those I frankly judge to be evil. They are not nice people. But the judgment needs to be made. It is the principal thesis of this work that these specific people--as well as human evil in general--need to be studied scientifically. Not in the abstract. Not just philosophically. But scientifically. And to do that we must be willing to make judgments. The dangers of such judgments will be elaborated at the beginning of the concluding section of the book. But I ask you for the present to bear in mind that such judgments cannot be made safely unless we begin by judging and healing ourselves. The battle to heal human evil always begins at home. And self-purification will always be our greatest weapon.

This book has been most difficult to write for many reasons. Preeminent among them is that it has always been a book in process. I have not learned about human evil; I am learning. In fact, I am just beginning to learn. One chapter is entitled "Toward a Psychology of Evil" precisely because we do not yet have a body of scientific knowledge about evil sufficient to be dignified by calling it a psychology. So let me add another note of caution: Do not regard anything written here as the last word. Indeed, the purpose of the book is to lead us to dissatisfaction with our current state of ignorance of the subject.

I referred earlier to Jesus as my Lord. After many years of vague identification with Buddhist and Islamic mysticism, I ultimately made a firm Christian commitment--signified by my nondenominational baptism on the ninth of March 1980, at the age of forty-three--long after I had begun working on this book. In a manuscript he sent me an author once apologized for his "Christian bias." I make no such apology. I would hardly have committed myself to something I regarded as a bias. Nor do I desire to disguise my Christian outlook. In fact, I couldn't. My commitment to Christianity is the most important thing in my life and is, I hope, pervasive and total.

But I am concerned that this outlook will, when most apparent, unnecessarily bias some readers. So I ask you to be careful in this respect also. Great evil has been committed throughout the centuries--and is still being committed--by nominal Christians, often in the name of Christ. The visible Christian Church is necessary, even saving, but obviously faulty, and I do apologize for its sins as well as my own.

Crusades and inquisitions have nothing to do with Christ. War, torture, and persecution have nothing to do with Christ. Arrogance and revenge have nothing to do with Christ. When he gave his one recorded sermon, the first words out of Jesus' mouth were, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Not the arrogant. And as he was dying he asked that his murderers be forgiven.

In a letter to her sister, Saint Theresa of Lysieux wrote, "If you are willing to Serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter." (4) To define a "true Christian" is a risky business. But if I had to, my definition would be that a true Christian is anyone who is "for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter." There are hundreds of thousands who go to Christian churches every Sunday who are not the least bit willing to be displeasing to themselves, serenely or otherwise, and who are not, therefore, for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter. Conversely, there are millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and agnostics who are willing to bear that trial. There is nothing in this work that should offend the latter. Much may offend the former.

I feel compelled to make another "nonapology." Many readers are likely to be concerned about my use of masculine pronouns in relation to God. I think I both understand and appreciate their concern. It is a matter to which I have given much thought. I have generally been a strong supporter of the women's movement and action that is reasonable to combat sexist language. But first of all, God is not neuter. He is exploding with life and love--even sexuality of a sort. So "It" is not appropriate. Certainly I consider God androgynous. He is as gentle and tender and nurturing and maternal as any woman could ever be. Nonetheless, culturally determined though it may be, I subjectively experience His reality as more masculine than feminine. While He nurtures us, He also desires to penetrate us, and while we more often than not flee from His love like a reluctant virgin, He chases after us with a vigor in the hunt that we most typically associate with males. As C. S. Lewis put it, in relation to God we are an female. (5) Moreover, whatever our gender or conscious theology, it is our duty--our obligation--in response to His love to attempt to give birth, like Mary, to Christ in ourselves and in others.

I shall, however, break with tradition and use the neuter for Satan. While I know Satan to be lustful to penetrate us, I have not in the least experienced this desire as sexual or creative--only hateful and destructive. It is hard to determine the sex of a snake.

I have made multiple alterations of detail in every one of the many case histories given in this book. The cornerstones of both psychotherapy and science are honesty and accuracy. Nonetheless, values often compete, and the preservation of confidentiality takes precedence in this book over the full or accurate disclosure of irrelevant detail. The purist, therefore, may distrust my "data." On the other hand, if you think you recognize one of my specific patients in this book, you will be wrong. You will, however, probably recognize many people who conform to the personality patterns I will describe. That will be because the many alterations of case-history details have not, in my judgement, significantly distorted the reality of the human dynamics involved. And this book has been written because of the commonality of such dynamics, as well as their need to be more clearly perceived and understood by us human beings.

The length of the list of people to be thanked for their support of this work makes such listing impractical, but the following deserve special mention: my faithful secretary, Anne Pratt, who without benefit of word processor, cooperatively typed the seemingly endless manuscript versions and revisions over the course of five years; my children, Belinda, Julia, and Christopher, who have suffered from their father's workaholism; those of my colleagues who have affirmed me through their courage to also face the terrible reality of human evil, particularly my wife, Lily, to whom this work is dedicated, and my dear "atheist" friend, Richard Slone; my editor, Erwin Glikes, who encouraged me so greatly by his belief in the need for the book; all the brave patients who have submitted to my fumbling ministrations and have thereby been my teachers; and, finally, two great modem students of human evil and mentors for me, Erich Fromm and Malachi Martin.

New Preston, Connecticut 06777

1. Saint Augustine, The City of God, ed. Bourke (Image Books, 1958 ed.), p. 304.
2. Matthew 7:1-5.
3. Simon and Schuster, 1978.
4. Collected Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux, trans. F. J. Sheed (Sheed and Ward, 1949), p. 303.
5. That Hideous Strength, Macmillan (Paperback Edition, New York, 1965), p. 316)