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:
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.