The Devil has been coming up in different conversations recently and caused me to do some thinking about what I think the Devil is. Humans have always had impulses they have a hard time controlling. Humans will want to do one thing but do another and later feel guilty about making the wrong choice. Before there was the language of psychology and neuroscience humans needed some way to talk about the impulses they had that they found difficult to control. In ancient times they used the language of the Devil and demons. When I hear people talking such a way at church or on TV I usually try to translate it into something that is personally meaningful for me. Probably my favorite way of talking about evil and the Devil is the Jungian idea of the shadow.
I like the idea of the shadow because it allows people to own their own "evilness" without the threat of being squashed by God. It also allows people to realize their "evilness" is coming from somewhere within and if they "own" it they can diffuse its power. I think people that are busy externalizing evilness and sin and condemning it are people that have not owned their own evilness - i.e. Ted Haggard. (Not that homosexuality is evil. Ted thought his desires were evil and was not able to own them so they got the better of him).
I like the idea of the external personification of evil (Devil with horns and pitchfork) because it allows people to disassociate their "evilness" if it is to threatening to own it. It also just helps to externalize things and blame them on something to be honest. The most important thing is for people to begin a dialogue about the evil they see within themselves. The can begin this dialogue just with themselves personally or with someone else. If externalizing evil to a literal sentient Devil is what they need to do to begin thinking about it then I say it is a good idea.
For example if someone is really self-condemning or just hard on themselves you can suggest that it is the Devil telling them these things because they are really meant for great things and when the Devil tells them they are lazy/ugly/whatever they should tell themselves what a lie that is and immediately tell themselves the opposite - that they're worthwhile/beautiful/etc.
What are your thoughts on the Devil? Is he a literal sentient being? Has the idea of the Devil outlived its usefulness and is more destructive than anything?