Tuesday, February 25, 2020

My conversation with Satan

Satan is a touchy subject, so it's best to start this account with definitions and background.

The Hebrew word satan meant "adversary."  It did not connote evil.  Biblical 
Satan's earliest appearance, in this morally neutral form, comes in the Book of Job, which is found, not in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses, aka the Old Testament) but in the Ketuvim, which are additions to the Torah, including Psalms and Proverbs, with apparent origins in the 6th Century BC Babylonian Exile and earlier.  

The story has baffled and terrified people for centuries:

Job is a successful man.  He is married and rich, with three sons and seven daughters.  Job praises God and observes His laws.  God is satisfied with Job, but Satan, who has access to God, challenges God's satisfaction, pointing out that Job praises God only because of God's
 blessings; if God took away the blessings, Satan suggests, Job would not praise God any more.  To test this theory, God drives Job into poverty and kills his entire family.  Job continues to praise God, who then says, in effect, "I told you so" to the adversary.  Satan replies that if God would afflict Job physically, Job would not remain faithful.  In response, God torments Job with boils from head to toe.  When Job continues to praise God, Satan is out of arguments and Job finally wins, ending up (as a very old man) married and rich again, with another three sons and seven daughters, the latter so fair they all get rich husbands.

Most of the moral speculation regarding the story of Job centers on God's actions, not on the comments by Satan that led to the actions.

There are 26 other references to "Satan" in the Old Testament, but most of them are lower case "satans," suggesting the modern equivalent of "debate opponent" rather than a particular evil entity.

In the New Testament, Satan evolves from an indistinct critic to the prime force of evil in the world.  Most famously, Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, offering him food (Jesus was fasting) and promises of wealth and political power if Jesus will abandon God.  

Interestingly, Satan does not tempt Jesus with sexual opportunity, a puzzling omission.  It is because of that conundrum, in fact, that, considering that I've been able to hold conversations with both Jesus and Gxd, I was motivated to do the same with Satan.

One deity can help you find another (it's a loose club) so I began my search for Satan by wandering into the desert behind my cabin while thinking about Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess.  Sure enough, she was waiting for me beside her favorite creosote bush.

"Hi Harry," Betty called, "I'm way ahead of you."

"Betty, should I rethink this?  I mean...a conversation with Satan?"

"Harry, you're in the quest business.  This is a quest.  That means it's your business."

"Yeah, I guess.  Anyway, how do I go about this?  Should I draw a pentagram or something?"

"Look at your feet, Harry."

I looked down and I was wearing ruby slippers!  Betty instructed me to click the heels together and repeat- you guessed it- There's no place like home.

As I repeated the mantra and clicked my heels, I became dizzy and the surroundings blurred.  I murmured, "Betty, what the hell...."

"The mantra is changeable, Harry," Betty called back, "I chose this one to put you at ease..."

"What the helllllll...." I continued, falling down an endless hole while doing backwards summersaults.

I landed with a splat in hell.  It was the hell of cartoons, with dejected people escorted into a chamber of flames by laughing demons carrying pitchforks.  Several demons approached, picked me up and led me into the chamber.  The crowd of tormented people opened, revealing a giant throne maybe 30 feet high, with a fiend of similar dimensions seated upon it.  When he spoke, flames and smoke issued between his pointed teeth:

Satan: Harry the Human, you miserable worm!  Your mindless curiosity has brought you at last to my world!  Kneel before me and worship my evil!

Me: What the...hell?

And then it was all gone, like a struck movie set, and I was seated in a booth in what looked like a burger joint, across from a well groomed young man of about 30.  He wore a plaid, short sleeve shirt, with a ballpoint pen in the front pocket.

Satan: Sorry, Harry, Betty advised me to put you at ease and the show was my way of doing that.  

I said nothing, but, as my left eyelid started to twitch, I looked down from Satan's smiling face at a coffee stain on the menu lying before me on the linoleum table.  The special was veal cutlets.

Satan: Harry, I give you permission to ask me whatever you want.  After you hear my answers, you can decide what you think I am.

Satan's new persona with its easy going manner relaxed me a bit.

Me: Ok, thank you.  Well, first of all... are you evil?

Satan: Excellent question!  

Me: Thanks.

Satan: As I usually do with tough questions that involve word meanings, I'll begin with etymology.

Me: That's what I do!

Satan: Yes, I've seen you go to the dictionary many times, whenever you feel like you don't know what you're talking about, which is often.

Me: Uhm, yes...I like word origins.

Satan: That's a satanic trait!

Me: Ha!  I mean...really?

Satan: By definition anyway.  More to the point, "evil" comes from the old German, "ubel," a craftsman's term referring to a piece of material that has no place in the thing you are making.  Satan, if evil, would be a being that does not belong in your world.  From this point of view, Satan might possibly belong in a different world.

Me: Hm, and yet you are in this world.

Satan: Yes, the metaphor of "ubel" is not complete.  A better metaphor is offered by J.R.R. Tolkien (who imagined your friend Gandalf), in his epic 
The Silmarillion, which is the creation myth of Middle Earth and the background to Lord of the Rings.  The creator of this world is Illuvatar, who forms it by composing music.  He discovers that without dissonance, his music and the world it produces have no meaning or beauty.  One of Illuvatar's minions, Melkor, writes his own music, which is not compatible with Illuvatar's.  Realizing a solution to his boring world, Illuvatar permits Melkor to insert his music into the primal composition, even though it produces dissonance, because the dissonance adds meaning and beauty lacking in the original.

Me:  I think I follow this, but much evil is not beautiful, just dissonant.  The Holocaust was not beautiful.

Satan: No, not at all.  I mention Tolkien's idea not because it suggests that evil is beautiful, but because it suggests that evil exists as a structural component of this universe, which is to say it's a structural component of the human psyche.

Me: Then why do we see evil as negative, as painful and bad.  If it's a structural component of our psyches, it should be, as we say, "natural."

Satan: The answer is in the human psyche itself, which is compressed into a tight little ball.  Your impulses derive from a former life.  Since that life is gone, your evolved appetites, such as hunger and sexual desire, become problems.  When apes find a bounty of nuts, for example, they eat them all until they end up indolently on their backs with stomachs distended, behavior which makes sense because of shortages to come.  You, because of the surpluses that have challenged your social order since the advent of agriculture, must control your impulse to save nuts for the future (at least in your stomach).  If you do not control the hunger impulse, you face serious health issues.  Hunger beyond immediate need, then, becomes evil, as it does not fit well into your world.

Me: How about sex?  And I have a follow-up question.

Satan:  Frequent promiscuity and fantastical orgies have been observed in your closest cousins, chimpanzees.  Since baby chimps are raised communally by females, in ways developed over millions of years, the blurring of paternity is not harmful to the young.  Human society, however, was not developed over millions of years, but is a jerry-rigged contraption that changes constantly.  In such an unstable environment, you need identifiable fathers to be responsible for specific offspring.  The male sex drive, in as much as it does not lead to paternal caring, does not belong, and is thus evil.  Harry, what is your follow-up question?

Me: Satan, I'm sorry if I'm overstepping bounds, but, well, I know that when you tempted Jesus in the wilderness, you tempted him with wealth and political power.  But you did not tempt him with sex.

Satan: Who told you that?

Me: That's what the Bible says.

Satan: I did tempt Jesus with sex.  The ancient scribes left that part out.

Me: Why would they leave that out?  

Satan: I tempted Jesus with a beautiful girl.

Me: And?

Satan: There were mixed results.

Me: Did he have sex with the girl?

Satan: No, but he masturbated afterwards and thought about her.

Me: What came of that, no pun intended?

Satan: God did not care.  He made it clear to Jesus that far from being a sin, masturbation is a sacrament, in that it serves God's intention to reserve parenthood to people whom He deems appropriate.

Me: What about the story of Onan, in Genesis?  Didn't God kill Onan for masturbating?

Satan: No.  God "struck down" Onan because he wouldn't ejaculate into his late brother's widow, as God wished him to do, pulling out instead.  He was killed for pulling out, not for masturbating.

Me: Wow, talk about a revelation.

Satan: God loves masturbation.

Me: Oh, man!  I'm in the shit now!  You know, I blog about my experiences.  Imagine the reaction I'm going to get from your talking points!

Satan: Don't blame the messenger!

Me: Ha ha...I mean....

Satan: What do think now, Harry?  About me, about evil?

Me: Well, I think it's a cop-out for people to be constantly harping about you, blaming you for their impulses, when those impulses don't originate in you.  They originate in ourselves.  You represent the part of us that wants to do the repressed things.  If we blame you we don't have to blame ourselves.

Satan (shrieking and physically inflating): Nice try, Harry!

The burger joint burst into flames and I was prostrate again before the giant throne, with gigantic Satan again snorting and steaming down at me. 

Satan: How you like me now?

And then- you guessed it (or not)- the monster was gone but, seated on the throne and dwarfed by its size, with his legs dangling over the edge, was the clean cut guy from the diner, the Sansabelt on his beige slacks now visible.

Satan: Sorry Harry, I guess I've got my own repressed impulses.  

Me: That's ok.  

I developed at that point an urge to get the hell out of there ASAP.  True to her nature, Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess chose that moment to enter the chamber and walk calmly towards the throne.

Betty: Hi Satan, how's tricks?  

Satan: Can't complain.  

Betty: Harry, are you ready to return to your world?

Me: Pretty much.

And in half a moment I was back in my desert shack with a lot to think about.  
I must apologize if this account tells more than you wanted to know.  As usual, the devil is in the details.

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