Demons and the Devil
The Devil in the Old Testament
The notion of a “devil” was not part of the Old Testament.
There are no passages within the older parts of the Hebrew Scriptures where Satan is portrayed as an evil devil -- the arch enemy of God and of humanity. At most, he is described as a henchman who carries out God's evil instructions. There is no dualism here between two powerful supernatural entities: an all-good God and an all-evil Satan. God is portrayed as performing, directly and indirectly, both kind and evil deeds. (“Development of the Concept of Satan prior to 300 BCE in Israel.” Retrieved from http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_sat2.htm, May 27, 2007.)
The concepts of demons and the devil evolved from very early in humankind’s religious stirrings. Humans assumed invisible humanlike creatures were responsible for changes in nature and humankind’s fortunes. They were merged with the notion of Satan, a myth that helped humankind understand why suffering existed in the world. It couldn’t come from God, so it must come from an anti-God. That took the blame off of God. Together, the demons and Satan ruled the underworld (when the composition of the earth wasn’t understood and it was believed an “under” world could exist).
However, there never were such mythological creatures. There are spirits on the next planes of life who are full of mischief and even wish to retard humankind's spiritual evolution. But they are not a devil or demons.
An evil being that corresponds with today’s view of Satan was introduced by Zoroastrianism in Iran. Zoroaster was described as being tempted by the devil, as was Christ:
The framework of the three monotheisms [Judaism, Christianity, Islam] had been erected. The Devil's birth certificate was filled out by an Iranian prophet [Zoroaster]. (Gerald Messandé, The History of the Devil, Newleaf, London, England, 1996).
The Devil in the New Testament
The notion of demons and the devil were carried from Zoroastrianism into 1st century Judaism and as a result, were referred to in the New Testament.
Jesus and his disciples accepted the common belief of the 1st century CE that mental illness and some physical ailments were caused by indwelling demons. "Unclean spirits" are mentioned 7 times in Mark, once in Matthew, 3 times in Luke and once in Revelation. A "dumb spirit" and a "deaf spirit" are each mentioned once in Mark. Luke talks about a "spirit of infirmity" in his gospel, and, a "spirit of divination" & an "evil spirit" in Acts. The concept of "violent possession" appears for the first time in Scripture. Demons are believed to posses individuals and cause them to mutilate themselves, to collapse, to foam at the mouth, to thrash around on the ground. Demons are seen as the cause of many physical disabilities, including blindness, spinal deformities, inability to speak. Satan figures prominently throughout the Christian Scriptures: Jesus is tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-3, Luke 4:2). The Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of "Beelzebub, the prince of the demons." (Matthew 12:24) (“Development of the Concept of Satan prior to 300 BCE in Israel.” Retrieved from http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_sat2.htm, May 27, 2007.)
The writings of the first-century followers of the emerging Jesus Christ developed the mythology as part of their theology. Paul and the other apostles embellished the character and range of activities of Satan and his demons, portraying them as the most powerful forces in the universe aside from God, and even somehow to be resistant to the Omnipotent God. As a result, in the 1st century, the duality between an all-good God and all-evil Satan became firmly established. (“Development of the Concept of Satan prior to 300 BCE in Israel.” Retrieved from http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_sat2.htm, May 27, 2007.)
The Harmful Effects of the Devil and Demon Mythologies Today
The church created the devil and demons that are commonly envisioned today using Zoroastrianism's conceptions as the basis. The notion of demons and Satan evolved as primitive superstitions. Satan was never real. However, the damage that is done in believing such a being exists is regrettably real.
People today are able to rationalize their judgment of others by saying that those others are attached to Satan. Anyone whom they would regard as “evil” is a minion of Satan. That enables them to have their way with those who are on the evil side. They can demonize, segregate, condemn, and kill them. After all, they are linked to the evil one and the judgmental person is linked to goodness, right, and God. It legitimizes bigotry, hatred, conflict, cruelty, homicide, and war.
Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, called President Bush “the devil.” Jerry Falwell compared Hillary Clinton to Lucifer. Ayatollah Khomeini called the United States the “Great Satan.” Bob Jones (of the Christian Bob Jones University) called George Bush senior the devil. George Bush senior called Saddam Hussein the devil.
Jerry Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense, characterized the war in Iraq as the struggle between a Christian nation and Satan. (General Casts War in Religious Terms, Richard T. Cooper. CommonDreams.org newscenter, May 8, 2007. Retrieved from http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1016-01.htm May 8, 2007).
Extremist Catholics describe Jewish houses of worship as the “synagogue of Satan.” (“The ‘Synagogue of Satan’, Mark Potok. Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=703 , May 8, 2007.)
Osama bin Laden called the US Satan, and killed over 3,000 people in the World Trade Center. The crusaders called the Muslims Satan’s servants when they slaughtered 40,000 Muslim men, women, and children in Jerusalem in 1099. The Spanish called the Native South Americans Satan's helpers as they killed between 60,000,000 and 80,000,000 of them (David Stannard, American Holocaust. Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 95). The Puritans called the Native North Americans Satan’s minions and killed most of them (Murrin, John M. The Infernal Conspiracy of Indians and Grandmothers Reviews in American History - Volume 31, Number 4, December 2003, pp. 485-494. Johns Hopkins University Press).
Having a Satan outside of human beings also allows believers to avoid looking inside for answers to their individual and humanity’s problems. They assert that humanity has conflict and cruelty because of Satan, not because human beings need to grow spiritually within themselves to withdraw from the physical realm. And those others who disagree with the group can be identified as Satan’s minions, so the righteous group can do battle with them as the enemy.
The Impossible Figure of a Satan
The figure of Satan envisaged by people is clearly that of an other-worldly humanlike creature, the counterpart of the image of God as a big male figure in the sky. The problems with identifying Satan as a humanlike creature are similar to those of believing God is a big man in the sky. If Satan is humanlike, does “he” have male organs? Astronomers have peered deep into the universe and haven’t seen Satan. Where is he? Can Satan be tricking 6 billion people all at the same time? If there are 6 billion demons doing his work, does Satan command them all? That would require being able to touch all of humankind, so Satan must not be in a body, but instead must be a force.
When people look at the Satan that would exist without a body, as a force, they define this Satan as cleverly deceiving humankind into believing God does not exist or is separated and distant from humankind. Satan is the force that separates man from man, man from God, man from himself, and man from nature. This Satan cleverly disguises himself as being appealing and godly to deceive humankind into following his counterfeit god rather than the real God. He thwarts humankind’s spiritual development by enticing them with sensual pleasures to be greedy, self-centered, cruel, and violent. In short, this Satan would have all the characteristics of materialism and any religion that would establish itself as a god, displacing the Higher Power that is one with all people. It would be any religion that entices humankind to follow its dictates rather than the voice of the Holy Spirit from within. The figure that lures humankind from spirituality and God, in other words, is nothing like a male figure in the sky. Instead, it is very much like materialism and organized religion.
However, the church adores the Satan myth because it can reassure believers that it will save them from Satan and the associated eternal damnation. All the believers have to do is follow the directions of the church. That brings in enormous amounts of money to buy protection and ensure a place in the heavenly kingdom. If Satan were anything, he would be the bad cop in a good cop-bad cop dialogue that results in everybody getting what they want in the end: the church and the deceived believers.
The devil myth is destructive to spiritual growth and creates division among people because those who believe in the devil myth divide people between those who are right and of God (those who agree with them) and those who are evil and of Satan (those who disagree with them).
Instead, the force that separates man from God, man from man, man from the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, and man from nature, is the Earthly legacy given to us when we were reared in a materialistic society dominated by organized religion. For us to break the bonds of this influence, we must turn our back on both the Earthly realm and organized religion and learn from the mind of God that is one with each of us.
Fortunately, people today are opening to the mind of God teaching them about the myths of the church and are rejecting the notion of a being named Satan:
While most of the sample Americans queried by Barna still affirmed God as the all-powerful Creator, a mere 17 percent of the Catholics, 18 percent Methodists, 20 percent Episcopalians, 21 percent Lutherans, and 22 percent of the Presbyterians told Barna that they thought Satan was real. (“Barna Poll on U.S. Religious Belief—2001,” Uwe Siemon-Netta, UPI. Retrieved from http://www.adherents.com/misc/BarnaPoll.html May 21, 2007).
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