It’s not just Santorum who believes in Satan

For many, Rick Santorum is a living, breathing, head-scratching, eyebrow-raising quote machine. In just a week, he can raise the … Continued

For many, Rick Santorum is a living, breathing, head-scratching, eyebrow-raising quote machine. In just a week, he can raise the specter of Hitler and Nazis, question President Obama’s theology, and (thanks to Right Wing Watch, which surfaced a 2008 Santorum speech) say that America is suffering from the prolonged attack of Satan.

Interestingly, it’s the Satan comments, more than the attack on Obama or unfortunate World War II references, that have caused the hottest controversy. Santorum is being widely critiqued for having religious views that are outside the mainstream, and the furor of the reaction is of about the same tone and incredulity as if he had declared the world flat while walking around the Creation Museum wearing a John 3:16 sign and a rainbow wig. 

And Santorum hasn’t just raised the ire of the left. Matt Drudge kicked off the firestorm by headlining Santorum’s Satan comments for half a day, and other right-wing mavens, including Rush Limbaugh, have joined the chorus of ridicule. 

But why? Is the idea of Satan now so unacceptable in our public discourse as to be dismissed whole cloth?

If so—and if that sounds like an asinine question—it is an intellectually and spiritually sobering acknowledgment that there is now no room in our public discourse for a core belief of billions of people for thousands of years—that there is embodied evil in the world. And that embodied evil goes by several names. And one of those names is Satan.

This view sounds pre-modern to many ears, but it is not an outlier today. A 2007 Gallup poll found that 70 percent of Americans believe in the Devil. Many of those pray against him regularly in a spiritual war.

Of course, Satan has ancient roots. Jesus’ “Lord’s Prayer” or “Our Father”—one of the most famous prayers in history, and one prayed daily by millions of Christians worldwide—is, in a sense, an exercise in spiritual war. In that prayer, Jesus calls for the kingdom of heaven to intersect with the kingdom of earth, and one facet of that intersection is that God may “deliver us from the evil one”—by which Jesus surely meant Satan. Some translations render the noun abstract—saying simply, “deliver us from evil”; both translations depend on the real existence of something called “evil” which exists and which is contrary to God’s purposes.

The Christian life is one that is understood to be a continual struggle between the forces of good, the reign of life, and the forces of evil, the reign of death. This is such a central message of the Christian faith that it is one of the few doctrines that unites the various strands of Christianity, from Eastern Orthodox to Roman Catholicism to Protestantism.

The wise old Oxford sage C.S. Lewis once wrote that most people either blame the devil for everything or for nothing. Each side, he contended, was in serious error. Those who blame the devil for everything are prone to lead impotent lives of victimization. That’s easy to see.

It is the other side—the devil-deniers—that is dominating our refined modern discourse. The subject of evil is disallowed in our public imagination today.

No less a scholar than Andrew Delbanco—Columbia University’s esteemed American Studies professor who just last week was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama—has documented the end of evil. In “The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil,” Delbanco examined how American ideas of evil shifted from the time of the Puritans and gradually fell away entirely. Delbanco is not especially concerned about the loss of faith in God, but he is concerned about the loss of faith in Satan in the American imagination. The son of German Jews who fled the Nazis, Delbanco remembers his mother telling him that “Joseph Goebbels had been the devil incarnate,” and he knows the explanatory power that comes with such a view—a capacity to name evil and to not underestimate its real threat to kill and destroy human lives.

When Santorum made his remarks about Satan’s attack on America, he was engaging in widely accepted Christian rhetoric and belief.

Now, if we wanted to find fault with Santorum’s speech and expressed theology, there would be plenty to work with. For starters, he sees Satan’s influence first in “academia,” a favored whipping boy of the right. He also idealizes the American past and seems to assume that the influence of Satan was somehow absent in a time when America’s most pernicious evil, slavery, was the law of the land.

But his acknowledgment of embodied evil—particularly in a room filled with his fellow believers—was completely un-extraordinary. What’s extraordinary is the current fainting couch response from American pundits left and right.

David Kuo was deputy director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the George W. Bush White House and is the author of “Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.” Patton Dodd is managing editor of Patheos Press and the author of “My Faith So Far: A Story of Conversion and Confusion.” 

 

 

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  • Carstonio

    The concept of embodied evil is purely theological and can’t be translated into secular terms, so it has no place in political discourse.

  • notyourmom

    “The subject of evil is disallowed in our public imagination today.”

    False. The subject of mythological, personified Evil Beings of a metaphysical nature is what’s being criticized. You can’t make compelling ethical and moral arguments if you require your interlocutor to subscribe to a fairy tale to even understand what you’re saying.

  • MrsDarcy

    This is excellent.

  • dlafave

    “Is the idea of Satan now so unacceptable in our public discourse as to be dismissed whole cloth?”

    Yes, it is completely asinine and unacceptable. The religious right can pretend that it isn’t cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs crazy, but it is. I’m sorry if I have to be the one to break that news to you.

  • itsthedax

    The point is, Santorum sees himself as fighting Satan. Therefore, he sees himself, and everything he does, as good and godly. So, in his mind, anyone who disagrees with him is working against God, and is on the side of Satan.

    This is not only crazy, its incredibly dangerous in national politics.

  • PhilyJimi

    Monotheism had to invent the devil. It had no choice! Once there is only 1 god who creates everything and something bad happens to a good person who are you going to blame you’re only left with one choice. God killed your family in a fire and caused your crops to fail.

    Thus the invention of the devil to help fix this problem of having only a loving god also be the creator of things like cancer. Now god can only get the credit for good things and the devil take the blame for the bad things.

    It is so silly, I don’t know how I ever believed any of it.

  • PhilyJimi

    It is clear sign of an irrational mind. Not the kind of thinking you want to have the most powerful man on the face of the Earth who also has his finger on “the button” to have.

  • ThomasBaum

    You’re wrong and one day you will know it.

  • catatonicjones

    How many of his political opponents does he think are being managed by this evil god Satan? Does he think the entire democratic party is Satan’s party? How many leaders of foreign governments, possibly liberal foreign governments, are on Satan’s payroll?
    How is a religious fanatic to make the necessary compromises in the real world with people he thinks belong to Satan?

    This is a dangerous man, this is why religion and politics is evil. In fact, if I could believe in Santorum’s Satan or any of his other gods, I would think Santorum himself is working for him.

  • catatonicjones

    Sorry Tom, you’re wrong but you’ll never have to know it. After you’re dead, you aren’t going to be around worrying about being dead.
    Deal with it.

  • ThomasBaum

    catatonicjones

    Time will tell.

    If it were as you seem to think, no one will ever know one way or the other.

    It isn’t as you think and everyone will know one day.

  • ThomasBaum

    areyousaying

    You wrote, “I’ll call your manipulative superstition and raise you being raped by a pervert priest at 14″

    I have met God and I have met satan and it was neither God nor satan that did this to you, it was the person.

    I can not change the past and neither can you and not only was what happened to you way past wrong but then the “cover-up” and all that was associated with it made it even worse.

    Some blame God for giving us free will rather than limited free will which is no free will at all.

    Some blame satan rather than taking responsibility for their own actions.

    Some believe there is no God and that there is no satan and that we have no free will and that we are only subject to the chemical, electrical and biological components of our human anatomy.

    I know that there is a God and that there is a satan and I believe that we are all answerable for how we use our free will which I happen to believe that we have.

    I also believe and I stake absolutely everything on this and that is that Jesus is the Saviour of the world, not part of the world but ALL of the world and I have found that virtually no one believes this and many don’t want this to be.

    As far as “virtually no one believes this and many don’t want this to be”, I am speaking of those that believe in God and say that they believe that Jesus is the Saviour of the world but when pressed, freely admit that what they really believe is that Jesus is the Saviour of some, for some reason it always seems that they are included in this “some”.

  • ThomasBaum

    catatonicjones

    Time will tell.

    If it were as you seem to think, no one will ever know one way or the other.

    It isn’t as you think and everyone will know one day.

  • Secular1

    Here is one of the comments by one pseudonym Alecto”Slavery was indeed a pernicious evil which ended, I would argue, because of the triumph of good. That good was recognized by a moral people who ultimately prevailed. ” This is remarkable that this person deelgates slavery as evil yet he ignores the fact that this evil was prescribed by the very texts that provide him with moral guidanec, that musty filthy tome called bible. If the world was created by your all knowing, all loving, and all good sky daddy, why is it that your sky daddy condone it in the first place, through out the tome. Why did he let it start in the first place. He is indeed right that slavery was pure evil, and it was eradicated by good people but not by moral people. Certainly good people, who could see past the morality taught by their religion and rejected the evil intheir religion and did the right thing despite the immoralty taught o them by their religion.

    Then he goes on to say “Abortion is a far more pernicious evil rooted in the the worship of self to the exclusion of anything or anyone else, including God. In this modern immoral, highly immoral America, chances of conquering and ending abortion is far from possible.” Here is another nonsense, any reading other than narrow selective reading of that tome can any one surmize that the skydaddy did relly gave S@#$ about children. In egypt he sanctioned whole sale massacre of chidren, same was true when his adherents were usurping the lands in the present day middle east.. And what about the cases when the blod lusted sky daddy even devoured their own children who were born and the countles still births caused.

  • ccnl1

    The brutal effects of stupidity: (and it “ain’t” Satan’s fault)

    : The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    “Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    “Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here’s a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active “post-teeners”: Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    “Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. “They view it as a way to have intimacy without having ‘s-ex.’” (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

    Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the “stupid part of the USA” and the educational system have failed miserab

  • DrWho2

    That an all powerful and knowing and loving God would allow “Satan” to be such a corrupting force has always been a bit of a mystery to me.

  • mbeck1

    The next thing they’ll be saying is that there are witches among us.

  • itsthedax

    Funny thing is, Satan used ot be a good guy. Back when he was called Prometheus.

    Much of the old testament is derived from earlier legends, including the Prometheus tales. Including the creation, Pandora/Eve, the deluge, redemption by the savior/Hercules, etc. In these tales, Prometheus was a friend of man, tricking the gods on mans’ behalf. But when religion morphed from polytheism into monotheism, any figures that worked against the single god had to be turned into an evil character. So, Satan.

  • usapdx

    The Devil may him do it.

  • grampa

    Everyone believes in the existance of good and evil as concepts. It is the personification of those concepts into supernatural beings that is now routinely dismissed my most rational persons.

  • salero21

    Paranoia a la Americana.

  • Catken1

    The difference being that scientists actually demand rational evidence to back their beliefs. Darwinian evolution and climate change are a LOT more substantiated than the idea that there is an evil being out there who makes you do bad things so he can torture you eternally after death.

  • TopTurtle

    Saying that someone like Goebbels was the devil embodied isn’t very useful. What do we learn about how to prevent people from committing unspeakable evil when we fantasize that those who commit such evil are devils? We need to understand why such people do such things, not pretend they’re something other than despicable humans.

  • Fartortuga3

    For your sake I hope Thom accepts your bet. Even if he is right (and there is a Heaven) the Book of Revelations delineates the size of Heaven as approximately that of a regulation NFL field with both end zones. That’s not a lot of room.

    Thom also doesn’t realize that Satan, as Christians know him today, didn’t even exist in the Old Testament. The messengers of “God” were called Satans (SA-tans). You can even trace the evolution of “Satan” in the New Testament until the final level is reached in Revelations (written more than 90 years after the death of Jesus). BTW – The Book of Revelations was derided by most Church fathers and was only included in the canon because of the insistence of one particularly powerful archbishop.

    A slim reed indeed to base one’s life upon.

  • ThomasBaum

    Fartortuga3

    satan is written about not only in Revelation but also in Genesis which is in the OT.

    I do not take all of the bible literally but seeing as I have met satan, I do take the existence of satan literally.

    Christ which is from the Greek and Messiah which is from the Hebrew do not mean Saviour or God but Jesus is God-Incarnate and the Saviour of the world and by that I mean All of the world, actually by “world”, I include All of creation.

  • JeanChauvin

    For one to say that Santorum’s comments are outside of main stream thinking is another example how Washington is out of sync with the American people which goes back to Santorum’s comment about this country being attacked by Satan.

    In logic, if 70% of Americans believe and pray against Satan, then please relay a logical argument that the concept of evil and Satan is not main stream.

    The only way you could do this logically is if you view the American View as worthless. And that’s exactly what the people in Washington are doing and that’s the exact reason why we need Obama, Newt, and all the other clowns to stop stroking their image but rather roll up their sleeves, get some political elbow grease and remember what their father’s father told them what it means to be a man so that they can in turn change the world.

    Respectfully,
    Jean Chauvin (Jude 3).

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