A Few Kind Words for Satan

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As an atheist, I'm often asked if I believe in Satan because "I have to believe in something." I point out that I don't believe in the existence of any supernatural forces, including Yahweh, Satan, angels or devils. But I can make theological and strategic cases for embracing the mythical Satan.
 

Satan comes out looking pretty good in Genesis. After God tells Adam he will die on the day he eats a particular piece of fruit, Satan (in a snake costume) tells Eve that the snack will give them knowledge. So they eat the forbidden fruit, enjoy their newly acquired knowledge, and learn that God was bluffing when he said they would die on the day they ate the fruit. A wrathful God then banishes the first couple from the Garden of Eden and tells them they must now work for a living. Adam and Eve presumably discover that ignorance is not bliss and that blind obedience is not a virtue. Though many Christians view this disobedience as the "original sin," I think Satan teaches humans that it's better to have freedom without a guarantee of security than to have security without freedom.

Interpretations of the biblical character "Satan" can motivate some people to live decent, rational lives. For instance: be curious and seek knowledge; question the sacred; reject authorities that expect blind obedience; encourage free inquiry; welcome diversity of opinion; judge individuals by their actions, not by whether they conform to arbitrary norms; respect the freedom of others, including the freedom to offend; and acknowledge the worth and dignity of the "out" group.

The word "Satan" in Hebrew means adversary. The Catholic Church recognized this adversarial role when it established in 1587 the position Promoter of the Faith, more commonly known as the devil's advocate. He was required to argue against declaring a particular dead person a saint, and to be skeptical of so-called miracles attributed to the deceased. Given the number of recognized miracles and named saints by the Church, I think most devil's advocates were probably incompetent (the number of miracles I accept is zero). Pope John Paul II must have thought that these advocates were too evidence-based, because he abolished the position in 1983, and then named to sainthood more than five times as many individuals as had all his 20th-century predecessors combined.

Although devil's advocates were Catholic, members of the Satanic Temple are mostly atheists. The Satanic Temple is a religion that rejects tax-exempt status because of its principled position against government support for religion. Were all religions to adopt this ethical practice, we could greatly reduce or even eliminate our national deficit. These Satanists might be having a little fun with the name, but their primary purpose is to promote secularism.

The Secular Coalition for America, of which I'm founder and president emeritus, includes thirteen national organizations offering a full spectrum of nontheistic viewpoints. They cooperate on issues that affect all secular Americans. Some of these organizations playfully refer to themselves as the "good cops" and "bad cops" of the secular movement, depending on how edgy they choose to be when they take on unpopular and controversial causes.

As for worse cops (the Satanists), initially I hoped they would quietly go away because of their potential to give atheists a bad name. I learned that I had been prematurely judgmental when Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, gave a talk last month to my local Secular Humanist group in Charleston, South Carolina.
 

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at huffingtonpost.com

26 COMMENTS

  1. The major trouble with a belief in Satan is that he becomes public property, so to speak, for anyone to pick up and use as a weapon against his opponents. There seems to be a tendency for those who believe in the Devil to begin thinking that some people are possessed by him. Exactly who these so-called possessed people are depends on who is making the charge. They have been Jews, Communists, gays, prostitutes, black men, porn stars, the unemployed, and so on……

  2. What I find puzzling about the concept of a Satan, the bad guy supposedly, is I can’t imagine anyone more evil than the god of the bible himself. This supposedly good guy, who Xtians apparently revere and aspire to emulate instructed his followers to kill others for the most trivial and bizarre of reasons. Homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, believing in other gods, adultery. He slaughtered babies, told Abram to sacrifice his son to him, killed Lot’s wife for reasons which make little sense to me and for the big finale wiped the entire population of the planet out in a flood, along with all the animals which presumably hadn’t done anything wrong either.

    This disgusting, capricious, malicious, egotistical, sadistic mass murderer is the role model eh? Well not in my book, which btw is never going to be the bible under any circumstances. Given that I can’t imagine many acts worse than wiping out the entire population of a planet in a fit of pique I can only conclude that what Xtians think of as god actually is Satan. Christians are actually devil worshippers if you analyse it logically. If I was inventing a religion with a good guy and a bad guy I’d like to think I could actually make the good guy really good. Like not killing innocent children for shits and giggles for a starter.

    And while we’re on the subject what’s with all this “god fearing” business? Why would you want to worship someone you’re petrified of because he’s such an utter malicious shit? I can’t really imagine myself wanting to worship anyone or anything but if I had to I’d at least like to think it’d be someone nice. Religion baffles me. I’ve studied it and pondered it for 40 years and the more I think about it the less sense it makes. It’s a mental illness. A sick delusion. Humanity will never be able to call itself civilised until religion has been consigned to the trash bin.

    • In reply to #4 by Arkrid Sandwich:

      What I find puzzling about the concept of a Satan, the bad guy supposedly, is I can’t imagine anyone more evil than the god of the bible himself. This supposedly good guy, who Xtians apparently revere and aspire to emulate instructed his followers to kill others…

      My take on this is that the gods of the Bible and the Koran, since those books have been written in the Bronze Age middle east, are probably inspired from the personality of kings and warlords from that era. The typical profile of those leaders was most likely to be: ruthless, cruel, demanding unquestioning loyalty, unconditional worship, expecting nothing less than absolute obedience. I have no trouble picturing someone as brutal and sadistic as Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Un in such a context. They would be right at home.

      The most striking characteristic of all the monotheistic gods is how un-god-like they are. All those cheap, gaudy tales reek so badly of anthropomorphism and bad storytelling, it’s hard for us to understand why anyone would give them any credence. But ignorance is the fertile ground required for these ridiculous ideas to proliferate. Ignorance of science and ignorance of history most of all.

      • In reply to #17 by NearlyNakedApe:

        In reply to #4 by Arkrid Sandwich:

        The most striking characteristic of all the monotheistic gods is how un-god-like they are. All those cheap, gaudy tales reek so badly of anthropomorphism and bad storytelling, it’s hard for us to understand why anyone would give them any credence.

        Yes, very un-god-like inded! They are more like humans that you would never, ever want to meet in your entire life!

  3. If one doesn’t believe in goD, one is hardly likely to believe in one of his creations.

    A little tale follows, a tall one, I must admit:

    One day Jehovah was bored out of his mind and said to himself, himself and himself.I think I’ll make today a craft day.Hmm, some fawning creatures to look upon me,me and me with admiration and awe.I’ll call the winsome creatures er… angels.He, he and he thought it a magnificent idea, although, being goD,goD and goD, and having the power of omniscience,amongst other fine attributes, he, he and he knew what the consequences would be, but he, he and he shrugged his mighty shoulders and reached for the clay .. and thus was Lucifer, (amongst many other angels) born.

    The Lod, lord and lord being sinless, it was incredible that Lucifer turned out to be riddled with sin and had to be booted out of heaven. Lucifer went on to corrupt the human creatures that the Lord,lord and lord had made, and created no end of chaos, pain and misery but it cannot be the Lord, lord and lord who was responsible! So what if he was the potter? He put the blame on his creation, you say.That cannot be, you say because a craftsman cannot blame his creation for the way it turns out.
    Well, I have news for you.He, he and he can! And you know what else? He, he and he will burn you for ever and ever for his mistake.

    Yeah, Christian logic boggles the mind.
    I’ll retire to bedlam – again.

  4. God is omnipotent, all knowing, all wise, and created everything? Than Satan can only be an analogy for us humans to be patiend with our children. In the end he’s Gods own product! Why is he bothering in the first place? (Like Ricky Gervais: “Why did he make me an atheist in the first place? That was his first mistake …”) Satan is the lightning rod for the infinite regresses God includes by thinking a little deeper. As God is the lightning rod for our own infinite regresses! So everything is fine!

  5. Like all good fairy tales, whoever came up with religion decided it needed a hissable villain. In its most obvious guise, satan is a basic idea to teach people right from wrong. Of course if you study satan’s faults as thoroughly as Herb Silverman does, then you see that this is just satan getting a bad press.

  6. Even in childhood I was perplexed by the notion that the highest virtue was obedience to an almighty father, maybe because my own father was so obviously not obedience-worthy. To be sure, the snake was sort of icky, but when I learned that one of the devil’s other names was Lucifer/ light, I began to catch on that Christianity presented a choice between ignorant obedience and defiant knowledge.

    And that was a very easy choice to make.

    • In reply to #9 by justinesaracen:

      Even in childhood I was perplexed by the notion that the highest virtue was obedience to an almighty father, maybe because my own father was so obviously not obedience-worthy. To be sure, the snake was sort of icky, but when I learned that one of the devil’s other names was Lucifer/ light, I began t…My history, exactly the same

  7. Too, many issues with the notion of Satan:

    • The fact that the connection between the serpent of the old testament and Satan are made after the fact.

    • The fact that no one even had an agreed perception of Satan and that the idea people have of the character is based around centuries of adding pagan ideas about his appearance and using sources outside the bible justify the common perception of his existence.

    • The fact that no one blames god for creating both good and evil. If Satan is a thing to be despised, it is primarily because of a supposedly omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity.

    The apple story is actually more analogous with the Greek Prometheus than most anything else, and even then there is no real explanation for why blind obedience is better than knowledge, or worse why being in a sinless world as pictured in genesis means being ignorant of evil. Wouldn’t it have been better for Adam and Eve to actually know why the serpent was supposed to be ‘evil’ instead of just being told to obey?

    Actually going back to my point about the lack of a connection between Satan and the OT gets a bit worse when you consider that in the instances where events are connected to him it actually illustrates the opposite of virtue. The apple story in Genesis and the book of Job both promote blind obedience over action. Job’s example being far worse because it starts with Job and his family having done no wrong and being abandoned by the very God they worshiped just long enough to make a point. That is definitively capricious.

    Honestly the worst example of blind obedience comes from the story of Abraham nearly killing his son just to satisfy some whim of God’s to test his worthiness. All of this is utterly pointless and contradictory if god is supposed to be all knowing, all loving and all kind.

    If he knows his creations inside and out what is the point of testing, the point of free will or even the point of ‘evil’?

  8. Interesting article, but nowhere in Genesis does it say that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was Satan. It’s just “serpent”. People have traditionally interpreted it as being Satan in the same way that people have come to think the “forbidden fruit” was an apple.

    • In reply to #12 by Booska:

      Interesting article, but nowhere in Genesis does it say that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was Satan. It’s just “serpent”. People have traditionally interpreted it as being Satan in the same way that people have come to think the “forbidden fruit” was an apple.

      You mean I can have apple pie again?

  9. This kind of conversation always reminds me of Vincent Bugliosi’s suggestion in his book Outrage. Bugliosi, lapsed Catholic and famous prosecutor of Charles Manson (and many others) suggests that if one were inclined to pray at all, it makes logical sense to pray to Satan and not God. To paraphrase, ‘one shouldn’t have to pray to a benevolent, all good entity for mercy and favors and benevolence and goodness, one should merely need to pray to the malevolent entity for mercy and favors given their otherwise nasty inclinations, this only makes logical sense’.

    But alas, “logical sense” is the wildcard here. If logical sense were the norm, we wouldn’t all be gathered here.

  10. I explained this same thing to my mom just last week. I see the serpent, or Satan, as the hero of the bible. He is the Snape character, in that people ate made to believe he is a villain, but really helped secretly to free the people from tyranny.

    I don’t remember, but I believe they didn’t name him until the new testament. To me, that means the writers made shit up as they went along.

  11. I’m afraid that you have completely misunderstood the reason and intent of God, Satan and the account in Genesis. I read your presupposition with an open mind, but didn’t even bother to move past the propositional first paragraph thesis statement and argumentative backup theory. Adam and Eve did surely “Die”, because they lost many things which included both life without death, and would now die physically, and they died to intense intimacy with God. Your statement that they didn’t die is false. You say that God bluffed, or lied, He did neither.

    Satan always exists by telling half truth, half lies. And you take the half lie as truth because of the half truth part. Satan is the source of selfishness. All sin and evil resides in selfishness.

    The very heart of Satan’s strategy is to question the character of God.

    On this basis did he instill doubt into the minds of Adam and Eve, and encourage selfishness.

    Obedience in this respect isn’t blind.

  12. In reply to #12 by Booska:

    Interesting article, but nowhere in Genesis does it say that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was Satan. It’s just “serpent”. People have traditionally interpreted it as being Satan in the same way that people have come to think the “forbidden fruit” was an apple.

    In the same way people have come to think that it was a real life event :)

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