Better angels?

中国日报网 2018-03-02 13:54



Better angels?Reader question:

Please explain “better angels”, as in “an internal spiritual war between his better angels and the Devil ‘clawing to be let out’.”

My comments:

Christians talk about angels and devils a lot. Both angels and devils are spiritual beings, angels representing the good, devils representing the bad and evil.

The “internal spiritual war between his better angels and the Devil ‘clawing to be let out’” refers to the inner struggle between his desire to do good and the temptations, say, to drink, to lose temper, to speak rudely or, generally, to be unkind.

Psychologists agree that there are angels and devils, demons or monsters residing in humans, each and every one of us. And at all times, there’s a kind of tug of war going on between the two sides, which explains, for example, why some perfectly innocuous and kind-looking people get caught doing hideous things, such as the afore-mentioned drinking or throwing a tantrum or kicking a helpless stray dog in the street.

In those examples, it’s their devils, their evil side winning the tug of war and gaining an upper hand and taking emotional control.

Later on, they’ll certainly regret their bad behavior and become repentant. Some will go out of their way to do some good deeds to make it up, like regularly bringing food and water to homeless dogs and cats. That’s when their better angels or their better, kinder, nobler and more generous selves reemerging to take control of their mental reins, so to say.

To again use Christian terminologies, one’s better angels or the better angels of our nature represent the Godliness in us (or what Buddhists call your Buddha nature) whereas one’s devils, demons and monsters represent the Satanical.


Yeah, all that’s associated with Satan and his crowd.


Never mind.

Put another way, our better angels represent the Jekyll in us while our devils and demons are the Hyde.

Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde, that is.

Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde?

Yes, read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Read it, that is, if you haven’t. That book shall give you a full, complete and thorough idea about human nature, everything about our better angels and forces on the opposite side.

For now, let’s read a few media examples:

1. Disgraced ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption Tuesday by a judge who said she hoped the idea of “living out his golden years in an orange jumpsuit” would keep other politicians on the “straight and narrow.”

“I hope the sentence I’m going to impose on you will make the next politician hesitate just long enough before taking a bribe or a kickback, for his better angels to take over,” Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni told the ashen-faced former Albany power broker.

The stiff sentence climaxed an astounding fall from the pinnacle of state government that Silver occupied for 20 years. He leaned forward frowning and did not react. But moments earlier, the 72-year-old Democrat followed his lawyers’ plea for leniency with an apology.

“Without question, I let down my family, I let down my colleagues, I let down my constituents,” he told the judge in his trademark baritone voice. “And I’m truly, truly sorry for that.”

Silver, who represented Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was convicted in December for aiding an asbestos doctor with grants to research mesothelioma and two developers with legislation in return for their help in funneling $4 million in law firm referral fees to him, as well as for money laundering.

- Ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sentenced to 12 years,, May 3, 2016.

2. Miche Braden knows of what she sings. Or, at the very least, she’s able to summon at will the rebel spirit of the entertainer she so heartily embodies — Bessie Smith — in “The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith,” the brisk and earthy bio-play that launches Mosaic Theater Company’s third season.

The piece is all about Bessie and her blues, the sound for which Smith, who died at 43 in 1937 after a car accident in Mississippi, was considered royalty; not for nothing was her nickname “Empress.” Set in a friendly black jazz club to which Smith has retreated after the proprietors of a white club tried to make her enter through the back door, Angelo Parra’s play-with-music convincingly illuminates the singer in all her tormented, disappointed, gifted complexity.

That persuasiveness flows most effectively from the performance of Braden, who spends the 85 minutes of the show at the Atlas Performing Arts Center as a Bessie wrestling with many demons — among them the fickle white recording industry, a philandering husband and booze. The racism she faced is touched upon, too, most triumphantly in an anecdote about her confrontation with the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan, a group that, appallingly, is back in the news these days. “I looked them bastards straight in their holes,” as you couldn’t see their eyes, she explains, “and said, ‘What the f--- are you fools up to?’ ” The fools, she adds, slunk away.

“Devil’s Music” is a show conceived by director Joe Brancato and performed by Braden with a jazz trio that has been on the regional circuit since an inaugural production in 2000. Like other productions of this type, it’s an attempt to celebrate and contextualize a troubled career and time in entertainment history, through both signature songs and stories. A couple of moments of voice-over narration, and an interlude that transports Bessie to court, showing her losing custody of her son, feel painfully artificial given the otherwise realistic presentation of Bessie performing a set in a club cozily evoked by designer Brian Pather. But the play avoids any intrusive measure of cliche, because Braden never permits Bessie to be seen as anything but an original.

In song after song, backed by the lively and playful accompaniment of Jim Hankins on bass, Anthony E. Nelson Jr. on sax and Gerard Gibbs on piano, Braden reveals the layers of irreverence and ego that fuel Bessie’s art.

The huge reservoir of outrage from which Smith draws her profane interpretive power — and on which she focuses her lung power — comes through in Braden’s subversively raunchy portrayal, too. In such numbers as “T’aint Nobody’s Bizness If I Do,” “St. Louis Blues,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody” and “I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” the expressions of tragedy, pain, passion and seduction allow an audience to sense the presence of Bessie’s devils as well as her better angels.

- Bessie Smith lives again in the moody blues of ‘The Devil’s Music’,, August 29, 2017.

3. When a disaster like Harvey strikes, I often see glimpses of the world I first knew.

One of the things I remember most clearly about my childhood in rural Georgia was the notion that neighbors were more than just the folks who lived next door or down the road. Neighbors were people you could count on -- and people who could count on you -- whenever a need arose.

It was hard to feel truly alone with your troubles in such a close-knit place. No one ever had very much, but everyone felt a kinship, a responsibility, to each other that I believe helped shape how I see the world today.

I think it’s how most of us see the world in the days after something like Harvey. Who could possibly remain unmoved by the scenes of damage and despair that come out of the affected areas? And yet there are also equally powerful images of regular people -- individuals just like you and me -- who come alongside those who are suffering and offer comfort, support and resources.

When the waters rise, so do our better angels. I’ve seen it again and again. We all have. Pick a past disaster, and I’ll tell you at least a dozen stories that stand as living testaments to our collective compassion, generosity -- and unity.

And it’s not just disasters. Rosalynn and I have seen this impulse in our work around the globe. Anytime people come together in common purpose, miracles happen. We’ve seen elections proceed fairly, houses go up, diseases nearly disappear. But only because people of goodwill make it so.

Unfortunately, we all know that’s not the world we live in every day. Instead, we seem trapped in a never-ending storm of rancor, divisiveness and distraction. How much could we accomplish together, though, if we were able to see the world every day the way we see the world after a disaster? Neighbors in need. People with resources. All of us in this together.

This is what the people of Texas and Louisiana deserve from us as they begin the long road of recovery. They deserve our best selves, the ones who see suffering and move to address it, the ones who understand their responsibility to help the most vulnerable among us, to help their neighbors. These disasters don’t disappear when the flood waters recede -- and neither should our better angels.

- Jimmy Carter: When the waters rise, so do our better angels,, September 8, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)



















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