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We need to talk about Satan

Posted by Simon Parke, 27 October 2017, 8.59am

As we dabble in the dark side at Halloween, (and wade through inexplicable pumpkins), we need to talk about Satan.

We’re often told that it is good to be positive, so let’s start with the positives in the Satan story.

And the overwhelming positive is that Satan helps us to differentiate behaviour, to name good and evil.

As we all know, ‘evil’ is ‘live’ spelt backwards.

In other words, evil is anything that is against life.

So St Francis and Gandhi were not the same as Stalin or Moors murderer Brady; their difference cannot be relativised away.

There were significant life-giving attitudes in the former; and crucifying life-denial in the latter.

It isn’t black and white, of course.

Health is a continuum, and we each move up and down it every day, including St Francis and Stalin.

But there is such thing as emotional and psychological health; it is a continuum and one end is not the same as the other.

So the dualism of separating God and Satan gives us language for this; a language for good and evil… even if we often misuse it.

An example of misuse might be President Bush’s use of the phrase ‘axis of evil’ after the 9/11 bombings.

Evil is not a Geography lesson, a matter of international boundaries.

Only a fool or a President would imagine that…and we live still with the appalling consequences.

No, good and evil – life-giving and life-denying attitudes – run through each and every human heart.

I’m kind in the morning and careless in the afternoon; I acknowledge you one day and blank you the next.

And this leads us on to the down side of the Satan story.

(Yes, I’m afraid there is a downside to Satan.)

The down side is the manner in which it externalises something which is internal.

Satan appears as the projection of my own dysfunction.

‘Let me take everything I hate about myself, everything I cannot tolerate, and put it all in a creature other than myself, who I can then wrestle with, denounce and despise – oh, and call my actions virtue!’

It’s the out-sourcing of self-hate; and the baptism of avoidance.

‘Satan tempted me,’ such people say.

No, we reply, you simply faced some unresolved issues inside you, which still cry in the dark.

The terror is not out there…it’s in me.

So yes, fighting the wiles of Satan can be rather avoidant behaviour, a refusal to take responsibility.

Tragically, it moves the focus away from the one organism in the world I can change: myself.

Jesus had this focus, of course: ‘the Kingdom of God is within.’

But many of the world’s great religions can be suspicious of the within, preferring to face Satan than themselves.

They prefer the Devil and his dark tricks to the brave and patient inner work of bringing the unconscious and the repressed to the surface.

‘Get behind me, Satan!’

It’s a great line; though kind words to our struggling selves might be the better way in that moment.

It’s the cry in the dark that needs our attention this Halloween.

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