Sunday, August 24, 2008

Evil and The Devil

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?


Rick said...

I remember once in a cinematic theology class watching a fellow student go beserk watching the Jesus of Nazareth Miniseries because Satan was portrayed as a man in a black suit and a very nice shirt and shoes that morphed into a very attractive woman in a silky flowing red dress. I thought it meant that Satan tempts us in ways attractive to us. Hard to recoginize. I think I have met Satan in a nice black suit, shirt and shoes and a red flowing dress all in the same night. I wish he always appeared in red tights, horns, spear,and a slight hint of burning sulphur. Then maybe I would recognize him and quit thinking that my fellow student that went beserk that night in class was him.

Havilah said...

When I was little, whenever upsetting or bad thoughts came into my mind I was told I could rebuke the devil so consequently I spent the better side of my childhood rebuking the devil (my mind tended to race-lol). Actually I believe the phrase I would say to 'rebuke' it in my mind was "Devil, go to hell!" which makes me laugh now because wasn't he supposed to already be in hell? :O) Anyway, beside the point...

I like what you said about owning our own 'sides' or light/dark. Your question at the end was the most intriguing..."has it outlived it's usefulness?" I hope so. I rather like the idea of the shadow over the idea of this external being although I see the usefulness you speak of - I'm guessing a lot of fear and negative feelings have been CREATED in this world because of the concept of the devil...

From a teaching stance, when it comes to addressing 'good and bad' - at least with children (granted I don't have any) - I like the idea of red light/green light way better - which I actually learned at a church when I was little...maybe at home, too - don't recall. Explaining to people that "if you get a green light inside=good, red light=not good"...feels better than teaching them they have to be careful because a red-skinned-horned-dude is trying to get them to (insert "sin" here) so they will burn in hell for all eternity. Probably create less fears, too.

Of course I suppose the purpose of the devil is more about the cause of the sin...whereas the red light/green light method is more of a navigation system...the Garmin of life.

I think I may have just written a lot and yet, said very little :O) Nonetheless, thank you again for your insight.

Havilah said...

afterthought:...of course the devil could be depicted with any color of skin (!)- just highlighting the general picture people are given ;O)