The Devil

A lot of us are ex-Catholics. I thought you might be interested in this piece I wrote for OnFaith about the devil.

Lucifer has been used as a tool since the beginning of Christianity. I’m always shocked to read that the majority of folks believe in Satan. I wonder if the Pope has pulled his old friend back out of the bag to slow attrition?

The devil was something my kids learned about early in school from their friends. Sometimes, they would come home frightened. My youngest kid was told that the devil lives in the ground and could reach up and grab children’s legs. I took him out back, and we dug in the ground in search of the devil. He asked questions like, “How would the devil breathe? Wouldn’t he be crushed? How does he move through all this dirt?”

This is how we help our kids learn to think critically and to overcome their fears. By asking questions. By reasoning.

Why don’t adults ask these same questions? Why does the devil seem so much like all the other evil characters we’ve created in books and movies?


29 responses to “The Devil

  1. I actually like the Devil…

  2. It is indeed interesting to see how many of us are “ex” or “Recovering Catholics.” I went to an all-boys’ Catholic HS and it appears to me as if many of my classmates are now “skeptics” as well. I received an excellent education and the seeds of my current thinking are likely rooted in the rigorous academic environment there.

  3. It’s been my impression that Catholic schools are among the best in any community. I’ve attributed that to a predominantly Catholic student body (strictly raised) and the strict Catholic traditions enforced by the staff. Far fewer discipline problems and strict enforcement of strict rules. Plenty of non-Catholics attend the schools for that reason (although the required religion classes and observances must be annoying).

  4. It was my own questions about the devil that started me down the path of disbelief. Specifically, I asked my mother how she knew the Bible wasn’t written by the devil. Her response was that I shouldn’t ask questions.

    And that, as they say, was that. It was my catalyst for officially becoming a non-believer.

    • @Trav That’s a ferocious-looking face there! 😉 Religion discourages questions with the stock phrase, “It’s not for us to understand.”
      We’re all a bunch of dummies.

  5. Our rabid-Baptist neighbor children terrorized my then 4 year old son with tales of the devil and the hell awaiting us. I terrorized the Baptists by confronting the whole lot of them in their own living room with their anti-social behavior. Whereas my eldest son went more traditionally Northern Ireland about it and merely punched the offending brat in the face.

    I explained the idea of personification and told my crying child that if “Santa” was just an IDEA of happy holidays, then the devil was likewise an idea of punishment since most people are too stupid to grasp the concept of natural consequences of bad actions.

    He was a little, little boy; I think he preferred his brother’s solution.

  6. Ahh, all the summer activities have taken me away from writing and reading. I’m grabbing a few minutes at my laptop right now, and yours is the first blog I checked. Great article on On Faith.

    I grew up Lutheran, and the devil played a major role in my childhood, too. I wrote about it a while back:

    It’s really pretty messed up the way we mess with kids’ heads in the name of faith and religion. Even as an adult, I’ve had people tell me very gravely that the reason I no longer believe in god is because Satan is controlling my mind.


  7. I’ve always had trouble distinguishing, on moral grounds, between the Devil and God. Most just define God to the good guy of the story (a form of circular reasoning). If we are to judge based on body count, God kills more people throughout the Bible than the devil ever does. The devil kills Jobs’ servants, kids and wife…..that’s it. These killings were condoned by God, to boot.
    God also has deep emotional problems (jealousy, anger, frequent mood swings, lies, manipulates people etc..) akin to a sociopath. I don’t know how one can equate God with morality in the Hebrew Bible. In the gospels, God seems to lighten up a bit, but is back to acting vengeful in Acts when he kills someone for withholding money and of course in Revelation he kicks everyone’s butt. Strange character.

    • Great comment, The Scrupulous Atheist. And you’re right. Who decides what is good and bad? If it’s god, what did he base his morals on? If nothing or no one, then his morality is arbitrary.

  8. lancethruster

    “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”

    ~ Joseph Conrad

  9. I always saw a contradiction here. If God is Almighty, then the existence of the Devil, as an entity possessed of power to thwart God or His actions, is illogical. Look up the definition of ‘almighty’. Here’s what I found:

    Def: having complete power; omnipotent
    Def: often capitalized : having absolute power over all
    a : relatively unlimited in power
    b : having or regarded as having great power or importance

    So Almighty God has complete power- if I understand the definition of almighty. No need to sweat the Devil and/or his actions on mankind. Almighty God has “power over all”.

    So how can Almighty God be almighty if the Devil has any power? In which case, God wouldn’t possess complete power and therefore wouldn’t be almighty. Hence folks might be worshipping the wrong entity.

    • vh Are you saying that the universe has two equal super-powers? Or, does god have the power but just refuses to use it….Wait this reminds me of a quote, which says it better than I can:
      “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

  10. lancethruster

    “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

  11. Late to the party as usual, but here goes…

    Does anyone ever ask exactly what Satan will get if he wins? Then again, exactly what is he/she/it fighting with god about? One would think the value of a human soul, and try proving that thing, would not be worth all that much regardless of the valuation used. Economically, this war between god and Satan does not make a lot of sense.

    I think this is a lot like a middle school fight.

    • @Derrick Late to the party but always entertaining. I always thought Satan was fighting for bragging rights. You know, with men, it comes down to ego, right? Just kidding. You could have made a really good post about this with a little elaboration!


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