Our Daily Beast: How We Talk When We Talk About Satan

 

So, if things go as planned, I’ll be writing on a regular basis about faith and religion for The Daily Beast. My first feature, an exploration about the topics of Satan and American Christianity, debuted yesterday.

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If you missed my Satan piece, you can read Why American Christians Love Satan in its entirety here.

But after you read that, come back. Because I think we need to have a serious talk about Satan.

Why? Because many of us, at least, those of us who are Christians (not all of us, of course), are seemingly in love with name dropping Satan. We don’t even need a good reason to call upon the name of Evil, just disagreement or something that makes us feel uncomfortable will usually do.

For instance, on the day following the Creation/Evolution debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I got pulled into a Facebook debate among Christians about the topic of Genesis 1 & 2. People from all sides of the conversation tossed their two-cents into the comment section. Some thought that the story of Adam and Eve should be taken literally, some said it was allegory, and some weren’t exactly sure. In time though, the conversation became a more focused critique of the literal interpretation of the Genesis story, many people offer lengthy explanations as to why they didn’t believe in a historical Adam and Eve. A couple more fundamentalist believers offered shaming rebukes of that way of thinking, and then, one of them, left this comment: This conversation is making Satan so happy.

A few people challenged the woman’s assumption, a couple even asked her “how she knows what Satan thinks?”

I sort of thought the question was unnecessary. I mean, considering the woman’s previous involvement in the conversation about Genesis 1 & 2, she may very well have been been texting with Satan, reporting to the Adversary about what we were talking about.

But isn’t that how many of us talk about Satan, like we had breakfast at McDonald’s with Lucifer. Are we really that familiar with the archenemy of God? And is that a good thing?

But that’s why I wanted to write about Satan for The Daily Beast.

Because Satan, as a subject matter, fascinates me. Partly because it seems to be such an integral part of so many people’s Christian spirituality and too, because it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. While the Devil might be in the details of American life, those details are all over the place. And how Christians think about Satan is interesting to me.

I think some people got the feeling that I was attempting to disprove the concept of Satan all together, which isn’t the case. Proving or disproving Satan doesn’t interest me. While I honestly don’t know what I think is true or false about Satan, I’m intrigued how the concept of Satan affects people, our culture, and the spirituality of our people and culture.

Personally, I don’t spend too much time thinking about whether there’s a literal man/angel/monster running around earth trying to influence me. I believe in evil, of course, but just how spiritual that evil is or how unified it can become, and whether it ever combines into one single being and shows up at a nightclub in France, I just don’t know.

But what I do believe is that the Satan as displayed within the stories of the Bible does seem to be a far weaker and less all-consuming Satan than the many versions of Satan that people believe in today.

I know countless of Christians whose words and beliefs project a huge amount of supernatural power, influence, and ownership onto Satan.

For instance, many of us talk about the Enemy like he/she/it is omnipresent. Most of us don’t believe that. But that’s how we talk about the devil. According to Christians, the Enemy is around every corner of the Universe. Satan is tempting Terry in Boise with pornography and, at the same time, using narcotics to try and ruin Shannon’s life in Jacksonville. Satan is shacking up with Tom in Chicago, all the while, controlling every person who lives in North Korea with communism. And that’s just the beginning of Satan. I’m not sure if the devil actually has an ending, because our stories, theologies, and imaginations seem to keep growing the Evil One’s story.

Everyday conversations among a majority of Christians often include both specific and casual mentions of Satan, mentions that seem to suggest that many Christians put Satan, perhaps unintentionally, on equal footing with God.

Again, I realize that most Christian theologies don’t suggest that Satan is equal to God, how we talk about The Enemy seems to proclaim otherwise.

So I’d love to ask a few questions in regard to Satan…

What do you believe to be true about Satan?

Is Satan a literal figure in your opinion?

How do you interpret the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the Wilderness?

What do you (or will/would you) teach your children about Satan?

How important is Satan to your own spirituality?

Because I think how we discuss Satan matters, and while lots of Christians talk of Satan, we rarely talk about how we talk about Satan…. and I think we should.

 

9 comments
Aussie Bill
Aussie Bill

What do I believe to be true about Satan?


I think 1 Peter 5:8 is helpful "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." I don't think Satan has changed since then. One minister once told me that "Satan's teeth have been pulled, but if you stick your head in his mouth, you will receive a nasty gumming". His teeth have indeed been pulled when Christ died on the cross - he has become powerless to take us from our declaration of peace with God - our legal relationship.

So as a Christian, Satan appears when I am not alert or sober - a consequence of my own sinful actions. This is the essence I believe - when we sin, God allows Satan to give us a nasty gumming - all knowing that the consequences of sin will bring repentance and bring us running back to God. The prodigal son story is about the Christian who drifts from God as is beaten up by Satan then runs back home and his emotional relationship with God is restored - his legal relationship was always there. Although the fear that we have lost our legal status with God is I believe one of the gummings we may receive to make us feel awful.


But there is another side that is shocking I believe. A lot of Christians are not alert and a lot are not sober - and I'm not talking alcohol. A lot of Christians don't realise that they have set up two churches - one on Sunday - the gathering of believers praising God, getting refreshed and being equipped for the Gospel - the other in the lounge room.

The lounge room church is one of the deceptions - its the one where the chairs are arranged around a piece of furniture looking like an altar with a device on top that transmits worldly sermons and lies into the minds of those who participate.

Previously the device only produced sounds you could listen to but the tempted got smarter and produced moving images as well. My point is that we can only blame ourselves for bringing Satan into our lives. We need to own up to this.

Most content creators of television, hollywood, disney are slaves to Satan already - they even admit it and worship Lucifer directly in their cults including casting 'spells' on their creations then amplifying and transmitting them to millions of people through their devices. The devices themselves are mesmerising and hypnotic - what a 'spell' really is, and project images into our minds - these are the gummings because we have gotten too curious and wanted to experience seeing them and they can make us feel bad and unproductive. We no longer are alert or sober once we get glued to the set. (I'm not referring to families gathered around watching a football game on television either). Television is never productive and 'rewards' the viewer only at the time of viewing.

But all of these creations are just of the world or worldly - will be consumed themselves. 

The good thing is that the more Christians get better at standing up to sin, actually wearing the armour of God that they have been told to do - the less gummings they will receive. Just they need to always remember that their legal status with God is eternal. Once God gives you the faith to trust in the life, death and resurrection of his Son - Jesus Christ - no power on this earth can ever take it away - eternity starts at the time of your conversion. Churches that teach otherwise have already been infiltrated.




terrencektroopa
terrencektroopa

What do you believe to be true about Satan?

Satan is a fallen angel. From what I've read in the Bible he is beautiful, smart, capable, but devious and power-hungry.

Is Satan a literal figure in your opinion?

Yes.

 

How do you interpret the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the Wilderness?

Literally. They were both there.

What do you (or will/would you) teach your children about Satan?

I think it's more important to teach children about Christ. As they ask about Satan I will tell them what happened: he was the head angel, but he wanted to be more powerful than God, so God clipped his wings along with the wings of the other angels who were going along with Lucifer's plan, opened up the earth and sent them there.

How important is Satan to your own spirituality?

It is one of the ways I first realized that God was real. I saw that Satan was real through all of his symbolism throughout our country and figured the opposite must be true. Moving past that to now, Satan is no longer an important part of my spirituality. Knowing about Satan doesn't help me to become more Christ-like.


EllieRavinsky
EllieRavinsky

You might want to read "The Trial of God" by Ellie Wiesel.  He's a survivor of the holocaust (was a teenager) and is now a professor emeritus at Boston University.  This would be a great topic for discussion.  "Why does God allow pointless suffering?"  When Elllie was in the death camp he witnessed Rabbis holding a trial for God.  Here's the info on the book: 


Inside "the kingdom of night"--the concentration camp--Wiesel actually witnessed a trial which put God up as the accused, charged with being either accepting of or blind to the murder of HIS chosen people. Now he's made it into a dramatic parable, set in 1649 in a Russian village that's just undergone a pogrom. Only two Jews remain, an innkeeper and his violated daughter. When roving minstrels arrive by accident at the devastated town and offer to put on a Purim play, the innkeeper suggests they hold a trial instead. "I want to understand why He is giving the killers the strength and the victims the tears and the shame of helplessness. . . . Listen: either He is responsible or He is not. If He is, let's judge Him; if He is not, let Him stop judging us." A stranger, clearly Satan, arrives to serve as defense attorney. The argument he puts forward is essentially that the kingdom of death is God's to add to as he wishes; His miracle is to allow even one Jew to survive as testimony--and one always does survive.

mikeebridges
mikeebridges

But bro, Satan popped my tire on the way to work this morning. ;)

EllieRavinsky
EllieRavinsky

Hi all, let me give this a shot.

Is Satan a literal figure in your opinion?

I never believed in the personification of evil before I experienced it first hand.  I had an experience that I still cannot interpret any other way than to say Satan is real and there are demons.  I was just waking up and I saw something straddling me.  It appeared to be a beautiful woman and she stretched her arms up and said, "I love being in this body".  I asked, "What are you?" and she looked at me and had reptile eyes.  I began telling it to leave in the name of Jesus.  I had been told they hate and recoil at that name or mention of the blood of Jesus.  It flew onto the floor beside the bed and as it was fading away it said, "You speak his name but you don't worship him.  I am coming back to take  you to hell."  It was scary enough I went back to the church.  I had a priest come and bless the apartment because, every now and then, I could FEEL the presence of evil.  Since the house blessing, no more problems.  You can say that's in my mind.  I guess you can believe or not believe as you choose.  I've always been able to sense evil, even as a kid.  I'm a mental health social worker and have been for a decade.  I see the difference between mental illness and surrender to evil. I am very very liberal person.  I am not a religious fanatic.  I was a Methodist pastor for 5 years before my son died and I stopped believing for a while.  I am not gullible or prone to hallucinations.  I am not afraid of anything.  I work in the ghettos of the inner city.  I have seen people who others would run from and I handle it. I am not crazy.  I know there could be all sorts of plausible ideas but I know what I saw.   I stood up and over it so I don't think I was asleep but I am sure some will say I was between sleep and awake.  Whatever.  I know it was real.  It convinced me and I was a total 100% skeptic.  So yes, evil can have personification but it can also be sensed by some.  I can sense evil when I walk into a room.  It has served me well by keeping me safe in social work. I know what I saw was real.  I didn't believe, but I do now!


How do you interpret the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the Wilderness?

It was Jesus wrestling with how he would define his ministry and how he would focus his life.  I believe Satan was really there because Jesus, being God, would be a target Satan couldn't resist.  Jesus was asked to base his ministry on things that wouldn't be about salvation or caring for others and their souls.  He rejected those lesser ideas and took the high road.  I wish I could but sometimes I choose things that aren't living up to the high ideal Jesus asks of me.


What do you (or will/would you) teach your children about Satan?

My kids are grown and neither believe in God or Satan.  I didn't teach them anything but mainline Protestant teachings.  They have both went their own way after their brother died.  It effected us all and they voice an anger at God, who, interestingly enough they say they don't believe in.  "I'm mad at God.  I don't believe in God" both in the same sentence.  At this point they reject the concept of God or Satan.

 

How important is Satan to your own spirituality?

Evil is something to be avoided.  I can concoct evil and Satan can tempt too. I don't blame the devil for making all my bad/evil choices.  But I want to reject evil.  Sadly I'm not always making that goal.  I don't believe we can blame Satan and get off the hook.  It's our choice when we act in ways that are evil. I think some people and churches give the devil too much credit.  They spend more time focusing on him than God.  I don't do that.  I prefer to focus on the positives in my life and to continue to help the poor I serve daily.

 

I guess what I don't like is the people who say, "Well that's the devil talking" when it's a person or, "The Devil has been tempting  me all day" when maybe you are just thinking bad things on your own.  We have the choice to do good or evil and I believe that Satan and his minions try to get us to do evil.  I also think we are capable of choosing evil on our own without Satan's direct temptation.  I also believe we are fully responsible for the choices we make.  I hope that makes sense.  


Great topic.

LMTDoulaSarah
LMTDoulaSarah

Very interesting discussion. I have felt uncomfortable with the concept of satan for a long time now. It feels like satan is used as an excuse to not act when we should, or to get out of having been a crappy person. It's easier to blame satan for tempting you than taking ownership of bad behavior one might be engaging in. It also creates a too tidy healing paradigm that one is delivered from _________ and now it's not a problem. This happens all the time with addiction and it keeps people from getting the real recovery help that they actually need.

As far as my kids are concerned I have steered far away from concepts of Hell and satan. I want them to fully grasp the love of God for their lives. This is not based in fear of satan getting you. The old school evangelical voice in my head says that this type of humanistic thinking is a trap from satan but I choose to take my risk with that.

johnnygf
johnnygf

If you can, try to check out 'Old Harry's Game' written by and starring Andy Hamilton on BBC Radio.

KelseyMLoo
KelseyMLoo

I think you hit the nail on the head in your article. People like to use the devil as a scapegoat. He's a convenient way to shirk any blame that we may actually be semi-responsible for. And when Satan's to blame, there's really nothing to be done about it, except maybe pray. 

I don't really know what I believe about Satan to be honest. He's a figure that appears in scripture and is active in causing destruction like we see in Job. But he's definitely no where near God in power or authority. I guess I don't believe that he's worth thinking much about or fretting over. 

nonexistentpuppies
nonexistentpuppies

@KelseyMLoo  "He's a figure that appears in scripture and is active in causing destruction like we see in Job."


Only after God gives him permission (Job 1:12). 


God and Satan seem pretty chummy in the Book of Job. I wonder what led to them falling out?