Robert Minor, professor emeritus, Kansas University religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave.:
Personifying evil as a sly but effective tempter, seducer, deceiver and source of death has been a part of numerous religions. And the religious thinkers of those traditions have often debated whether Satan or the equivalent is a person or personification.
In a 2009 Barna Group survey, belief in a personal Satan among self-identified Christians began to wane; 25 percent said he “is not a living being but a symbol of evil,” while 26 percent disagreed strongly with that statement and 9 percent somewhat.
Yet nowhere historically has Satan had more popularity than in the United States. Not only is there greater belief in, even obsession with, Satan in the United States than the rest of the Christianized world, but Satan has also been interwoven into our popular culture.
It took 4,000 years for the Satan of the American religious imagination to develop from the minor character in God’s heavenly court in the Hebrew Scriptures to the supreme antagonist of Christian belief. Tens of millions of Americans today believe they are in daily combat with Satan and his influence.
Since colonial times, American Christians have fought Satan, who became far more powerful than his medieval European version. There, he was sometimes portrayed as a jester or fool. Dante imagined him imprisoned forever in the lowest depths of the inferno, flapping his wings and babbling like an angry infant.
American evangelists and preachers identified him as an omnipresent threat, corrupting Christianity at every turn by promoting something other than what they deemed orthodoxy, seducing government, business and other religious leaders, hindering religious revival, leading an army of demonic minions, possessing humans, causing natural disasters and inspiring our nation’s enemies. And especially American is the teaching that a personal Satan is working overtime to bring the end of the world, even incarnating in the “Antichrist.”
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The Rev. Monsignor Vincent Krische, senior associate, Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway:
It is interesting today that while the Catholic Church does not have much to say about Satan and demonic forces, popular culture seems fascinated with the occult, possessions and exorcisms. In the Old Testament Satan appears in the Book of Job and the Prophet Zechariah and in the New Testament he is a personal being who tempts Jesus in the desert and enters into the heart of Judas Iscariot.
The latest teachings of the Church clarified through Vatican Council II do make references to “personified evil.” This evil does urge us to “abuse our freedom” but the power of evil “was broken by the risen Christ.” The Catholic Church has always taught that our growth in spirituality through the Word of God and the Sacraments enables us to overthrow the power of the devil. We teach that all people are intrinsically good and that all of God’s creation is good but that Satan chose evil, using his freedom against God and encouraging human beings to do the same, to separate from God.
The Church teaches that we are free through the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus, but that we must use our freedom responsibly. We are free to choose sin but we must also accept the consequences of our sin, which are never good. While “sin, division, destructiveness and death are part of our lives, they have their source in the ‘father of lies,’ Satan.”
In His resurrection, the Lord conquered the ultimate evil, death, and has handed on the victory to us. Through God’s word and the living of the Sacraments, we have strength from the risen Lord to live a life of love. Through all of us living in sacrificial love, evil will ultimately be vanquished and complete unity with God will be realized.
(Quotes from “The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality” and “The Encyclopedia of Catholicism”)
— Send email to Vincent Krische at firstname.lastname@example.org.