The Myth of Satan and What Constitutes a Lie

part of: Definitions

by Teresa Dunyati-Long

The Myth of Satan and What Constitutes a Lie

As we approach the end of this millennium some basic ideas need to be called into question. One idea we can question is Satan. Another idea we can question is what constitutes a lie. Since Satan is considered the Father and Master of lies by one of the major religious groups on the planet today – Christianity—and since they control enormous economic, political, and social resources, thereby extruding their interpretations of reality into the general public at large in a number of ways, it is perhaps helpful to question these two ideas together.

First, let me define what I mean by “Satan.” Satan is a major deity in the Christian pantheon. Christianity is supposedly a monotheistic religion, however, close examination reveals that Catholic Christianity posits four major deities: The Father (regarded as the Creator), The Son (Jesus Christ), the Holy Ghost, and Satan. The Father, Son & Holy Ghost are regarded as separate and yet One (the Holy Trinity). Satan stands outside this Trinity and is their great Adversary. They also posit a whole plethora of minor deities they call “saints” (one might regard these in the same light as the Buddhists do bodhisattvas). Technically speaking (according to Papal dictates) Catholics are not supposed to deify their saints. I was raised Catholic, and in practice, that’s what it certainly felt like.

Protestant Christianity (and its numerous variants) posits three major deities: the Father (the Creator), Jesus Christ (his only begotten son), and Satan. They also put much stock in their earthly representatives, the preachers, whose advice concerning spiritual, political, social, private and economic matters is generally accepted without question. For Protestants, Satan stands as the Great Adversary of Jesus and his Heavenly Father and is the enemy and corrupter of all that is right and good. So, Catholicism and the Protestants have this in common.

So, to reiterate for the sake of clarity: Satan is the Great Adversary of Christianity’s creator God and his only child, Jesus Christ. Jesus and the Creator (the Heavenly Father) represent all that is good and right in the world. Satan represents all that is evil and corrupt in the world. Jesus and the Father represent Truth. Satan represents Lies. In both branches of Christianity, Satan is at eternal war with God the Father for the souls of humanity. Satan is portrayed as a very worthy adversary—one who the Creator cannot control, and one who can, by virtue of his constant meddling in the affairs of men, undo the Creator’s best intentions for his “children.” Humans are portrayed as virtually helpless pawns in this war. They must maintain eternal vigilance against the wiles of Satan, lest he lure them away from good. The way to avoid Satan’s traps is to turn one’s own will over to God the Father. How is this to be accomplished?

According to the catechisms I received in a number of classrooms from various denominations of Christian, Jesus Christ came to earth and laid down the law. This involved a firm set of rules about what to think, say and do in everyday life. His followers wrote down these rules, these Words of God in the New Testament of the Judeo-Christian Bible. In the view of many, if you follow these words and the rules they set out to the letter, you have been good and are promised the reward of eternal bliss in Heaven. If you don’t, or if you question these words and rules (or their interpretation by any priest or preacher) in any way, you have been seduced by Satan and are promised the punishment of eternal damnation in Hell (as well as ostracism by your fellows on earth—which could mean anything from losing your place on the church committee, to losing your spouse, your friends, your job, your life, etc.). So, for Christians, the problem of Truth and Lie is simple. Anything written in the Bible is True. Anything not contained therein and not agreeing with what is said therein is a Lie. If it is a Lie, it is the result of the workings of Satan, and those producing the Lie are therefore in the thrall of Satan, and are, thereby, Satan worshippers and can be dealt with accordingly. How neat. How clean. For Catholic Christians, things are a bit more complicated. The Holy Father in Rome is considered to be the earthly incarnation of St. Peter, endowed by Christ with the ability to make Holy Laws operative both in Heaven and on Earth. Therefore, anything the Pope says is absolutely True and absolutely infallible; the Popes have had quite a lot to say. No problem though! To cure any confusion a Catholic might have as to Truth or Lie, they need only ask their local Priest who is paid to keep up on the latest version of Catholic Truth. He’ll let his “flock” know what to think, say and do under any circumstances. Still, if push comes to shove, and you find you simply MUST disagree with your Priest (and therefore not only the Pope, but God the Father himself), you are guilty of apostasy and being under the influence of (you guessed it) Satan—the Great Deceiver, Father and Progenitor of Lies.

In this system of thought, human individuals are not conceived of as being capable of forming a viable opinion themselves based on the use of simple observation and reasoning. They are either in agreement with Christianity’s depiction of reality (and are therefore on God’s side) or they disagree with Christianity’s depiction of reality (and are therefore on Satan’s side). The idea that an individual might not be on either “side” has apparently never occurred to most Christians. The idea that there are no sides and that reality is subject to various interpretations, all equally valid depending on your perspective, has NEVER occurred to Christians (or if it has, this notion has been consigned to “Satan’s side” and been promptly discarded).

Now, the interesting thing is that Christians accuse anyone who disagrees with them of being in league with Satan, whether the accused actually believes in Satan or not. This has had terrible consequences in the past. One only need examine the atrocities of the Inquisition (both Catholic and Protestant) in Europe to see that.

The question of how you can be in league with someone or something you don’t believe in has come up again and again throughout religious history, probably by every person ever arrested, imprisoned, and examined by a religious tribunal. A cursory review of the extensive literature on the Inquisition reveals that, initially, many people brought before such tribunals did not believe in Satan and said so. At every turn, this dismissal of Satan was taken as clear evidence that the individual was in fact, completely under Satan’s sway. The usual torture and confessions to heinous acts at Satan’s behest followed.

The fact is Satan was imagined forth by Christians. He exists nowhere else but in their cosmogony and theology. It is only Christians who find Satan everywhere, only Christians who spend many hours discussing his activities and imagining his many wiles and how they work in the world. They summon his name at every turn. They cite him as a causal force in their world a hundred times daily, easily as often as they cite or summon their Heavenly Father or their One True Lord, Jesus Christ. They proclaim that not only is he in direct contest with their all powerful father god, but that he mostly does better in the world than this Father does. All you need do to observe the great energy they put into proclaiming Satan’s hegemony in the world is to watch their various evangelical programs on TV. It is Christians, they and none other, who actually worship Satan.

How dare I say that?

Without him their whole cosmogony falls apart. The whole raison d’etre of their religion, taking the world back from the Evil One, is rendered meaningless, if Satan doesn’t exist, and in a form powerful enough to contest successfully with the Creator. The rest of us don’t even acknowledge that Satan exists. He only comes into our awareness when one of our Christian cousins insists we must be worshipping him because we’ve said something with which they disagree. Then we must stare at them perplexedly and wonder why they imagine we worship one of their strange gods.

Our Christian cousins have convinced themselves they have a lock on Truth and Lies. Perhaps they are content with their definitions. Are the rest of us?

If I wish to believe the world began 4 billion years ago, that the Universe operates by impersonal principles and powers currently beyond humanity’s imagining or computation, I will. If I want to believe in Krishna, the Goddess, the Force, Evolution, or nothing at all, I will. It is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights of the USA. This is a fact many Christians (who proclaim themselves staunch patriots) ignore. The Bill of Rights doesn’t say freedom of Christian sect, it says “Freedom of Religion.” And that means freedom from persecution in any form by those who label everyone who disagrees with them liars, and more than that, in consensual league with Ultimate Evil (as Christians choose to depict the mythical being, Satan).

So we come to the question of what does constitute a Lie. In very simple terms if you tell someone something you know to be untrue (for instance, “I like you” when I know that I actually despise you), that can be labeled “a lie.” When I state something that cannot be proved by empirical evidence (like God exists at all, or in one particular form or another), or something for which interpretation of empirical evidence produces many different conclusions (like various “proofs” for the existence of God in one form or another), then what is being said cannot be called “Truth” or “Lie.” It becomes merely “belief” or “opinion.”

“Truth” and “Lie” are words pointing to our desire for certitude in a world which is anything but certain. How do we know what we are doing is right (will lead to the common good) or wrong (will do more harm than good)? This is an age-old question and a good one. It proves we are not only thinking, but thinking beyond ourselves. It proves a high and honorable state of being has been attained even in the midst of a complex and perplexing world where what seems constructive under some circumstances proves destructive under others; a world where everything is dependent on context and that context changes constantly.

So, Christianity has set up a paradigm for judging unequivocally what is true or false in this confusing world. Certainly we need to be able to do that, but only under present circumstances, not for all time.

Just as physical laws operate differently at the planetary, subatomic, atomic, and interplanetary ranges, so “laws” governing the judgment of truth or falsehood operate differently at different ranges.

In the personal/physical sphere, certitude can be fixed by examining the interaction of bodies in space and time. Zie says zie was at point A at 3:00AM, but it can be proved zie was actually at point B at that moment.

In the metaphysical/spiritual sphere, where the interaction of invisible forces cannot be observed and documented, where all observations and measurements are subject entirely to interpretation, certitude CANNOT be fixed, and must be replaced by belief/opinion/interpretation/probabilities. This includes encounters with “God.”

Many individuals throughout time and space have reported having contact (via dreams, near death experiences, visions, etc.) with a Deity. Many have felt they received directives, etc. from that Deity. I myself have had such an experience. Yet, the experience is individual and subject to various interpretations based on point of view. So, there is no question of “lying” about the “nature” of “God.” “God” is a construct developed differently by different peoples at different times in the span of our human race. To say that anyone who differs from you in their definition of this problematic construct is automatically lying, is a simplistic reduction of a whole complex of opinions and beliefs, and calls YOUR beliefs into question, rather than those of the person you have accused of “lying.”

It is important to ask here how this concept of “Lies” as promulgated by Christians has been used to control and direct society. Examine the great wealth of the Catholic and Protestant churches and you will need look no further. If someone can be labeled a “Liar” in this realm, then whatever social sanctions necessary to contain this “evil” can be taken. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, this led to the shocking crimes perpetrated by the Inquisition on the citizens of Europe. The Vatican is built on the property of those accused by the Inquisitors. (Naturally, if you were accused, all your property reverted to the Church.) Look at the millions of dollars raised by Televangelists in the USA alone. What do they mostly preach about? The activities of Satan and the money needed to bolster the Christian army in perpetual combat with his treachery.

So, where is the Truth here, and the Lies? Who wields them, who do they serve? As we move beyond the age of credulity when we doubted our own powers of observation and reasoning, to an age when we can deal with uncertainty, to an age when we can learn to roll with the punches, learn how to learn gracefully from our mistakes, we can let go of simplistic renderings of Truth and Lie. We can stop allowing others to define anything for us. We can say, the Universe exists. We exist within it. We are capable of great good. We are capable of great evil. Good comes from acknowledging the presence and worth of all involved. Evil comes from denying the presence and worth of all involved. Though we know we will do both, we will learn from both and continue to grow in wisdom and understanding. We can agree to live in communities of souls who don’t mind if others believe differently, so long as all of us contribute to the continued growth of humanity and our planet in general, where Truth and Lies are no longer defined by dogma, but by absolutely observable phenomena…otherwise, we can accept that we have segued into the realm of myth, belief, opinion, probability and interpretation. There all of us need tread cautiously and respectfully, for the final conclusion in that range of space and time is always open.