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It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Deconversion stories: The Dude with the Horns

As a religious youth, I was told about Satan. The Adversary. The Tempter. The one who puts all the backwards messages in records. Mormons don’t dwell on the Devil — I heard people say it gave him more ‘power’ — but he was always there hovering around the periphery of my morality.

The Satan meme is a real mindfuck. There’s a totally evil supernatural person who wants you to do bad things. Don’t do what Satan wants. How do you know what Satan wants? It’s bad. What makes something ‘bad’? Satan wants you to do it. And round it goes. Figuring out what Satan wants you to do is like asking who the Terrists want you to vote for. Could they do the ol’ Double Reverse Psychological Fake-out? And of course, if someone starts to question the teaching of the religion, who’s been putting those thoughts into your head? Yep. Better get back in line.

Satan isn’t just a great control tool. He’s a dodge to the problem of Evil. If God’s good and in charge, why do evil things happen? For some reason, saying ‘You are evil’ wasn’t the answer people liked, so Satan did the trick. Why is there evil? Satan. There you go. God is still good, but he wants to see if you’ll follow him or the Devil.

P.S. You are evil.

And it answered a whole lot. Why do ouija boards seem to work? Satan (or one of his many helpers) is moving the table thing. Why do I want to do bad things? You’re being tempted by Satan, he’s putting thoughts into your head. (Another mindfuck. An invisible person is putting thoughts in my head? Scary!) Why are there so many religions? Satan is deceiving people and leading them astray. Satan Satan Satan. Very useful. If he didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him.

As it seems we did. This page tells how Satan doesn’t appear to be much of a character in early Hebrew lore (talking snakes notwithstanding). The Hebrew word s’tn simply means ‘adversary’ or ‘opposer’. In 1 Samuel 29:4, it tells how the Philistines mistrusted David, fearing that he would be a ‘satan’, or someone who would oppose them. Only later after the Hebrews ran into the Persians with their Zoroastrian dualism did Satan become an actual character, and for a while there he and the Lord were pretty chummy (see Job).

For me, Satan’s undoing was when I ran into this page about the Ouija Board that church leaders so straitly charged me not to play with.

Some users believe that paranormal or supernatural forces are at work in spelling out Ouija board answers. Skeptics believe that those using the board either consciously or unconsciously move the pointer to what is selected. To prove this, simply try it blindfolded for some time, having an innocent bystander take notes on what words or letters are selected. Usually, the results will be unintelligible.

So the church leaders were right, but they had the wrong reason. You shouldn’t play with the thing, but because it’s stupid, not satanic. A scary spiritual phenomenon had a perfectly sane material explanation. I wonder what else does, thought I.

I reviewed my knowledge of the Horned One, and found that he’s usually held responsible for three things:

  1. Temptation
  2. Deception
  3. Possession

But, you say, what about reality TV?

That falls under ‘Possession’.

Let’s take them one by one.

Temptation. Do people really think that a spirit being is somehow… what, whispering to you? And then you want to do bad things? How would that happen? This has the whiff of dissociation. Why not take responsibility for your own desires?

Deception. Well, the world is a confusing place. It’s easy to be mistaken. But I’ve found that the one who deceives me the most is good old me. No need to blame an invisible being.

Possession can be explained these days by mental illness, though it must have seemed devilishly scary to people in New Testament times.

In short, everything that people blame Satan for can be explained simply, materially, and non-mysteriously, leaving Satan as rather extraneous. Our theory works just as well without him. Occam’s Razor claims another victim.

Once I’d got that settled, it was the beginning of the end for supernaturalism. Turn it around, and suddenly everything we thought god did turns out to be the product of natural forces. No gods. No devils. No angels or demons. Just gravitation, evolution and us, working for good or ill. But then I suppose that’s just what Satan would want me to think.

A true believer in the audience isn’t satisfied. But if there’s no Satan, he wails, then why is the world getting worse and worse?

It’s not, but with that attitude I suppose you can make it as bad as you want.

9 Comments

  1. Excellent post Daniel! The utility of the Satan idea is amazing. How do you explain contradictory passages in the Koran or Hadditha? Satan! He’s everywhere like Rachel Ray.
    He makes many appearances in JW prophecy. How do you prove Satan was expelled from heaven in 1914 by J Crizzle? WW1 dumbass! So that proves Satan exists. How else would a war start?
    When I was a kid, I could not watch the Smurfs because they were Satanic. They were PE#1! There were urban legends told at the congregations (although they were gospel and not legends when told) and from the platform about Smurf dolls runnning around and screaming in the middle of the night. It’s true because my Uncle’s roomates best friend told me…
    It’s funny you mention backmasking too. Satan must’ve eaten alot of souls that way;who wouldn’t be persuaded to worship the Dark Lord after hearing he had started his own church while listening to ‘Hotel California’ backwards? The Watchtower Society had a ‘list’ of bands who volunteers at the Brooklyn printing facility were not allowed to listen to. The list got out to the rank and file and I remember my mom and sister playing back ALL of their records to see if their was anything spiritistic when you played them backwards. Blondie got an A+ (I shit you not, they played Blondie records backwards), but E.L.O hit the bin, my mom’s entire E.L.O collection got tossed. We tried to burn a Uriah Heep record (Satan prefers prog-rock don’t ya know)and it wouldn’t burn! We were warned about this… Turns out the sleeve was covered in wax, SATANIC WAX!!!
    When I was about 18 I bought my first King Crimson record. I played it in the car one day with my mom who complained that ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ seemed a bit evil, so I skipped ahead to ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ and we continued on merrily down the road.
    Oh, that Satan is wily.

    Sorry for all the Pop culture references but its in my Genx DNA.

  2. Smurfs are satanic.

    So is Rachel Ray.

    ELO obviously so.

    Do your church days seem surreal, looking back on it? Mine do.

  3. Surreal is a good word. This is why this blog is such good medicine, anyone else would think I was making this stuff up!
    Must admit though Rachel Ray is satanic in the same way as the bass player from White Zombie was.mmmmmmm.
    All in all, although I was the only kid in school who had absolutely no Smurf ephemera, I made up for it by becoming a massive Snorks fan. I miss the Snorks…

  4. Satan is an interesting topic.

    Do I think such a being exists? Of course I do. Though I wouldn’t give Satan and his priesthood the characteristics most would traditionally. I view Satan as the accuser and deceiver – basically a liar.

    Have I seen him in action and seen his effect on people? Yep. It is like people get hit with the stupid stick. They become so vile, vindictive and despicable it isn’t even funny. They lie and do anything they can to justify themselves. Given the opportunity – they would even murder to cover their lies I believe. In my life, I have worked with and been around people like this up close and personal. It still makes the hair stand-up in the back of my neck about how vile and evil these people are and I can’t tell you how very delighted I am to be rid of them and never wish to encounter such people again in my life. Such is the power of Satan though. Those who love, give glory to and serve the lies they surround themselves with are those that are warned against and in Satan’s power. They essentially destroy themselves and the people around them. They are selfish, self-serving and destructive. The only way to free yourself from this power is to repent and admit the truth, but that is up to the individual (also, getting the heck away from people like this is recommended – I moved clear across the country to do so).

    But, you have to see real evil up close and personal to understand it. Until you do, you really don’t get it.

  5. So if someone becomes scary evil, why is that because of an invisible spirit being instead of, you know, they themselves being evil?

    See, in the original post, I made some points about Satan being extraneous to an understanding of evil. Any response to those points? Did you actually read the original post, or did it just bounce off?

  6. My belief in Satan died before my belief in God did. I hated the circular reasoning – if you don’t believe in Satan, then that proves Satan exists because he’s tricking you.

    But I think that might be backwards from other people’s experience, because if people can be evil by themselves, then doesn’t that mean that anyone can be evil? There is something in an evil person which is in me also. Something that is not a separate whisper, that can’t rebuked or cast out, but which is intrinsic in me as a human. The notion of the separateness of evil must be harder to give up than the idea of God.

  7. Daniel,

    I don’t think such a perverse nature arises on its own. You actually feel a presense when around such people. It darkens the room. I was sitting in a room with these people and two of my own lawyers even felt and remarked that something was wrong with these people. Again, expericence – having sat in a room with such people and seen them lie under oath blatantly and having felt something there – some presence pulling the strings (and having dispassionate others even note it). But, I know, you don’t hold much faith in such experience. But I assure you, if there is a God, there is opposition in all things as well.

    Anyway, I read your comments. You hold Satan is a convenient fantasy. I get it – but again your are wrong. You constructed a convienent straw-man with horns and proceeded to knock it down, but the real article is far worse and unfortunately something you will also have to confront Daniel. I’m sorry, but you are under his power unless you seek God and it is a terrible way to enter the next life. To be surrounded by vile people you would not wish to associate with in this life is a poor way to start the next. Hopefully, you’ll choose a different path before you cross over though, but again that is up to you.

  8. You actually feel a presense when around such people. It darkens the room.

    Well, clearly that was a Smurf.

  9. questioneverything

    23 July 2008 at 1:14 pm

    If satan doesn’t exist then who was giving me handjobs in my sleep when I was thirteen?

    I always figured it was satan because i never woke up!

    so either satan has really soft hands, or the smurfs do!

    or maybe it was rachel ray!

    -Q

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