Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Origins of Evil

Cover painting: Giotto, Kiss of Judas 
The myth of Satan as a separate entity has figured prominently in Christian thought, literature, and art over many centuries. However what is even more surprising is that many Christian people today still believe that Satan, Devil or fallen angel is a separate entity responsible for unleashing all evil upon the world. 

 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.”

It seems all too easy to condemn and demonize others for the evil in the world while forgetting to first look within ourselves.  When we are ready to look within we might actually discover the real truth and answer to the question who Satan really is.  

To begin with we are all probably familiar with the response to the question: “where did Satan decide to hide so that no one would ever find him? And, the surprising answer is “in the hearts of human kind – the only place where no one will ever look for him.”
For those who can accept this answer it is perhaps only a small step to recognize that Satan represents nothing more than the human ego. Here’s how one wise author describes Satan and his story
  •    I am that little voice within you that makes you doubt, including doubting   my existence.
  •      I am depression, anger, jealousy, worry, fear, false pride, and selfish         behaviour.
  •      I thrive on neediness and disappointment, negativity and cynicism. etc.

For those who still believe in Satan as a separate entity remember, be it the Devil, Lucifer or fallen angel, take heed from the words of 60’s comedian Flip Wilson who used to say “the devil made me do it!”  If indeed the devil, as a separate entity, is the agent behind our evil actions, than it can be argued that ultimately we cannot be held responsible for any of our sins.  More importantly this attitude tends to distance us from the place and source where all evil takes root.

Led by the Spirit, the very first action Jesus took before he began his public mission was to enter the desert to be tempted by the devil.  Here Jesus clearly rejected some of the typical ego temptations we are all faced with everyday.  Without darkness would we recognize light?   Without pain would we recognize peace?   Without an ego would we recognize God?  While we depend on God’s gift of the ego he also gave us the freedom to recognize how overpowering and self serving it can become.  For that reason the ego acts as our adversary to help us overcome evil.

We may now thank God for the ‘obstacle’ he has presented to us. For only when we stop fearing to look inside will we stop projecting blame on others and then will we become his Kingdom people.  

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