Mea culpa: The devil didn’t actually make me do it.

I was just reading this post, the second half of which I pretty much agree with. I have some disagreements with much of the first half, though. I don’t have anything against Christopher Hitchens. We live in a free society, and he is welcome to believe what he wants, and even to teach what he wants. It makes me mad sometimes, but it’s his right, so I won’t attack him for it. As far as I’m concerned, he’s neither here nor there.

My real point of contention is with the idea that Satan – a personified evil – is the cause of all the troubles in the world. I’m a Lutheran, and I know Luther believed in a literal Satan. (Wasn’t it Luther who said, “Well, Pete, there are all manners of imps and demons, but the great Satan hisself is red, scaly, has a bifurcated tail and carries a hayfork”? No? Maybe that was George Clooney. Hmph.)

I’m undecided on that point. I don’t discount the possibility, but I think there’s a problem with attributing evil to a figure like Satan. It’s the Geraldine Effect (Flip Wilson’s “The Devil Made Me Do It” argument) that takes our responsibility for evil out of the equation. I also have a problem with the implicit dualism in the Satan excuse. God is God, Satan (if he exists) is a creature. As a creature, he is inherently less powerful than the creator. To use a figure like Satan as a scapegoat on whom we can blame our less-than-desirable impulses (especially including the ones we act on) fails to take seriously our culpability for sin, and worse, I think it undermines the Gospel message. If sin comes from “out there” somewhere, how can we say that Christ died “for us and for our salvation?”

(Incidentally, I like some of the scriptural stories about Satan – How he’s an adversary and an accuser of humans. It’s interesting to think about the Life of Adam and Eve, for example, which paints the Satan-like figure as so zealous for God’s honor that he winds up rebelling against God out of contempt for the creation of humans. He then spends all of his time trying to prove to God how stupid it was to create humans, who do nothing but defile the image of God. Fascinating stuff and well worth thinking about!)

Sorry. Back on track. So, the author of the original post writes, “The truth is, sin [not religion] is bad for society. [P]eople fight and kill in the name of God, or of their religion….Did God initiate any of this?” I would have to say that, well, in a way, yes. While I don’t hold to a literalistic belief in the Adam and Eve story, I do believe that God created humanity, and in doing so gave us a certain amount of freedom. Had such freedom not existed, we would have been created as automatons, not as humans, and what kind of life would that have been? In such a scenario God would have been a “celestial dictator!” Anyway, within this freedom, we fall away (a continual action – not an action that happened to an Adam and an Eve, but to all of us adam to this day) from God’s intention that we be in relationship with God and with one another. This is a constant rebirthing of sin in the world, and from this brokenness comes evil. So, in God’s freedom, God created at least partially-free humans; we humans sin and do evil. Ultimately, you’d have to admit, God bears some responsibility in this.

Please don’t misread me. As I’ve now said, sin and evil run counter to God’s intentions, but in granting us freedom to say “no” to [him], on some level God allows it. That’s the bad news. The good news is the “happy exchange”: in the incarnation of the eternal Son in Jesus of Nazareth, God and sinners are reunited. As a bridegroom and a bride share everything, we share Christ’s righteousness and he shares our brokenness. The culmination of this exchange is Christ’s death on the cross. He bears the weight of our sinfulness and leaves us free for restored union with God and with others.

Don’t get me wrong here, either. We still live in a world where sin, suffering and death are part of our experience of reality. This can’t be underscored enough. But on the other hand, the God who identifies with us to the point of death on the cross is the same God who offers us hope of resurrection. This goes for all of us sinners: you, me, Christopher Hitchens, the ones whom we don’t count as “real Christians.” The offer is universal.

But it’s hard to take this offer very seriously if we don’t recognize our role in sin. If we place it on some cosmic, demonic scapegoat, then did Christ really die “for us?” Something to ponder.


One Response to “Mea culpa: The devil didn’t actually make me do it.”

  1. Robaigh, I didn’t know if you’d stop by A Christian Worldview of Fiction again, and wanted to be sure to give you an answer to your comment. So here’s a copy of what I said on my site. (I have a second one, too, that come from something you said in your interchange with Nicole, I think.)

    – – –

    Robaigh, thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment. I read your post, and I’m happy you found something here that provoked thought, especially about sin and salvation.

    In rereading my post to understand your points of criticism, I realize I was very sketchy about my position regarding Satan and sin. I certainly do not adhere to a “the devil made me do it” belief system. Man stands as a responsible agent before God, condemned because of our sin nature that locks us into doing sinful acts. I did not mean to intimate, by bringing up Satan, anything else.

    Rather, I was trying to explain why some groups that call themselves “Christian” are, in fact false. Satan masquerades as an angel of light, so it is logical to suspect he would camouflage false teaching to look convincingly Christian-like.

    So as I see it, the “Christian churches” that preach what Paul referred to as “another gospel” are more apt to lead people away from the truth than the churches that openly worship Satan.

    I suspect we’d have a good debate about the inerrancy of the Bible, though. I’m wondering why you believe in Jesus’s resurrection and not Satan’s visit to Eve when both are told in the same Scripture.


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