Saturday, August 9, 2014

Renouncing, responding, and reacting to Satan…

Between the protesting of Christian Privilege in America with “Satanic Black Masses” by various secularist societies and also the Church of England’s creation of a Baptismal Rite that does not use the word “satan” or “devil” there has been much ado about “satan” as of late. The vast majority of which has left me wanting to beat my head against the wall. As a rule if you want Christians, of any sort, to abandon all sense, all ability to communicate, and all relationship with history and tradition… have a conversation about “satan”.

As Christians we believe in a God that is engaged and active in the world, seeking to draw all of us into harmony with each other and God. Within our belief system there is also an awareness of an active force working to draw us out of that harmony with God and each other and into disharmony. There are various biblical moments when this force is portrayed, and some of those times the force is named as “satan”. 

What we have done, rather problematically, over the past 2000 years is amalgamate a large amount of biblical and non-christian concepts of “evil” and wrapped them up into a human concept, almost an anti-idol, called “satan”. This anti-idol is not really useful, and definitely not inherent to, Christianity.

To begin with there are a series of religions, that preexist or developed independent of Christianity, that evoke or appear to evoke a “satan”, “devil”, or “demon” type being. In all probability whatever being you would draw if asked to draw “satan” is an amalgamation of pieces from these non-christian traditions. The deal is that none of these religions is particularly set against Christianity and its concepts of God, none of them privilege Christianity as force against which they are working in the world. Some of them were powerful in their day, Zoroastrianism, others were variations of the basic paganism and pantheism one found throughout the world.

The concept of Satanism, a religion that worships the biblical entity Satan and seeks to bring down Christianity, is an invention of the Church in the Middle Ages. It is what happens when we began to react to latent pagan ritual and activity in the European culture from a space of paranoid power. It is inherently part of the anti-Semitism and active misogyny of the day. This is an era of texts that warn against Jews sneaking into churches to steal consecrated hosts out of tabernacles so they can stick pins into them and purposefully recrucify Christ then give them to wanton women to summon satan in highly sexualized occult rituals.

When we, as Christians, respond to “Satanism” out of this construct we have inherited from the Middle Ages what we are doing is buying into the anti-Semitism and patriarchy inherent to the initial construction. This flexing of our privilege in society, and all of the oppression we have done in the name of Christ by means of such, is exactly the reaction modern “Satanism” is attempting to evoke from us.

Modern “Satanism” has more in common with “The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” than any other “religion”, especially the fabricated one of the Middle Ages. Its purpose is to call out the inherent privilege that Christianity has in the world today. It is based in the very valid critiques of organized religion found in the writings of Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, and Feuerbach. That as Christians we are as want to use our faith for wish fulfillment, gaining power, ignoring problematic issues, and the like as we are to use it as a means of actually having a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.  Like Nietzsche’s text Anti-Christ, the argument is not that Christ does not exist but that what Christians believe does not reflect the Christ of the Gospels, the title is there for shock value. Such is the way of modern “Satanism” the point is not to undermine Christianity as a religion but to undermine the misuse of Christianity by Christians. It is a social commentary against the societal ills Christianity has done not a religion seeking to summon and manipulate Satanic forces against the Church. 

And this is the point where, as Christians, we really need to pause. The construct of “Satanism” within our theology, as already noted, comes out of a space of oppression of Jews and women, amidst others. This problematic beginning brings with it inherently problematic theological concepts. As Christians we praise God, give thanks to God, glorify God in our lives… God longs for such to occur, but such things do not actually affect the nature of God. Likewise when we defame God, give blame to God, profane God in our lives… God weeps for such to occur, but such things do not actually affect the nature of God.

The common reaction by Christian’s to “Satanism” is concern for the objects of our faith and ire at the individuals who are not respecting our authority over them. Yet, when people profanely use the Bible, profanely use the sacraments, profanely use the icons and imagery of the church… and historically Christian groups have done this to a much greater extent than any “Satanist” groups… it is the people who are brought into a state of profanity not the source to which these objects guide us. An appropriate response would be concern for the people distancing themselves so from the objects that guide us towards God and deeply wondering what we have done, as Christians, that has brought about a situation where these objects no longer speak to harmony with one another and with God that is evocative of the Gospel message.

God commanded that the church go forth and teach the Gospel to all nations. God did not command that the world understand what we teach. When the Gospel is not understood in the world the only one at fault is the Church for its teaching not the world for its lack of understanding.

It is exceptionally true that we maintain an understanding of evil that recognizes it as a force with active intent and purpose in the world. As we do so, however, it is important to not allow that very force to draw us into blind reaction to the needs and concerns of our fellow human beings as we live in ignorance of the faults of organized religion when it comes to perpetuating societal ills. To do so is to buy into the trap of that same evil, to be, in a way, Satanist ourselves.  

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