Thursday, 9 June 2016



How many women did the vile phantom called Jack the Ripper murder? The official number, five? Or eleven? Or many more – if he also killed abroad, in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, as some believe? Was he a crazy Victorian weirdo stalking the wretched streets of Whitechapel or…was Jack a manifestation of an entity infinitely more horrifying - an alarmingly universal, cosmic evil? What the ancient Manicheans termed the Lord of the Dark?

An intriguing hypothesis. One indeed picked up by popular culture. If you are Trekky, an avid fan of the Star Trek series, you might remember the ‘Wolf in the Fold’ episode. While Captain Kirk and his crew are on shore leave on the hedonistic planet Argelius, a girl is savagely stabbed to death. Whodunit? Clues point to chief engineer Scotty but, as more women are mysteriously butchered, it transpires that the culprit is a foul galactic fiend, the universal bearer of ‘that hatred that never dies’. Originally embodied on earth in female-hating monsters like Jack the Ripper, the demon has followed the human race to the stars. He both causes and feeds on fear, terror and suffering. Hiding into Starship Enterprise’s computer system, the creep seeks to destroy the crew until, mercifully, Kirk manages to toss him out into outer space, where he will roam forever, alone and doomed to never-ending frustration.

Just a story? But a deeper meaning may lurk beneath the fiction. Heard of Manicheanism? Mani, founder of the religion named after him, was born, taught and was crucified in Persia. Technically a Zoroastrian, he styled himself as ‘the Apostle of Jesus Christ’. For Mani all previous religious leaders like Buddha, Moses and Jesus had brought the same divine message. He postulated two separate cosmic realms, Light and Darkness. The eternal God dwells in the harmonious Light, the Dark Lord in the other – an anarchic, chaotic and aggressive dimension. Evil spread when its warriors decided to storm the regions of Light. Being peaceful, the Light was initially defenceless, until its Good Lord evoked a universal Mother who evoked a ‘Primal Man’ to fight off the armies of Darkness. Still some of the Light was captured and retained by the bad guys. Dig it?

Mani’s system is fantastically complicated, with strange cosmic hierarchies, like the good and bad ‘archons’.  Yet a powerful Manichean Church arose and lasted centuries. It taught that human beings are a mixture of light and darkness. Jesus and Mani came to show how to liberate the Light imprisoned within the flesh and so defeat Evil. Eventually, the Light will be restored to its proper realm and darkness expelled forever, a bit like in the Star Trek episode. But to be full of Light the Manichean adept could not marry nor possess any goods. He could not eat meat or drink wine. In fact a Manichean could do no work at all but wander around and preach. That is why Manicheans were divided into two categories, the Elect and the Ordinary. The latter could marry, have children and hold property and, of course, assist the Elect.

All heresies, however perverse, contain an element of truth. Mani took evil seriously and sought to explain its mysterious origins. St Augustine, himself for a while a member of the sect, struggled with Mani’s bizarre theology. He concluded that evil has no objective existence, that it is only a lack, a privation, like blindness in a person is nothing positive but simply a lack of sight. The priest finds that implausible. Surely the awful prostitutes’ slayer Jack the Ripper was more atrociously real than a mere ‘lack’.  Monsters like him and ‘Bluebeard’ Gilles de Rais, who raped, tortured and killed innumerable children, are perhaps better understood as the incarnations of an active evil being, servants of that Dark Lord old Mani sought to combat.

Exaggerating the objective power of evil is an error, though. Mani lent his name to a dualistic ontology that set up Light and Darkness on an almost equal level. Two Gods, basically. But Christianity does not hypostatise evil. Christians do not conceive it as having the same existential standing as good. Satan is not an anti-God but a created creature, one who went tragically astray. The Devil, however horrible, is God’s monkey. ‘That Power I serve that wills forever evil and does forever good’, confesses Mephistopheles to Faustus in Goethe’s sublime work. Despite his hellish schemes, the Devil is subject to God. He is condemned to serve ultimately the Creator’s providential plan. Islam has a similar take.

The true Manicheans died out long ago. The Cathars, one of their medieval avatars, were brutally wiped out in a Crusade. Still, Manichean ideologies tend to crop up again, like bad pennies. Marxism-Leninism, despite its dialectical pretensions, is essentially dualistic. The proletariat versus the bourgeoisie, the exploiters versus the exploited, revolution versus reaction – back again to the Light versus Darkness syndrome. Even Pope Francis, with his constant refrain about ‘the poor’, sounds occasionally like a Manichean, although a sweet, PC one.

No need to ontologise evil, to turn it into a thing. You may believe Blair, Cameron, Hillary, Hollande, the BBC and the EU gang are stinking, lying rotters without invoking a cosmic mega-darkness.

As to Jack the Ripper…officially he was never found. I doubt he escaped into the stars, as Star Trek had it. More likely, he died a squalid death in straitjackets, confined to a lunatic asylum. Quite right and proper.

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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