In a reading group I belong to, we studied the first monks to go out into the Egyptian desert in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. We read of heroic men and women who performed supernatural feats — like Simeon Stylites who lived on a pillar for 37 years — in an effort to live lives of mortification and penance, thereby growing closer to God. We read St. Athanasius’ Life of Anthony, a fascinating biography which described, among other things, the legendary desert saint’s physical struggles with the devil and his demons.
Reading of the battles with Satan fought by St. Anthony and others, we pondered as to why Satan and his minions were so prevalent in such a desolate place, until we came to the conclusion that the devil really needn’t bother with highly populated areas, as we do his work very well without much prompting from him. Indeed, it is a testament to his genius that most folks who do his bidding blissfully deny his very existence. After all, nobody really believes in that stuff, anymore; it’s medieval!
Oddly enough though, some folks are paying attention to Old Nick. It seems that Hollywood — temporarily interrupting its fetish for vampires — is releasing two flicks dealing with his doings: a mockudrama called The Last Exorcism, and the much-ballyhooed, The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins and based on a true story. Of course my favorite of all movies concerning attempts to separate Satan from a person with whom he has chosen to dwell would be the 1990 comedy Repossessed, wherein Linda Blair is once again spewing pea soup until rescued by Leslie Nielsen.
Hollywood has demonstrated ad nauseam its desire to promote and please the powers of darkness. An unhappy coincidence rendered me a viewer of Sunday’s awful Golden Globe awards, which closed with a voiceover — possibly from the host, I don’t know — saying “and thank you to God for making me an atheist.”
So amongst the purveyors of entertainment in this country, God is made the butt of jokes while the Evil One is the subject of much reverent attention. He is not only believed in, but still worshiped by many who practice the dark arts, and even others who are not rock musicians. Don’t believe me? Just do a search on “wicca” or take a look at your child’s textbooks that deal with the world’s “religions.”
We’re constantly looking for answers to violent crime, unless of course said crimes are committed by radical Islamists. Why did the Arizona killer strike? What inspired the hate in him? Well, as scripture says, Satan is a liar, and the father of all lies, and one of his favorites is when the evil which he introduces into the world takes root in an unbalanced person who commits heinous crimes, which then causes others to question God. And the folks who question him most are very often those in high places.
Yes, it only takes a few leaders who have made the Dark Angel their guest to lead the rest — who don’t really believe in him — astray; especially when the anecdote to evil has been virtually expunged from all aspects of public life; no prayer in schools or civic events, while in many churches, worship has turned inward instead of upward. And all that’s needed are a few dupes willing to sell their souls in the name of Utopia to lead others downward. C.S. Lewis brilliantly puts this explanation on the lips of his favorite demon, Screwtape:
As the great sinners grow fewer, and the majority lose all individuality, the great sinners become far more effective agents for us. Every dictator or even demagogue — almost every film star or crooner — can now draw tens of thousands of the human sheep with him…There may come a time when we shall have no need to bother about individual temptation at all, except for the few. Catch the bellwether, and his whole flock comes after him.
It was the French poet Baudelaire who wrote, “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.” So you can believe in the existence of personified evil or not; and many folks choose the latter. No, most people do not believe in the devil; but he believes in them.