The Devil is Good for Business

With the Pope and the devil in the news again, I thought I’d talk a bit about the two.

Political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote that individuals and groups “…define their identity by differentiating themselves from and placing themselves in opposition to others. While wars at times may have a divisive effect on society, a common enemy can often help to promote identity and cohesion among people. The weakening or absence of a common enemy can do just the reverse.”

Enemies are important, especially strong ones. Good leaders realize, at least intuitively, that a common foe can provide cohesiveness and goals for a group of people. After 9/11, for example, Americans were uncharacteristically united against the forces of evil. Whether it’s al-Qaida, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden or the Devil, the bad guy defines us through contrast. We are good and full of love; they represent evil and are full of hatred. We want harmony and peace; they want death and destruction.

It makes sense, then, that Pope Francis would reintroduce Satan as the Catholic Church’s grand cosmic antagonist. Given that the Church has been hobbled from decades of scandal, leaving it weakened and vulnerable, what better way to resuscitate an ailing institution than to identify the cause of its illness and to declare war against the universe’s oldest enemy?  The Pope has warned followers, “…there is no shadow of a doubt. A battle exists, a battle in which the eternal salvation of us all is at stake.” He has said that the devil wants to divide Christians, destroy the family and make love disappear. Satan doesn’t want people to be disciples of Christ nor does he want peace between nations.

Humans construct their identity by opposing and differentiating themselves from the undesirable other. This kind of black-and-white thinking underlies religion’s worldview. In order to know who you are, you also have to know who you are not.  If there is no evil “out there” threatening the Roman Catholic empire, what indeed does it mean to be a Catholic? Where do the sinful acts, the pedophiles, the abusers come from? Although this is a simplified worldview, the dichotomy makes it easier to deal with the ambiguity and unpredictability of complex human behavior. You’re either one or the other.

Lucifer not only provides a contrast to define what makes a good Christian, his perceived omnipresence and power invoke intense fear that keeps Catholics in check, that makes them stay the course in their faith. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Who will save them from the Prince of Darkness? God? No, God does not come to the rescue of possessed mortals. Only the Pontiff and his consort of exorcist priests can keep believers safe here on earth.  The devil is strong, but the Church, with its trained exorcists, is stronger. It keeps the great garden of faith weeded of evil and growing.

By referring repeatedly to Satan, the Pope is summoning and reinforcing an old narrative of good versus evil. He is rallying his troops and giving them focus. The Devil has been the reason for the winter of discontent. Now that the enemy is “out there” and in the holy sight, evil is no longer an intrinsic part of the Church but a separate, identifiable other. The war on Satan is how the Church is healing and redeeming itself. This is how it will reclaim its followers and its reputation.

The devil is good for the business of religion.


18 responses to “The Devil is Good for Business

  1. God cannot exist without the Devil

  2. Personally, I do believe there IS a sort of battle going on in human existence and history. I don’t believe it has anything to do with a personification of evil named Satan. I believe it has to do with what forces in life people choose to “feed” — whether you define it as light and darkness, good and bad — whether you see it as a polarity of opposites at all? That matters less than how you adjust to changes and work to make things right again when it all falls down.

    Having a handy “devil” to blame just means a way to evade personal responsibility for crummy choices and being mean to each other. And the Church won’t reclaim ME by pushing a scapegoat at me!

  3. I definitely don’t believe in Satan but I do believe there is good & evil in the world, as I’m sure do you. However, the scarier truth is that we are responsible for which we feed within ourselves. And therefore when we see evil in the world (pedophiles, murderers, etc), there is no scary devil to blame, only ourselves. I guess it’s not a very comforting way to view the world but it’s the only thing that makes logical sense to me.

  4. “Pope Francis welcomed the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who battle demon possessions.”

    Let’s just remind ourselves that these are supposedly “adults:” grown men with (we’re led to believe) a functional grasp on reality.

  5. The Catholic church embellished scripture that promoted Satan, demons, hell, exorcism and demon possession. They are ultimately responsible for the suicide of my husband who was experiencing hallucinations and delusions caused by seizures due to a traumatic brain injury, not demon possession — though that is what he was told. But the harm done to my partner, me, and our infant daughter, left without her father, is only a drop in the bucket.

    J. de Tonquedec (1886-1962), was a psychologist and the official exorcist of the diocese of Paris for over 20 years, doubted that he ever found a real case. He wrote:

    “Exorcism is an impressive ceremony, capable of acting effectively on the unconscious of a sick person. The adjurations addressed to the demon, the sprinkling of holy water, the stole passed around the patient’s neck, the repeated signs of the cross and so forth, are very capable of creating a diabolical mythomania in word and deed in a psyche already weak. Call the devil and you will see him; or rather not him, but a portrait made of the sick person’s idea of him. It is for this reason that certain priests, due to their inconsiderate and imprudent practice of exorcising, create, confirm and encourage the very disorders that they want to suppress.”

    “368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured and over $2,815,931,000 in economic damages.”

    The RCC is a malignant cancer to the body of humanity and always has been. If ever there was a Devil responsible for enormous harm and dividing humanity, it is the Roman Catholic Church.

    Debbie, thank you for an excellent article.

  6. What a tragic story NeuroNotes :-(. Thank you for sharing it, it must be difficult to talk about.
    Debbie is quite right to raise this issue again, and the tragedy you experienced illustrates why. I am so baffled by the Pope’s stance on this. Up until now, I thought he might be the reformer the Church needed. What worries me is that fear is a very irrational emotion. And, devil belief taps into some of the deepest and most violent fears we have.
    I am reminded of a native American story, where a wise man tells a child that good and evil battle inside a person like two hungry wolves. The child asks – “which one wins?” The wise man replies:”The one we feed the most”. I think it is very dangerous for the Catholic church to feed this particular superstitious clap-trap.

    • Anne, thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comment. I agree with all your points, and there is plenty of scientific research to back up what you shared. The RCC and other authoritarian protestant denominations (and religions) use fear to manipulate people’s emotions which can literally affect behavior by changing the brain of their followers.

      This emotional manipulation can increase brain matter volume in the right amygdala (fear, disgust, aggression, negative emotions). Increased stress due to fear of demons, hell and eternal punishment can attribute to atrophy in the hippocampus ( consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation.)

      And just recently Debbie shared this research with me:

      “A neuroscience group at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory led by Assistant Professor Bo Li Ph.D., together with collaborator Professor Z. Josh Huang Ph.D., have just released the results of a new study that examines how fear responses are learned, controlled, and memorized. They show that a particular class of neurons in a subdivision of the amygdala plays an active role in these processes.

      Li’s group found that fear conditioning induced experience-dependent changes in the release of neurotransmitters in excitatory synapses that connect with inhibitory neurons — neurons that suppress the activity of other neurons — in the central amygdala. These changes in the strength of neuronal connections are known as synaptic plasticity.

      “We find that the fear memory in the central amygdala can modify the circuit in a way that translates into action — or what we call the fear response,” explains Li.”

  7. LanceThruster

    “The bible, that’s God’s book, as far as I know the devil hasn’t brought out a book yet, haven’t heard his side of the argument. God’s just writing shit about him, and the devil’s being the bigger man and saying I’m not even going to comment, talking shit about me like that.”

    ~ Jim Jefferies

  8. This week the pope must be so pleased with five of his staunch followers, the five who wear black robes, sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and wield their great power in defense of the faithful. The devil may appear as himself, as women seeking abortions, or as ACA regulations. No matter. The Five stand united against him.

  9. More often than not I keep wondering how grown-ups can really believe in goblins and monsters. It is just odd – sad and dangerous however is that the same people act upon it too.

    Popularity seems to be the key once again – if it wasn’t one of the most common delusions, Xianity should be banned for scaring and hurting kids with the fear of the Devil.

  10. As a child I was told that were I to even touch an object that a psychic had touched, that object might be a conduit for the devil or some other demon to possess me. I was also told to avoid yoga, dungeons and dragons, and Harry Potter for the same reasons. It all comes down to people expecting to see evil where there isn’t any. The devil myth has expanded so far that he can now (supposedly) control a crazy number of things.

  11. lancethruster

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

    ~ Joseph Conrad

  12. Well said! The Devil is good for business. In fact, “he” is indispensable for religious business. There is no denying that good and evil is part of the human condition, but it relates primarily to the rightness (or wrongness) of our actions, and how these are interpreted in terms of specific sets of moral norms. The latter are always and necessarily contingent, and can never be absolute, as pretended in religions. You are right on the money: in reality the story of good and evil as (HUMANLY) personified and projected as divine and/or supernatural beings (existents), is simply part of a series of myths, at best.


    Thought you’d enjoy this.

    Have a great summer, Debbie! 🙂

  14. The idea of god and devils is such nonsense. It’s depressing to realize that the majority of people believe in this shit. It’s a sign of weakness and lack of personal responsibility, in my opinion.

  15. Lance Thruster – I like your quotes of Jeffries and Konrad. W.r.t. the first, there are lots of material, like the Satanic Bible (or something like that). As for myself, I don’t believe that any “deity” (God or Satan) is actually REAL, in the sense that we depict something in terms of corporeal existence, bound to space and time. Nonetheless, such deities are made real via the make-belief actions of the believers. For me, the yardstick is simple: do these beliefs harm oneself, others, our world, or do they improve them?

    My youngest daughter recently sent me this little comparative insight regarding for instance sexual relations: “The Holy Bible says that a woman can be sold to her rapist after he violates her.” (this is still practiced by their sister-religion, the Muslims). “The Quaran says that a woman must always be sexually submissive to men.” (An attitude that still prevails in Christianity, and in fact in most patriarchal cultures). “The Satanic Bible says not to make sexual advances unless they are reciprocated.”

    Have to confess (haha) that I haven’t looked at them all from that perspective. However, judged on face value wrt to the above quotes alone, the latter one is the only one that might actually improve relationships, instead of destroying the same.

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