Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

On the Devil and the modern rebellion against God

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Satan-pondering-webPerhaps no more than 100 years ago or so, I would think that society - both secular and religious - would have been shocked to see the amount of satanic artwork, music, and posturing exhibited by so many nowadays.  One need only open their eyes and look around - the T-shirts covered in pentagrams and leering goats, blasphemous artwork mocking Christ, right on down to books in the humor section wantonly jeering and making light of the faith.

I think that the Devil has become a harmless figure in the eyes of many. Caricatured as a kind of goblin-esque figure akin to an evil tooth fairy, the profound evil of the Devil is no longer really thought of in today's age. In many ways, he is little more than a bad cartoon, and this is no more thanks to secular caricatures of him than it is to fundamentalist alarmists.

But I think the Devil himself wants it this way.  The reality of evil in the person of Satan has been largely forgotten.  He is now at most a symbol of rebellion and shock, and at the least, no more than another comic figure or a mythical symbol.  This is precisely, I feel, the point - if one is asleep on guard, the enemy sneaks in to the camp.  The Devil dances, I think, to the reality that he is forgotten in the minds of many.

The Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann writes to us that the "conception 'Kingdom of God' is mythological, as is  the conception of the eschatological drama.  Just as mythological are the presuppositions of the expectation of the Kingdom of God, namely, the theory that the world, although created by God, is ruled by the devil Satan, and that his army, the demons, is the cause of all evil, sin and disease."1  He goes on to speak merely of "the conception of Satan"2, but never the reality of Satan.  This, to me, is the modern view that has been foisted upon many Christians - much like what Blaise Pascal said, "It is easier to bear death when one is not thinking about it,"3 - how very much some thinkers and theologians within Christianity too seem to want us to forget that there is a devil, and that, like a prowling lion, he is hunting our souls (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).

How far removed is all of this from the words of so many great Christian souls from centuries past, and even in our own recent times!  Do not all of the ancient fathers cry out against this?  So too, do not all of the saints, all of the heroic souls who lived lives in total service to Christ - do they not disagree with this modern notion of the devil as merely a vapour, and many from direct personal experience?

But such is the nature of today's thought - if the modern world cannot stomach the reality of something, if it doesn't fit in with its worldview, it dismisses it as mere fable.  As Lord Byron once so aptly put it, "I've stood upon Achilles' tomb, and heard Troy doubted; time will doubt of Rome."4  So too, we have learned to skepticize the devil himself.

And yet, in the minds of many, the devil is a vehicle for rebellion even still - despite the message that the modern world declares so loudly, that "no one believes in God anymore", it seems that many have no problem with the devil.  I remember in the crowd I hung out with and associated myself with, God was no more than a so-called Santa Claus for adults, albeit a pathetic one hanging on a cross that myself and others mocked.  But the devil, to believe in the devil and associate oneself with him - oh, that was different.  The devil was not subject to skeptical inquiry so much as lauded as the ultimate rejection of a God that many of us said never existed anyway.

"To be sure," says Seraphim Rose, "it must be admitted that there is a juvenile quality in the expression of most modern 'Satanism'; those who so easily invoke Satan and proclaim Antichrist can have very little awareness of the full import of their words, and few intend them to be taken with entire seriousness."5

To come to terms with who it was that I had claimed to have sided with was a frightening experience.  When one really and truly comes to face the stark reality that there is indeed a devil, then the terror of Satan surely must send even the most hardened and cold soul to Christ, or so one would think.  But some are so far gone that not only do they fall into the cold embrace of the devil, but annihilate themselves in rejection of God, and therefore in rejection of love itself.

In my case, I was rescued before it was too late, though as one snatched from the fire (cf. Jude 1:23).  I began to realize that all the pseudo-Satanic garbage I had involved myself in was far more serious than I ever thought imaginable - the devil was not Mikhail Bakunin's vision of an "eternal rebel, the first freethinker and emancipator of worlds,"6 as I had also thought him to be.  No, the devil was pure and utter darkness, a distorted horror, a black hole that had nearly sucked the life completely out of me.

However, as Seraphim Rose indicates, many who openly proclaim themselves on the side of the devil, whether in word or in silent visual declaration, have really no clue who or what it is that they are claiming to be on the side of; frankly, those who do know and are still fine with it are thankfully few and far between.  Much like those who espouse the currently en vogue philosophies of Sartre, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, it seems to me that they would hardly do so if they realized the true ramifications of such philosophical outlooks.  But as it is, the need to rebel against the authority and reality of God is an intense one.  I know that, for myself, it meant little compromises and sacrifices all along the way, a turn of the head away from this fact here, or a wilful ignoring of this truth here.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux says, "Wickedness deceives itself; it does not deceive God."7

1 - Jesus Christ and Mythology, I:2
2 - ibid., I:3
3 - Pensees, 138
4 - Don Juan, stanza 101
5 -  Nihilism, pg. 73
6 - ibid., pg. 72
7 - On Humility and Pride, X:32 -

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