Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Perfectly Wrong Enemy

C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, made the interesting comment that "Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite not of God, but of Michael."

He has a point, although I'm not sure it's the one he meant. But he continues: "Now if by 'the Devil' you mean a power opposite to God, and like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite [my italics]. No being could attain a 'perfect badness' opposite to the perfect goodness of God, for when you have taken away every kind of good thing (intelligence, will, memory, energy and existence itself) there would be none of him left."

Those are some interesting comments by Lewis. It almost sounds as if he doesn't really believe in evil. I don't. I think what people call 'evil' is what the Greeks called "hubris," and the Bible calls "pride": believing one is god-like. That, of course, is the sin of Satan.

There are some very unfortunate things associated with Satan being the opposite of God. Probably the worst is that most people seem to think God and Satan are of almost equal power. They may say they don't believe it, but they generally act as if they do.

Believing God and Satan are of equal power is an old heresy known as Manichaeism. It's the belief that there are two gods of equal power, one absolutely good, the other absolutely evil.

Manichaeism is alive and well, even today. If it wasn't, people wouldn't think Satan is the opposite of God. Even people who have no religious beliefs still often believe in absolute good and absolute evil, even if they claim they don't. Even if they insist they don't, they still often define their opponents as evil and imbue them with great, almost magical powers that they will use to "conquer the world."

Manichaeism, whether ancient or modern, is based on the belief in absolute good and absolute evil. When people believe in such concepts, this is what happens: they think they are good, and those who disagree with them are evil. Being evil, they must be destroyed. Generally, they scapegoat those they define as evil: since we are (absolutely) good, we must project our imperfections onto others, who then are considered (absolutely) evil, then annihilated.

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck called scapegoating "the genesis of human evil." And he's right on the money. Scapegoating always comes from the belief in an absolute good and absolute evil.

"Evil," in and of itself, would have no meaning unless it had some kind of power. Without power, it would be harmless, just a mere attitude. In my view, we not only create "evil" by projecting it onto other people, we then give it power, which really means power over us. We create Satan and give him power over our lives. "Power is the horse that evil rides," as the old saying goes.

For some literary examples, there is Gollum in The Lord of the Rings who became degraded (what Lewis called "bent") because of the combination of evil and power--in his case, the Ring of Power. Then, of course, we have Sauron. Gollum is a retelling of the story of Lucifer, who "fell" from goodness into degradation. The opposite of goodness is not evil, but hubris.

Now just how asinine is it to create a horrendously destructive concept and give it power over our lives? How many fundamentalists run around in hysteria thinking the Devil is after them? Or don't they really believe they are completely safe, courtesy of the God they profess to believe in so fervently?

During the 20th century, the Nazis and Communists, who were modern-day Manichees, slaughtered up to 200 million people. Both groups saw everything in either black or white: we're the good ones, the chosen of God. Our opponents must necessarily be evil, of the Devil. Each group immensely exaggerated the power of its opponents. Each group created a Satan and gave him power. The end result: horrendous slaughter.

Some people are literally being run in circles by nothing more than ghosts in their heads. It's happening even today, with the wars the US is involved in. Each side thinks it is good, chosen by God. Each side sees the other as absolutely evil. Each sees the conflict as between God and Satan, between absolute good and absolute evil. The end result will be a long war.

It is an understatement to say that it is unfortunate that the monotheistic religions have chosen to see the opposite of God being Satan. I don't see such an opposition in Buddhism and Taoism. Nor do I see such warfare as we are engaged in, in those religions.

The cure, of course, as it always is, is to eradicate those ghosts in people's heads, to give up the belief in absolute good and absolute evil, and the scapegoating that inherently is a part of that splitting. They must, as the old saying goes, "change their hearts and minds."

I don't see any of this happening anytime soon, unfortunately. Satan is alive and well, if only in our heads. Sadly, there's no slave like a willing slave. Or someone who doesn't even know he's a slave.

If Satan did exist, I bet he'd be chuckling at the way so many people have conned themselves into believing he's nearly the equal of God. I bet it would be exactly what he wants.

1 comment:

TeenerBeener said...

This is an interesting post. I enjoyed reading it. I am a fan of CS Lewis, even if only reading the Lion Witch and the Wardrobe series. It's interesting to know that Satan is not the opposite of God. I tend to give him too much power in my mind, and then I have to remember, the battle has already been waged for my destiny, and God has already won it. Thank you for posting that! Very informative and objective.