It Believes in You
"Just ignore it, bro" is sometimes bad advice
“Gravity only has power over you because you believe in it. It’s not even real. You can’t even see it. You should worry about things you can actually see, like fire, war, and killer bees.”
You’d think the person who said that is a nut. But substitute the word “gravity” for something else like, say, evil or—and I’m going to get spooky which is fine because it’s near Halloween—the Debbil, and they think nothing of it.
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But they should!
I was listening to local sports talk radio recently,1 mainly because (1) I like sports, (2) we have one station that is particularly entertaining, and (3) I’m in the car quite a bit acting as part-time chauffer for my children.
Regarding point (2), the morning show on this station is the most comedy heavy and least sports-nerdy. One of the co-hosts is a local guy who is more of the straight man (though he can be hilarious at times) and the other is not a local guy who comes to sports radio via a punk and alternative music background, so he has a unique perspective. He’s also a pretty disheveled guy, both appearance-wise and in his personal life, and he’s the comic relief. But in a cynical, world-weary booze-soaked sort of “I’ve seen it all, kid” way and not a “I’m a peppy, goofy clown!”2
So this host, who is not a Christian, or even religious in the least, sometimes makes fun of religious people as New Englanders and those attracted to New England are wont to do.3 This time, it was about how the “Satanic Panic” was supposedly hysteria whipped up by America’s mothers over the most non-threatening thing ever. Satan, this host asserted, isn’t even real, and in the alternative, only has power over you if you believe in him.
Of course, this went unchallenged. And of course, this flies in the face what Christians actually believe. In fact, it’s an inversion. The idea that the devil4 can get people to not believe in him is his proverbial greatest trick.5 It’s such an axiomatic phrase that I shouldn’t be shocked a sports radio shock jock in the Boston metropolitan area doesn’t understand it.
But he doesn’t. Whether it’s out of ignorance or pride, I do not know, but my best guess is “Yes.”
In this post, I am going to try and cut out the jokes as much as possible because the subject matter is something I do take seriously. How can one not see all the darkness in the world, the cattle-like masses who go along with it, and the call to follow the herd into the abyss because it’s so, so easy, and not be troubled?6
It did shock me. And it made me sad. Whether one is a Christian, or even religious, evil is an actual thing in the world that exists whether you personally believe in it or not. Evil believes in you. It has an interest in you.
Sure, you can’t “see” the devil with your eyes, but much like gravity which is invisible, you can see its effects. You can feel them too. There are plenty of other senses besides sight and touch which tell us things about this world. There’s also the nous, our way of knowing things beyond our one-two-three-four-five senses working overtime. If one can say that malevolent forces are just a figment of their imagination, and then just check the news or read a history book without having their mind changed, or at least their worldview challenged, then I am truly at a loss for words.
LARPing7 as a devil-worshipper is a gateway to worse things. It’s like marijuana: for some people, drug use stops at that, for others they progress to more destructive substances. The best bet is to just not start anything in the first place.
Some people come out of their over-the-top satanic phase just fine; great. Others, not so much. We do what we think, and we are what we do. If you go through the motions of worshipping the literal embodiment of all evil, some of that will rub off on you. It’s habit-forming. And eventually, the mind starts to think that there might be something to it. After all, only devil-worshippers actually pray for the devil.8
Do you wonder why we often say that people who perform acts of unspeakable cruelty seem like they’re “insane,” “not in their right mind,” or maybe even act “possessed”? Is it really just due to chemical imbalances? Then how come we say that some people are just plain bad. Why is that? What evolutionary survival mechanism would possess9 someone do abuse children, rape and mutilate women, kidnap and torture people, or eat them. What chemical imbalance can explain Jeffrey Dahmer? Is the root cause always “poverty” or “bad home life” or “no father”? Could it be something else we ignore at our own peril? Are we treating this problem in ineffective ways?
I’m not a theologian. I’m but a humble Orthodox Christian who has the Orthodox Christian’s understanding of the devil:
The “modern man,” even an Orthodox, is usually quite surprised when he learns that the baptismal liturgy begins with words addressed to the Devil. The Devil indeed has no place in his religious outlook; he belongs to the panoply of medieval superstition and to a grossly primitive mentality. Many people, including priests, suggest therefore that exorcisms simply be dropped as “irrelevant” and unbecoming to our enlightened and “modern” religion. As for the non-Orthodox, they go even further: they affirm the need to “demythologize” the New Testament itself, to “liberate” it from an antiquated worldview—of which “demonology” is precisely an essential expression—which only obscures its authentic and eternal message.
In fact, the Orthodox Church has never formulated a systematic teaching concerning the Devil, in the form of a clear and concise “doctrine.” What is of paramount importance is that the Church has always had the experience of the demonic, has always, in plain words, known the Devil. If this direct knowledge has not resulted in a neat and orderly doctrine, it is because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, rationally to define the irrational. And the demonic and, more generally, evil are precisely the reality of the irrational. Some theologians and philosophers, in an attempt to explain and thus to “rationalize” the experience and the existence of evil, explained it as an absence: the absence of good. They compared it, for example, to darkness, which is nothing but the absence of light and which is dispelled when light appears. This theory was subsequently adopted by deists and humanists of all shades and still constitutes an integral part of our modern worldview. The remedy against evil is always seen in “enlightenment” and “education.”
Such however is certainly not the understanding of evil in the Bible and in the experience of the Church. Here evil is most emphatically not a mere absence. It is precisely a presence: the presence of something dark, irrational and very real, although the origin of that presence may not be clear and immediately understandable. Thus hatred is not a simple absence of love; it is the presence of a dark power which can indeed be extremely active, clever and even creative. And it is certainly not a result of ignorance. We may know and hate. The more some men knew Christ, saw His light and His goodness, the more they hated Him. This experience of evil as irrational power, as something which truly takes possession of us and directs our acts, has always been the experience of the Church and the experience also of all who try, be it only a little, to “better” themselves, to oppose “nature” in themselves, to ascend to a more spiritual life.
Our first affirmation then is that there exists a demonic reality: evil as a dark power, as presence and not only absence. But we may go further. For just as there can be no love outside the “lover,” i.e. a person that loves, there can be no hatred outside the “hater,” i.e. a person that hates. And if the ultimate mystery of “goodness” lies in the person, the ultimate mystery of evil must also be a personal one. Behind the dark and irrational presence of evil there must be a person or persons. There must exist a personal world of those who have chosen to hate God, to hate light, to be against. Who are these persons? When, how, and why have they chosen to be against God? To these questions the Church gives no precise answers. The deeper the reality, the less it is presentable in formulas and propositions. Thus the answer is veiled in symbols and images, which tell of an initial rebellion against God within the spiritual world created by God, among angels led into that rebellion by pride. The origin of evil is viewed here not as ignorance and imperfection but, on the contrary, as knowledge and a degree of perfection which makes the temptation of pride possible. Whoever he is, the “Devil” is among the very first and the best creatures of God. He is, so to speak, perfect enough, wise enough, powerful enough, one can almost say divine enough, to know God and not to surrender to Him—to know Him and yet to opt against Him, to desire freedom from Him. But since this freedom is impossible in the love and light which always lead to God and to a free surrender to Him, it must of necessity be fulfilled in negation, hatred and rebellion.
Evil is out there, and always looking for cracks in our defenses. Evil doesn’t even have to be some grandiose, cartoonish, Hitlerian gesture—in fact, some of the worst evils are those little things we think don’t hurt anyone. Dulling our physical, mental, and spiritual faculties with vice . . . telling a few little lies here and there for personal gain . . . just a hint of infidelity does no harm . . . these are just victimless crimes . . .
The devil and his angels (demons) explore us individually, looking for our weaknesses. The enemy offers appealing visions to our eyes, music to our ears, to each of our senses setting forth whatever might tempt us to sin. He arouses our tongues to speak evil about others, and urges our hands to injure them. He sets forth profits to be earned by shady and immoral means, and holds out earthly honors and false values to be preferred to heavenly ones. When he is unable to tempt us, he brings forth a threat of persecution so that fear may cause us to betray the faith. Thus we must always be alert for his many-faceted attacks, ready to resist him at every turn." (Source: Orthodox Study Bible, p. 558)
And then there are the big things. The obvious ones that sound justified; holy, even: “Let’s kill all of those people over there because they killed someone else!” War and rumors of war. There are spiritual beings who rejoice at the spilling of human blood, and their leaders is the one we’re trying to pretend doesn’t exist.
It’s all so fundamental, but fundamentals bear repeating: evil is real, malevolent forces exist, and they recoil at the holy name of Jesus Christ. Maybe you’ve come around to the first two parts of that sentence but aren’t ready to take the leap into the last. But pay attention to who freaks out at you when you mention Jesus.
Maybe five or ten years ago, I wouldn’t have found such a blasé misunderstanding about the nature of evil so chilling. But now, with everything so blatantly demonic, it is hard not to get freaked out by such casual Satanism. And I don’t even go looking for stuff like this! I’m no sleuth; I’m a noticer.
Let’s peel the onion back a bit. Why were parents concerned about the Satanic imagery in pop culture back in the late 1970s and early 1980s? One easy explanation is that they were just crazy, which might be true, but the evidence doesn’t point to that. In fact, the evidence points to the fact that they were right; see some of my friend Brian Niemeier’s excellent writing on this topic.
Maybe these parents hadn’t had their noetic senses dulled by SSRIs, and invasive technology? And maybe they were concerned because there was harmful messaging in the pop culture of their day? I mean, a lot of heavy metal bands were and are openly satanic.10 Those parents might have been on to something, you know? And I know not all of these kids started killing priests and attending black masses, but maybe they started thinking drug use was okay? Or promiscuous sex? Worse things? All of the things that get mocked as “Biblical morality” are really just pro-social behaviors generally required for a civilization to function in any semblance of order. Anti-social counterculturists really exist only on the backs of us regular shlubs who go to work and pay taxes and keep things running. Being anti-social is one of the most cowardly and lazy things a person could do. But I digress.
If rock bands were LARPing as Nazis, would radio hosts be so quick to shrug it off as just “envelope pushing against stodgy parents” and “not even a real threat; why not pay attention to youth drug use or violent crime or whatever?”
No, we know the answer to that. I guess because you can’t physically see the devil, people aren’t as concerned. But you can’t physically see any mid-20th century Germans, can you? No. But it’s the ideas that persist, that we still have to contend with.
“So the devil is just an idea?”
No. But even if the devil was just an idea, he’s a pretty powerful one. If we’re supposed to be admonished to be constantly on the lookout for Austrian painters or Georgian meteorologists or CIA-trained goat herders under our beds or white-hooded Southerners or young men with red hats who think they’re frogs hiding under our beds, why is it so laughable to also be on guard for the prince of this world?
Satan is not human, his fall was separate and before Adam's, and so his restoration and relationship with God is not really our concern, being more than likely beyond our ken. Satan's relationship with us is more important, and in that he is our oppressor and opponent.
- Father George, St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church in South Bend, Indiana
PS The musicologist in me needs to debunk the retarded, persistent myth that “the benighted church banned the tritone from music for being too Satanic!” Never happened. Just like the Church didn’t execute Galileo Galilee. But I guarantee if you ask 100 Americans on the street, 99 will say that the Church both banned the tritone and executed Galileo, who was probably singing the tritone while they killed him.
Back to reality: The term diabolus in musica (“the devil in music”) stems not from the fact that the tritone (the flatted fifth of the tonic in any given scale; listen here) sounds “eeeeeevil!” but because the seventh chord is the only diatonic chord in a major key that does not contain a perfect fifth, giving it that tense, uneasy sound requiring resolution instead of sounding resolved on its own. It was also just tricky to resolve, so budding composers were warned to be careful with the interval.
This created a conundrum for European musicians, who were big into beauty and symmetry (imagine that!). See, in the key of C major, the chords are C major (I), D minor (II), E minor (III) F major (IV), G major (V), A minor (VI), and B diminished (VII). It’s that B diminished that caused problems . . . so many, that the flatted VII chord—which, in the key of C major would be a Bb major (comprised of the notes Bb, D, and E) was imported. B-flat, or the bVII generally, became so important in music that the Germans created a new note to represent B natural called H and just had the letter B represent Bb. And yes, J.S. Bach used this to spell his name with notes. Gotta love the Germans.
I know, I know: I’m the clown here. If anyone reading ever had any doubt about what a clown I am, here’s your proof.
This host, sadly, went through a rough patch this year where he (1) had to get surgery for some growths in his throat, which turned out not to be cancer, thank God, (2) was getting a divorce, and (3) checked himself into rehab for his alcohol addiction. I’ve often thought that his act was not an act. This host says that he has made the conscious decision to reveal details about his personal life on air and present himself as raw as possible to build a connection with his audience, which I get, but it is sad that people listen to his foibles for their entertainment. But it’s one of the top-rated shows on one of the top-rated stations in the country, so there you go.
This is one of the most Godless places in the country, which is saying something.
Or whatever you want to call him.
You can give credit to Charles Baudelaire (an actual person) or Roger “Verbal” Kind/Keyser Soze. I don’t care.
The amount of Satanism in pop music of all stripes is really something.
“LARP” = “Live Action Role-Playing.” At some point, a bunch of nerds decided instead of playing tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons (awesome), they’d decide to become their characters and act them out instead of rolling dice (lame), which is a bridge too far for even a nerd like me.
Or maybe have sympathy for him.
There’s that word again!
And no, Black Sabbath was never satanic. Singing about the devil isn’t the same as being pro-Satan. Sabbath, in fact, warned against him.