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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Devil Is in...Justice Scalia?

I've always considered myself at an advantage for not believing in a literal devil, Satan, or any other personification of evil. I don't concern myself with hell, eternal punishment or the like. I'm often asked when I reveal this if I don't believe in evil either. Why one seems to follow another keeps many in the literal devil fold, but it's not necessary. Evil exists and no devil is needed to authenticate that.

Consider the witness of the First Testament. The devil makes only rare appearances and those are very different from our received notions, usually as the literal translation of Satan indicates, the accuser. Take the Book of Job, for instance. Long after we are taught that Satan was cast down from heaven along with his angels, a picture drawn more from Milton than Scripture, we find him in a coffee klatch with God and associates. What's he doing back up there other than to serve as a trope for the book?

Then in 1 Chronicles 21:1 we read, "Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel." Here he is playing the more traditional role of tempter. However, the parallel passage in 2 Samuel 24:1 casts a whole different light.  "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.’" The older version (Samuel) explicitly states that God does the inciting. How do we move from God to Satan? The Chronicles statement comes after the introduction of full-blown dualism into Israel's theology due to their exposure to Zoroastrianism during the Babylonian Captivity. Just as today's religious conservatives can't imagine God tempting anyone to do evil, neither could the writer(s) of 1 Chronicles. So a convenient switch was made.

This is all to say that the First Testament got along quite well without the use of the devil to explain all the evil that transpires throughout its pages. Human beings are perfectly capable of creating evil without any help. Note that following Cain's murder of Abel, God declares that evil is "crouching at the door" ready to spring on humanity, and Satan's entrance is delayed for a least a millennium. (And the serpent in the Garden is "one of the creatures God made.")

I got to thinking about this when I heard that in a recent interview Justice Antonin Scalia asserted his belief in a personal devil. Here's a brief summary from the Los Angeles Times.
 “Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. That’s standard Catholic doctrine,” [Scalia] said. “You are looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the devil?” Indeed, polls have consistently shown that 70% to 75% of Americans share Scalia’s belief.
Naturally, belief in the devil does not stop there. Some actively seek to find where the devil is currently at work. Once determined where that is, we now have located both those on the devil's side and the "good guys." Those devil believers see the devil behind abortion, government expansion, Obama Care, gay marriage, et al, just as the devil was at work of old in inciting David to go against God and hold a census of Israel. No wonder there is little or no compromise--you can't be guilty of aiding and abetting Satan, after all. What would God think of that?!!! When an ideology is backed by demonology, no less than total destruction of the enemy (Satan and his followers) is called for. Here's an enlightening observation from the Evangelical online site for Christianity Today about the Tea Party Caucus in Congress.
This caucus is more evangelical than the rest of the House. About 45 percent of the caucus attend an evangelical church, compared to 13 percent of others in the House. Another 30 percent are mainline Protestants, mostly of a largely Southern variety. Several Mormons are also part of the caucus.
There are no African-Americans or Jewish members. The caucus is less likely to include Catholics, with only 15 percent who are members of the caucus compared to 32 percent of those who are not.
The article is entitled, "Evangelicals and Tea Party Overlap in Congress, Public."

The 70% to 75% of Americans who believe in a literal Satan are mostly among the Evangelical and Southern mainline denominations. The connection between the belief in Satan and their unwillingness to compromise is clear. Not only is the devil in the details, it's in the intransigence of ideology, as well.

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