Moyers probes the nature of evil. Creative thinkers air their views in new series on ideas

Moyers: Facing Evil PBS, Monday, 9-10:30 p.m., check local listings. Narrator/executive editor: Bill Moyers. Producer: David Grubin. Executive producer: Joan Konner. Bill Moyers is the essence of public television. His new special - ``Moyers: Facing Evil'' - is what public TV is all about: It informs, challenges, entertains.

``Facing Evil'' is the first in a series of occasional specials under the title ``A World of Ideas,'' which Mr. Moyers and executive producer Joan Konner are creating under a grant from the John and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. These reports, according to Moyers, ``come from the imagination of writers and artists, from the knowledge of scholars and the wisdom of teachers, the theories of scientists, and the poetry of everyday experience.''

This special was recorded during a three-day symposium, ``Understanding Evil,'' held last fall at the Institute for the Humanities in Salado, Texas. Among the participants were Maya Angelou, the poet; Barbara Jordan, the former congresswoman; Raul Hilberg, a Holocaust scholar; Chung-Liang Al Huang, a tai chi choreographer; Philip Paul Hallie, a philosopher; and Dr. Samuel D. Proctor, an educator and minister.

Evil is a subject difficult to probe without using religious concepts, something this program tries so hard to avoid that it hardly ever comes to grips with the role of religion. Facing up to the evil in humanity is almost unbearable, so the symposium often turns to discussing the glories of hope and forgiveness, without actually probing the heart of darkness. But by careful selectivity and skillful editing, Moyers has managed to keep the discussion on track reasonably well, if not perfectly.

What emerges is a series of personal testimonies from idealists who share their intimate attitudes toward the world. Each individual reveals a personal philosophy - some forgiving, others vengeful.

Ms. Angelou says: ``Where the victim and the victimizer come together ... in the joining ... one eradicates evil, suppresses evil itself. What I seem to see in that is hope and probably the only way in which evil can be suppressed.'' Says Ms. Jordan: ``All these bright minds ... came together to talk about evil, and we ended up with hope. That's too wonderful.''

Amid the talk about hope, however, there is also bitterness. Professor Hilberg, a man haunted by the Holocaust, says: ``A person who has suffered may, I suppose, forgive his tormentor, and that is, in some existential way, even easy. But how does one forgive the killing of millions of people? On whose authority do I forgive?''

Moyers's conclusion, quoting William James: ``In every culture the normal process of life contains moments when radical evil gets its inning and takes its solid turn. Yet we almost never identify those moments until after the fact, too late to arrest the instinct for aggression and self-destruction.''

Moyers adds: ``That we usually fail to see and act in time is as puzzling to me as the persistence of evil itself.''

``Facing Evil'' has an unspoken message: It's basically a plea for all of us to meditate on good and evil, forgiveness and hope. It is Bill Moyers's meticulous, hand-written invitation to do some hard thinking.

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