Evil Spirits by Whatever Other Name

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. 

War Crime: Mariupol Drama Theater, bombed by Russian forces on 3/16/2022, despite “Children” painted in front and behind the building. Roughly 1000 civilians, mostly women, children, and elders, were trapped in the burning rubble; 600 died. Photo by Maxar Technologies (CNN). Wikimedia Commons.

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.”  

“The Temptation of Christ” by Ary Scheffer, 1854. Public Domain image on Wikimedia Commons.

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”?

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19 thoughts on “Evil Spirits by Whatever Other Name”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you ask us in our 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?” Yes, especially when people hold a literalistic view of Satan–as is often the case in fundamentalist Churches and groups. They seem unable to see any connection between the image of what is named: Satan or the Devil or Beelzebub or Belial or Mastema, and the “demons” of: War, Racism, Sexism, Misogyny, Hatred and unjust economics. But the truth of the matter is that, all of these are expressions of human violence.
    According to Elaine Pagels, the key issue raised by the image of Satan in both Mark’s and Matthew’s Gospel is “above all, the issue of human violence.” She points out that the gospel writers want to show the forces of evil that act through certain people to affect violent destruction, as 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) and which had its culmination in the evil of all evils: the execution of Jesus. Social Activists are the new “Social Exorcists” of the demonic forces of our time !!!

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    Jeanette Metler

    Often, the word Satan is also used in our society and culture… as a tactic for scapegoating… a way of blaming and justifying oneself from having to stand accountable and responsible for one’s choice and acts of sin and evil… expressed in many violent expressive forms of manifestation. The old adage… ” the devil made me do it”, is reworded in today’s judicial institutions, as pleas of mental incompetencey. This distraction attempts to veil the root causes…. shattering it into fragmented distorted pieces… so that the bigger picture and deeper truth remains hidden in illusion and delusion.

    The bigger picture and the deeper truth is that all of humanity… being interconnected and interrelated… are all responsible and accountable… contributing its part in manifesting both the darkness of sin and evil… and the light of goodness and the beauty of this… within this world. The prophets and social activists, both in the past and presnt have always given voice to this bigger picture and deeper truth of reality. Indeed, as Mathew has spoken of… we are all experiencing what has been called the “Collective Dark Night of the Soul.” The mystics however, can help guide us through this painful and transformational process of learning to take full responsibility, and accountability for the many ways we all have misused and misdirected forces of our creative abilities… as Richard stated, “exocising the demonic forces” from within each one of ourselves… as we are all apart of the collective, co-creating together the reality of the world in which we are experiencing the manifestation of.

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    There is another perspective on the interplay of darkness and light, good and evil, God and Satan, and the paradox of all polarities and contraries in the space-time field, including those that trouble human souls. It is implied by Quantum Theology, which recognizes divinity as both personhood and a vast continuum of electromagnetic (light) energy that includes various gradations of darkness (evil) on the far end of its scale. There, on its descending end, it becomes dense, materialized, sense-bound, and further removed from its Source in the divine. As all things are one and undivided, and all multiplicity in creation stems from this unbroken unity, this view posits that spirituality is the physics we haven’t yet discovered. Scripture declares that divinity is All power and the ONLY power inclusively. So that by definition, it’s opposite polarity (it’s apparent adversary), however paradoxical, must be included in any continuum or hierarchy of power. That is, God and Satan, darkness and light, good and evil are of the SAME energy continuum given different names, identified as persons, and represent different poles, (+) or (-), Christ and Satan, as if they were finite localized beings. In reality, they are of the same continuum of light/darkness universally, polar currents residing in creation at all scales everywhere, quark to quasar, including in human souls. Consider the following Scripture, “. . . there is none beside me. I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isa. 45:6,7). In this holistic view, at any given time one’s center of gravity (consciousness) can be located somewhere along this sliding continuum of light/darkness, preferably on the higher frequency end. But without vigilance and practice, it can dim or darken (fall) by degrees at any moment as on a dimmer switch, inhabiting a lower (opposite, adversarial) order of that same continuum. Lanore Brock, in ‘Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi,’ a modern day mythology on good/evil utters, “The Force is neither light or dark, master or slave, but a balance between extremes.” Christ is the magnetic stillpoint between the polarities, the Source and reconciler of them both, their Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. Thought for food. (Thanks again for the use of this space, and for tolerating my wordiness)

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      Damian Maureira

      I am in agreement Joe with your thoughts about good and evil, universally and in our souls, found in Quantum Theology. These variations or continuum of spiritual energies between light and darkness have been ongoing in our human history to the present time. I don’t know much specifically about Quantum Theology (do you recommend a particular book?), but I’m sure it includes the evolution of our human souls, including consciousness, towards Cosmic Christ Consciousness~Loving Diverse Oneness and a Personal Loving Source~Creator Eternally Present in All ongoing Evolutionary co-Creation, including our spiritual multidimensions and multiverse Cosmos…. With these theological and scientific thoughts, I don’t want to, and I’m sure you don’t either, minimize the Sacred and compassionate value of our unique human~Divine eternal souls, especially in this challenging earthly part of our spiritual journeys with one another… Divine Love~Compassion is the highest energy in the Cosmos….

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        I do recommend a book, Damian, one that includes quantum theology in the context of integrating science, Scripture, and theology in a single paradigm. It presents all 3 as a unified field of forces joined by a single element (constant) common to both — light. It explains, in a way that harmonizes with modern science, how we are light beings (homo elector), and how inner worlds (spirit-soul) and outer worlds (science) are the same world governed by the same dynamics. Title: “The Ambient Christ, The Inside Story of God in Science, Scripture and Spirituality,”available on Amazon.

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Joe, Thank you for your comment. I do however have an idea that a scientist friend has been discussing with me over the question as whether there is holism or duality in the universe–and in mentioning duality that would include the duality of good and evil. My friend tells me he is convinced that the universe is sustained by a duality which has on one side evolution (both cosmic and biological) and on the other side and entropy. One is the force of life and creation, the other is the force of death and destruction. As all things evolve, so do all things fall victim to entropy. Both you and I , and all that we have and even our whole world are subject to entropy–the opposite of evolution. And so in this view their is both good and evil, but NOT in a continuum.

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        Thanks, Richard. I see evolution as encompassing both movements, entropy and progress, two aspects of the paschal mystery (death-resurrection choreography) seen in the passing seasons, nature, and all growth and development, be it psychological or spiritual. It’s a non- linear trajectory, like darkness and light, or any polarity in relationship, each movement is the sleeping but active partner of the other, 3 steps forward and one back, 4 steps forward and 2 back, etc., with a net gain over time. In an advance and transcend model, the previous stage may be darkness (a step back or regression) for one person, yet be an advance or progression for the less evolved (enlightened) person, depending on where each one is on the ladder/trajectory/continuum of development at any given time. As I see it, it’s not a duality, it only appears as such to the mind that can only think in binary (dualistic) terms, unable to hold the tension of two apparent contraries together, where in reality they co-exist as one in a fluid, ebb and flow motion, like the tides. Take the incarnation, for example, God is in creation and creation is in God, each seamlessly co-present to the other in a non-dual way. Only mystical or unitive consciousness can perceive that way. This perspective reconciles the tension of both, which is the Christ-mind, or Christ-consciousness. Jesus called it the ‘narrow way’ that few find, otherwise known as “liminal space,” a place in being and awareness that occupies a position at BOTH sides of a boundary, material and spiritual, good and evil, darkness and light, etc. “Both and” is the language of incarnational reality and integration. It’s the “secret place of the Most High” cited in Ps. 91:1. By contrast “either or” thinking, while apropos in some instances, is the hallmark of separation consciousness (dualistic thinking), a property of discursive thought and the carnal mind. Seems I’d much enjoy a conversation with your friend. Though I’d recommend the same book to him as I did Damian above.

        1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
          Richard Reich-Kuykendall

          Joe, I think one of the problems today in science and religion is that, in especially the realm of quantum physics, theologians try to make applications that don’t really apply. I have read many physicists who mock theologians who try to make applications to everyday life and spirituality that they feel do not really apply. Just take one overworked example. I have heard many clergy today, of many denominations try to use the “double slit” experiment, which shows the apparent paradox of how light is both wave and particle to explain everything from the paradox of the trinity to other paradoxes in theology. And on duality… Whereas Oneness is the ultimate truth, it is NOT truth in our world. Just try stepping off of a cliff–we have up and down, in and out, hot and cold, fast and slow, male and female, good and evil. All of these things are true in our world. They are not an illusion lost in Oneness. Even real physicists realize that quantum physics and Newtonian physics don’t work in the same realms–they have different laws that run them. So we have to respect how the laws of one realm are different than in other realms…

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            Duality and multiplicity do exist in the field of space-time, but have their roots in the unified field of oneness. All things come from this oneness (the singularity of light as Source) and return there, as in a circuit. The electricity that runs (animates) the multiple appliances in your dwelling is one. Only the form(s) they innervate are varied and multiple. The energy they run on is IN the house, Richard, but not OF it. Likewise, the field of space-time (the multiple or dual) and the eternal (the One) are seamlessly co-present to one another. The latter is hidden from view. Tier one thinking cannot grasp or see that, only second tier (mystical) perception can. Thus your insistence on the former.

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    David Southworth

    I would think that the work of Rene Girard would be if more value to this discussion than Pagels limited exploration into violence and its archetypes. I commend to your readers
    “Violence and the Sacred,” “Things hidden Since the Foundation of the World,” and “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.”

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      David, Thank you for your comment. However, my own feelings are that, although I would never suggest that Pere Girard didn’t have anything “good” to say about evil, he spoke as a historian and a “polymath,” but not as a theologian or biblical scholar. I have read Pagel’s book on Satan and have heard her lecture as well, and I feel that she has the most clear view from a biblical and theological perspective and it makes sense to me…

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    The *word* “Satan” is used by fundamentalist religion to identify an actual being of some form having considerable supernatural power “he” uses to encourage all acts we have come to see as evil among all humans.
    “The Screwtape Letters” uses this characterization as his Wormwood who learns in correspondence with Screwtape, another actual being in direct contact with the ultimate hellbound being, Satan, methods of insidiously tempting pious people to various unchristian acts.
    I believe the word itself is a shorthand for all the evils you mention as well as the legion of others not mentioned.
    As far as I can observe, humankind needs no special instruction in the conduct of Evil—and may, in fact, have created both its god and its devil in its own image.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Olive, I too agree with your statement: “As far as I can observe, humankind needs no special instruction in the conduct of Evil—and may, in fact, have created both its god and its devil in its own image.” the only difference I would add is, I would say, “in fact, has created both its god and devil in our own image”–according to one Latin phrase, we are “simul justus et peccator”–at the same time just and sinful or good and evil. Check out Romans 7…

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    In a follow-up to Joe’s comment on the integration of spirituality and modern quantum science in trying to understand light and darkness / good and evil, I contribute this long quote from Jonette Crowley’s book, “Soul Body Fusion: The Missing Piece for Healing and Beyond,” which I am presently reading:
    “… From a global perspective, I see that humanity as a whole and each of us as individuals have divine blueprints that exist magnetically in the Cosmos. The bridges that connect the divine template to our physical world seem to be electrical in nature. Over eons, either through humanity’s poor choices or from outside influences, these electrical bridges have become broken down, disabling the smooth flow and light from the universe into our physical world. More than anything else, Soul Body Fusion seems to repair the electrical connections between our physical form and our divine heritage. That is one reason why many people experience the
    the Fusion so electrically. As more people integrate their highest light physically we are strengthening the template of harmony and oneness between the entire spiritual and physical realms. Richard Gerber, MD, author of “Vibrational Medicine,” describes matter and energy as primarily electrical.
    Interestingly, etheric and astral frequencies that are beyond the speed of light are primarily magnetic. The physical universe exhibits the law of entropy, where order tends to move to chaos. On the other hand, the world of the soul, beyond time and space, exhibits negative entropy — where chaos moves to order and organization — thus enabling regeneration and healing. (Richard Gerber in Eric Pearl, “The Reconnection,” p.111). In this context, with Soul Body Fusion we are merging the higher world of infinite order and wholeness into our relatively chaotic physical realm.” (pp. 59-60)

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    I agree that personifying evil as Satan or the devil has resulted in the concentration on individual sins rather than the structural sins that are much more deadly. I think that the original sin in this sense is injustice, which lies behind all the ism’s, and always leads to violence. I believe that injustice arises from fear, that leads to envy, that leads to violence, as you explained yesterday. The basic lack of any sense of “enough-ness” or connection to anyone or anything else causes fear and dread, with the expected consequences.

    A physicist explained in a Great Courses lecture that the atom has a tiny, if powerful, nucleus, surrounded by fields of electrons in constant motion. The nucleus takes up about 2 % of the atom, and the rest is “empty” space. Yet we appear to be full of “stuff”, as does everything we can see. Since all matter is composed of atoms, our mass is actually made up of 98% fields of energy. We are energy, maybe electro-magnetic, maybe spiritual, maybe both. The universe is made up of 5% visible matter–about 70% dark energy and 25% dark matter (unless it’s the reverse). The universe and we are thus mostly mystery, in my view.

    I find physics endlessly fascinating, even though I don’t understand most of it. But it is benign, and evil forces are not. I used to argue with a friend that the evil came from the individual human heart, while she believed in evil forces independent of the individual–and I now agree with both. I also agree with Matthew that the opposite of evil is the sacred, and we must each embody the sacred as much as we can and be a light to ourselves and to others.

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    You’re getting warmer, Damian. Keep reading. When Jesus said, as a self -identifier, “I am the Light of the world “ who could have known then that he meant that quite literally? That’s what electromagnetism is, light energy. The Scriptures could have been subtitled, “0n the electric origins of the universe, and everything in it.” Light is everywhere in Scripture, referenced 10 times alone in Genesis 1 referring to the Hot Bing Bang event of our origins. It is the energy is spirit, the heart of matter, and the invisible substance of all visible form. The electrical genius Nikola Tesla was onto it. Said Tesla, “Everything is the light,” and “if u want to know the secrets of the universe, study energy, frequency, and vibration.” That’s the subject matter of quantum physics, which was in its infancy when he died. The book I referenced has a chapter on him. Said Tesla,
    “So astounding are the facts in this connection, that it would seem the Creator, himself, had electrically designed this planet.” An eccentric Christ figure, he was blackballed by Edison and the power brokers of his day, like Edison and J.P. Morgan. And he’s almost never taught in schools and colleges. Colleges hate geniuses the way convents hate saints.

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