|Cover painting: Giotto, Kiss of Judas|
Several months ago a well-known U.S. University student group unsuccessfully planned a "black mass" which was quickly identified as a ‘satanic ritual’ by several conservative church officials. Almost four months later this prompted an equally conservative Catholic on-line newspaper to examine and inform readers what the Church actually teaches about the Devil.
It appears that the official definition of Satan as contained in the Roman Catholic Catechism (1994) has done little to guide people to a more positive understanding of the Devil. The current teaching still leads many of its believers to stick to the image of the devil as a creature sporting two horns, evil eyes, a hairy tail and brandishing a heavy pitch-fork. Many Christians still cling to the notion of Satan as an invisible force which is constantly on the warpath looking for innocent victims whom he will lead on a path from which there is no return and redemption. But is this true? And why does it cause so many Christians to regard this ‘adversary’ or ‘prince of darkness’ as an entity separate from humankind?
In the Hebrew Bible, as in mainstream Judaism to this day, Satan never appears as Western Christendom has come to know him, as the leader of an “evil empire,” an army of hostile spirits who make war on God and humankind alike. As he first appears in the Hebrew Bible, Satan is not necessarily evil, much less opposed to God. On the contrary, he appears in the book of Numbers and in Job as one of God’s obedient servants – a messenger, or angel sent by God for the specific purpose of blocking or obstructing human plans and desires. As one scholar put it “If the path is bad, an obstruction is good.”
Demonizing people is an attempt to take away their God created humanness and substituting them for grotesque animals or figures. In that way we can feel justified in saying that they are beyond God’s redemption.
Elaine Pagels author of ‘The Origin of Satan’(1995) concludes her scholarly book with:
“Today not a few self proclaimed Christian individuals carry with them a cosmic vision involving forces of good contending against forces of evil. This fatal and dualistic approach would suggest that future conflict is not only possible but necessary if we are to rid ourselves of all evil.Many Christians, from the first century through to Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century and Martin Luther King, Jr., in the twentieth, have believed that they stood on God's side without demonizing their opponents. Their religious vision inspired them to oppose policies and powers they regarded as evil, often risking their well-being and their lives, while praying for the reconciliation—not the damnation—of those who opposed them.For the most part, however, Christians have taught—and acted upon—the belief that their enemies are evil and beyond redemption. The struggle within Christian tradition is between the profoundly human view that "otherness" is evil and the words of Jesus that reconciliation is divine.”
When we are ready to look within we might actually discover the real truth and answer to the question who Satan really is.