Almost as soon as Satan appeared on screen in this week’s third episode of “The Bible” on television’s History Channel, social media sites came alive with speculation about a similarity between the looks of the character in question and President Barack Obama. To be fair, there is more than a passing similarity between the two men, especially if one wants to see it, which of course is the key to understanding this whole story.
We are told that seeing is believing – that if we see something with our own eyes, we will believe that it is so, because our eyes will not deceive us. In reality though, the opposite is more often the case – believing is seeing. We interpret the reality with which we are presented, in light of that which we already believe.
While mind-changing information penetrates our thinking all of the time, at least it should if we consider ourselves thinking people, it’s not as easy as simply seeing new facts “as they are.” We humans are pattern-making, coherence-seeking beings and that means that we tend to integrate new ideas, images, etc., such that the patterns we know and the coherence we seek are generally preserved. That is exactly what happened Sunday night, and not only from those on the side of the political-religious spectrum who regularly link the president with that which is devilish, if not thinking that he is the Devil himself.
The Obama-Satan story got traction from both sides of the spectrum. The similarity was seen and commented upon by people hostile to the president (like Glenn Beck), by people who because of the their general political opinions, found it quite “obvious” that the Devil and the president should look so much alike. In fact, many of them thought it was one of the show’s highlights. They were however, not alone in noting the similarity.
Plenty of the president’s biggest fans also saw the similarity and went to social media to spread the word about it. Why? Because, according to them, it was all part of the producers’ plan to smear the president and appeal to the “Bible thumpers” who oppose him.
In other words, both groups saw the president in the Devil – one group because they see the Devil in the president, and the other because they see the Devil in those who strongly oppose the president. Perhaps it’s time for both groups to see fewer devils, whether in the White House or in white houses across the heartland of the nation.
None of this means that all objectivity is a sham, or that no image is truly dangerous or grotesque. It simply reminds us that we humans are remarkably adept at finding what we are looking for. So we should be skeptical of what we think we see, and question what we seek.