We will recall that Lakota teacher Buck Ghosthorse alerted us to how “fear is the door in the heart that lets evil spirits in.” Are there evil spirits? Surely. This is one reason Evil is greater than Sin. Sin is the door that lets evil spirits in.
I am more at home with naming evil spirits as Racism and Sexism, Militarism and Exploitive Capitalism, Hatred and Greed, etc. than as Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, etc. Why? Because names like Satan have often been distorted and rendered objects for fear and damnation by preachers who have failed to first talk of Original Blessing and the goodness of creation. A literalism about Satan or the devil kills the deeper meaning of that archetype for Evil.
Nevertheless, it is valuable to ask, Who, What, is Satan as the Bible really portrays him? The role of Satan in the Hebrew Bible is that of adversary. Satan is not the name of a particular personage. Its meaning in Hebrew is, “one who opposes, obstructs, or acts as an adversary.”
Satan is rarely present in the Hebrew Bible, but is alive and well in the first century, both among the Essenes, who were an ascetic Jewish community of about 4,000 men living in the desert, and among the followers of Jesus. Each of these movements see Satan or Beelzebub or Belial or Mastema (“hatred”) as very important.
In the Gospels, Jesus is seen wrestling between God’s spirit and the demons, between God’s kingdom and Satan’s. According to Elaine Pagels, in her fine study on The Origin of Satan, the key issue raised by the image of Satan in both Mark’s Gospel and Matthew’s Gospel is “above all, the issue of human violence.”
Thus we see how relevant “Satan” is in the many issues of violence that humans are engaged in today. Violence toward Mother Earth (Ecocide, Matricide and Climate Change) and Violence toward one another (War, Racism, Sexism, Misogyny, unjust economics, etc.).
Pagels elaborates: The gospel writers want to locate and identify the specific ways in which the forces of evil act through certain people to effect violent destruction, above all, in Matthew’s words, the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah (23.35)—violence epitomized in the execution of Jesus, which Matthew sees as the culmination of all evils.
To be continued
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 363f.
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: “Unruly Smasher of Democracy” Photo by Revise_D on Flickr
Queries for Contemplation
Do you agree that the word “Satan” can distract us from the powerful evil spirits better named as Racism, Sexism, Matricide, Ecocide, etc? And that the real meaning behind “Satan” as an archetype is “the issue of human violence”?