Sunday, September 20, 2020

An interview with Satan

Satan is a tricky subject, so it's best to start with definitions and some 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- additions to the Torah, including Psalms and Proverbs, with apparent origins in the 6th Century BC Babylonian Exile and earlier.  

The story of Job has baffled and terrified people for centuries:

Job is a successful man.  He is married and rich, with three sons and seven daughters.  He 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 this conundrum, in fact, that, considering that I've been able to hold conversations with deities such as Gxd, Jesus and the Buddha (not to mention Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess), I was motivated to do the same with Satan.

In past searches I relied on one deity- Betty- to help me contact others, so I figured she could help me contact a fallen angel.  I began by wandering into the desert while thinking about Betty, and 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...an interview 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 as I fell down a seemingly endless vertical tunnel while doing backward flips.

I landed with a splat in hell.  It was the hell of cartoons, with despairing souls escorted into a chamber of flames by grinning demons carrying pitchforks.  Several demons approached 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.  The demons cast me down before the throne.  Satan leaned over to regard me splayed before him.  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!  

Me: I...uh....

Satan (shouting, sputtering smoke and embers): Bow 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 '50's burger joint, across from a dynamic looking thirty-something guy in a sharp business suit.  I would have taken him for a tax lawyer. 

Satan: Sorry about the theatrics, Harry.  Betty advised me to put you at ease and the hell-show was my way of doing that.  Maybe I made it too realistic?

I said nothing, but looked down uncertainly 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 observant yet easy-going manner relaxed me a bit.

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

Satan: Excellent question!  

Me: Thank you.

Satan: As I usually do with tough questions that involve word meanings, I'll begin with etymology.  "Evil" comes from old German, "ubel," a craftsman's term referring to a piece of material that has no use in the thing you are making.  Satan, if evil, would be a being who 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 incomplete.  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 worlds by composing music.  He discovers that without dissonance, his music and the worlds 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.  Thus was produced Middle Earth, with it's dichotomy of good and evil, and thus was produced the beauty of the book.

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

Satan: No, it was not.  Tolkien's idea does not suggests that evil is beautiful; it suggests that evil is a structural component of this universe, which is to say it's a structural component of the human psyche.  From an aesthetic perspective, then, it can be argued that evil sometimes "fits."

Me: If evil fits in our universe in any sense, why is it overwhelmingly experienced as negative, painful and bad?  If it's a structural component of our psyches, shouldn't it 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, now gone.  Some appetites that evolved to fit that life, such as hunger and sexual desire, may have qualities that do not fit your lives now.  When apes find a bounty of nuts, they eat them all, ending up indolently on their backs with stomachs distended, behavior which makes sense because of shortages to come.  You, because of the surpluses that have bedeviled you 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:  Promiscuity and fantastical orgies are common 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, has not had a chance to develop 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 here, 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: You tell me.

Me: So, what happened?

Satan: I tempted Jesus with a beautiful woman.

Me: And?

Satan: There were mixed results.

Me: Did he have sex with the woman?

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 clear to Jesus that far from being a sin, masturbation is a sacrament, in that it serves God's intention to reserve parenthood for people whom He deems appropriate.  The sin would have been impregnating the woman.

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

Satan: No.  God killed Onan because he wouldn't ejaculate into his brother's widow, as God had commanded.  Fearing that his bloodline would be subsumed by his brother's, at the moment of climax Onan pulled out, "spilling his seed on the ground."  He was killed for pulling out, not for masturbating.

I pondered that, then came up with a timely question.

Me: Satan, are you and God in opposition about abortion?  That will be on people's minds since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had been holding the fort against designating abortion a sin.  

Satan:  Your secular system does not use the term "sin" in its legal language. 

Me:  No, but our laws follow the outline of religious beliefs.  If enough people think abortion is a sin, the law will follow.  Satan, is abortion a sin?  

Satan sighed, as if fatigued by my limited understanding.  

Satan: Harry, the answer is subjective and open to interpretation.  

Me: Ha!  No wonder you have your evil reputation!  There is not supposed to be anything subjective about sin.  An action is either a sin or not.  

Satan: In a similar vein, you could assert that a fertilized egg either has a soul or it doesn't.

Me: And...does it?

Satan: Everything has a soul, every atom, every quark.  If a thing is perceived and conceptualized, it has a soul.  The question becomes: Is it part of the nature of a soul to exist forever?  If it is, why do people worry so much about its day-to-day welfare?  And finally if, as your mystics preach, eternity resides in each moment, it's not clear what existing forever even means.

Me: I see...well, to return to the question: Is abortion evil?   

Satan: Didn't I just answer that?

Me: Did you?  Sorry, I must have missed it.  I'll have to ponder this when I get home.

I was starting to feel a little queasy.  If Satanism means anything, it means ambiguity, and humans have only so much tolerance for that.  Satan must have sensed my desire to exit.

Satan: Harry, what do you think now?  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: 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 tax lawyer, his shiny black Kiton Monk-Strap shoes 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, walk calmly towards the throne and say,

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 is TMI.  As usual, the devil is in the details.

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