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Ian McEwan

From an April 2002 interview [1] on PBS's Frontline special Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero:

What is your own concept of evil? Do you think it's something that is explainable by psychology and sociology? Or is [it] ... larger and more mysterious?

I don't really believe in evil at all. I mean, I don't believe in God. I certainly don't, therefore, believe in some sort of supernatural or trans-historical force that somehow organizes life on dark or black principles. I think there are only people behaving, and sometimes behaving monstrously. Sometimes their monstrous behavior is so beyond our abilities to explain it, we have to reach for this numinous notion of evil. But I think it's often better to try and understand it in real terms, in ... either political or psychological terms.

There's something at the same time, very, very attractive about this word. ... It's a great intensifier. It just lets us say that we thoroughly abhor this behavior. But it's quite clear, as a species ... in our nature, we are capable of acts of extraordinary love and kindness, inventiveness and mutual aid.

On the other side, we are capable of acts of extraordinary destruction. I think it's inherent. I think one of the great tasks of art is really to explore that. ... I personally think the novel, above all forms in literature, is able to investigate human nature and try and understand those two sides, all those many, many sides of human nature. But I'm a little suspicious of the way we want to throw up our hands and just say, "Well, it's evil."

It's us. You know? And any reflection on, for example, the Holocaust, probably our greatest, lowest moment in modern history, has to finally reflect on what it is we seem to be able to be capable of, especially once we have the power of technology to kill on a vast scale. ... I don't know, quite honestly, whether the world suffers from people not believing enough in things, or believing too much in things.

In fact, as I get older, I begin to feel that actually what we need more in the world is doubt; more skepticism, less crazed certainty. I feel that religious zeal, political zeal, is a highly destructive force. People who know the answer and are going to impose it on everybody else, I think, are terrifying people. What I would like is skepticism and doubt amongst political leaders. I want it in people who express love and belief in their gods. There are many, many gods and many, many religions. It's that sort of certainty that "My God is the one true God and all the others are just pagan fantasies." I find those kinds of assertions terrifying. ...


25 Nov 01 - Reader Siobhan Silke provides a cite on McEwan, who is the British Booker Prize-winning author of such novels as 'Black Dogs', 'Amsterdam', 'Enduring Love', and 'Atonement'. From an Observer article by Kate Kellaway:

"Almost as an afterthought, I mention 'atonement' itself, a difficult concept for an atheist such as McEwan. For him, it is about a 'reconciliation with self'. I like the word, I say. He does too. He was looking at it one day when he saw, suddenly, how it came apart: at-one-ment. As I left, I felt that at-one-ment is exactly what Ian McEwan has achieved."


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