“The greatest triumph of the devil in the modern age is convincing people he doesn’t exist.” I don’t remember the author of that memorable quote, but it encapsulates the problem with New Agers, sophisticated secularists, and run-of-the-mill rationalists.
In the West we are well acquainted with the Christian view of evil and the devil. God created the angels before man, and they were all good. But the highest archangel, Lucifer, led a rebellion against God. He chafed under heavenly rule, because his ego and pride prohibited him from serving anyone or anything greater than himself. Lucifer was cast out, along with his followers, and after God made ‘Man,’ the entire entourage began their fight for the souls of men, women, and children on earth.
The Scientific Revolution, and the prematurely named Age of Enlightenment, supplanted this simplistic supernatural story. Prior to World War I, it seemed to many that man’s scientific and technological progress was assured, and that the old shibboleths would be swept away by the victory of reason over the irrational impulses of humans, and the childish beliefs of religions.
That faith was shattered by the bloodbath in the trenches of Verdun, although it took Auschwitz and Hiroshima to bring the faith in reason, science, and progress into serious doubt. Even so, believers in the creed of human rationality have held on, and now, under the guise of Christianity and Islam, stateless and state terror has combined in the new millennium to produce a perpetual “global war on terror.”
Few would deny the existence of evil anymore, as many did until the New Age turned out to be the same old superficial stuff. The popular notion in the ‘90’s (even after Rwanda) was that evil could be explained using conventional psychological models. You still hear it sometimes, how evil is an amorphous phenomenon in human consciousness, an impersonal force that has blind momentum. By denying intentionality however, the concept of evil loses all meaning.
Denial encompasses the existence of evil, but its nature, purposes, and agents. Atheists who react to Christian ideology, and give a superficial psychological explanation for evil, or deny the existence of its intentionality, are spiritually, intellectually, and politically surrendering the field. On the other side of the coin, it’s a remarkable feature of organized religion that it tends to produce people who serve the very thing they decry from their gilded pulpits.
So does the devil exist, and if so, what the hell is it? To take even the first step in this inquiry, it’s necessary to confront one’s primal fear of darkness. Because if evil, which in essence is collective darkness imbued with intentionality, is supernatural, the Christian view is correct. But if, as I maintain, evil is not supernatural, but a byproduct of man’s consciousness, then a deeper philosophical and psychological explanation is possible, and urgently needed. Given that humans subconsciously generate evil over the millennia, there’s no reason to fear it, as long as we are honestly admitting and facing its actuality, and our own fears and flaws.
In short, the fact that the devil is man-made does not mean that it isn’t real; it simply means Satan isn’t supernatural.
Contrary to Ayn Rand aficionados, and individualists everywhere, our consciousness is not an individualistic thing. Every person in every culture is ‘embedded’ (to use a Pentagon term for compliant and complicit journalists) in all the history came before, however new and rewritten people’s superficial script. Conversely, people who think of themselves as entities unto themselves, and live through images and ideas that are entirely fashioned in their own minds, are the most frictionless conduits for collective darkness.
Are there masterminds of darkness? Yes, but they are human things and human creations operating through willfully blind humans. Demons are weak, pathetic, miserable hairballs in consciousness, fearful only because of our own unexamined fears, and their plenitude. They prey on people’s weaknesses and flaws. But the incredible thing is, if one is genuinely and continuously learning from one’s own mistakes and failings, one turns the tables on evil, and grows stronger in the ending and understanding of darkness within oneself. Which is to say, one grows into a true individual.
The key qualities in understanding evil are humility and doubt. The devil, by whatever name, has neither. It is as certain of its rightness and righteousness as marionette politicians and millionaire preachers preaching to the dead.
There is no “battle between good and evil.” Only evil does battle. Good does not battle evil, thought it does stand against it. Good people continually learn from evil, and thereby, eventually prevail.
There’s another ending for our children to the story we were taught in the Judeo-Christian tradition. After God made all the angels, and then humans, the lowliest angel turned, aghast, to God and said, “Why did you make That?” “One day,” God responded, “That will be my greatest creation.” Wouldn’t it be a cosmic joke if that turned out to be true?