When M. Scott Peck published People of the Lie in 1983, I was hungry for it. Five years earlier, I had read his seminal work, The Road Less Traveled, and it had so changed my life that I hoped he could continue to offer a level of spiritual guidance I was not able to find elsewhere. A studied meditation on the nature of evil, People of the Lie is stunning in many respects.
While I have forgotten much about the book, what has remained with me all these years is the story Peck, a psychoanalyst, tells of a depressed patient who comes to him after his brother commits suicide and who, over the course of therapy, reveals that his parents gave him as a Christmas present the very same rifle his brother used to kill himself.
I remember I could barely take in air when I read this section because I realized that the kind of evil Peck described was all around me. It was not the easily discernible evil of a mass murderer but rather the more subtle form of evil that arises out of an utter lack of empathy for others and a complete inability to see or to tell the truth about oneself.
When I heard on this evening’s news that, in recent days, there has been an unprecedented spike in gun sales throughout the country and, in particular, that there has been an increased interest in buying the AR-15 rifle that was used in the Newtown killings, I was reminded of Peck’s book and of his ideas about the different faces of evil.