Satan

Desperately Seeking Satan

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois is on a quest. That’s OK. Most Christians are. The difference is that, while most are seeking the kingdom of God, Paprocki is seeking the devil. Same-sex marriage has come to Illinois and on November 20, 2013 he held a Mass of exorcism in reparation for the state’s new marriage equality law.

He appears to draw his inspiration not from Jesus, but from the French poet Charles Baudelaire who once wrote: “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.” That’s clever and lends itself to the drama of Hollywood screenplays. But does it convince?

There is no question that evil exists and that it is the opposite of good. The problem seems to originate with the personification of evil as “Satan” or the devil. That is simply simplistic. The result of creation myths attempting to explain the existence of evil. However, casting evil as a person, while not fully exonerating us, lessens our culpability for making poor decisions. It also tends to remove the nuance of many of those decisions. Not everything is right or wrong.

Nor is opposing evil the same as pursuing good. It is a question of focus. If one over-emphasizes evil, good is diminished. Paprocki’s crusade against same-sex marriage is on point. In Christianity, as in most religious traditions, love is a good to be sought. As I have commented in the past, the most profound statement about God occurs in the First Letter of John when he writes: “God is love.”

In fact, the second time he writes those words, in chapter 4:16, he states: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Because Paprocki is opposed to homosexuality, his screed against same sex-marriage actually diminishes love and in the process diminishes God.

Reducing love to sexuality and/or sexual orientation makes it elusive, as even many heterosexual couples have discovered. Love is greater than sex. But when sex is an expression of love the presence of God is unveiled. And revealing the presence of God should not be shunned. After all, it cannot help but make the world better.

The Good News of Jesus Christ, the coming of the kingdom of God, cannot be about condemnation. Jesus, himself, cautions Paprocki—and the rest of us—“do not condemn and you will not be condemned.” Jesus could not be any clearer than his statement: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

There is value in looking to poets for inspiration. Paprocki turns to Baudelaire. I am tempted to invoke Shakespeare. Perhaps Paprocki protests too much? History is also a good teacher. From that perspective the bishop from Illinois reminds me of the 1950’s senator from Wisconsin. Joseph McCarthy was looking for Communists under the mattresses of every American. How poetically comical that Paprocki is also looking in people’s bedrooms. This time, however, it is to find the devil under the sheets.
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Obama and Satan

It seems that every time a ray of hope dares to break the distant horizon, storm clouds sweep along and darken the landscape. Case in point: Just as every thoughtful person began to believe that not one more wasteful word of nonsense would escape the lips and empty mind of Glenn Beck, along comes the History Channel.

The History Channel? That bulwark of cable networks that proffers programs ranging from ancient civilizations to modern scientific advances? The network that investigates mysteries from Stonehenge to the Great Pyramid? That treks along the Great Wall of China and ascends the mountains of Machu Pichu? The very same. The History Channel.

A casual reader might think that I have abandoned myself to hyperbole. But no. The History Channel has broadcast a program entitled “The Bible”. Sounds innocuous enough. Except that Glenn Beck, among other ignoramuses, claims that the Moroccan actor who plays the role of the devil, Mohamen Mehdi Ouazzani, looks like President Barack Obama.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the fact that both the History Channel, as well as the program’s producer, calls the claim absurd. There is no resemblance, intended or otherwise. Still, there is a problem. And it does begin with the History Channel.

A program entitled “The Bible” can be elegantly produced, well cast and exceptionally directed. But it has no place on the History Channel. Even if only by implication, one is led to believe that the Bible is history. At the risk of alienating ill-informed and uneducated believers, the Bible is
not history. It is a book of faith, filled with truth and many inspiring stories. But it is not history.

A second problem occurs with the program’s script. As good as it may be, in terms of filmmaking, it neglects the reality that the devil—even within the Bible itself—is mere mythology. This may be difficult to grasp. Evil is very real and its effects are experienced daily by millions of people. Take violence, for example. We are a world of, and at, war. But the concept of a Satan is merely an oratorical tool to explain the existence of evil.

Thirdly, it is unfortunate that a dark-skinned actor, particularly one from North Africa, would agree to play the role of the mythical Satan. That decision perpetuates the stereotypes of good and evil as white and black. Further, it fuels a regrettably ignorant prejudice against Muslims, and Africans in general.

Having said all this, I realize that intelligent people will give no weight to Glenn Beck’s ramblings. I even have to admit an embarrassment at giving him more attention than he deserves. Beck refuses even to acknowledge President Obama by name, choosing instead “that guy”. And certainly, there is no way that my reflections can seep inside his ever-shrinking brain. He has already made a commitment to serve up stupidity on a regular basis. He cannot be taken seriously.

My concern is with those people who simply do not know better, and whose ignorance may not be their own fault. To them I say, read the Bible, watch the movie. Just remember. It is not history.
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