Devil in the details: WPost on Francis teaching about Satan

The current head of the Catholic Church has often shocked liberals by showing he actually believes Catholic dogma. In the newest chapter of this saga, Pope Francis spooks ‘em by preaching traditional doctrines about Satan.

An account of this situation by the Washington Post isn’t half bad. Written by Anthony Faiola, the Post‘s London bureau chief, it skims the pope’s pronouncements on the devil and quotes a couple of worriers. But Faiola also quotes a couple of believers, including attendees at a conference on exorcism that’s the clear time peg for this article.

The article doesn’t start out promising: “A darling of liberal Catholics and an advocate of inclusion and forgiveness, Pope Francis is hardly known for fire and brimstone.” But it gains depth and shows savvy.

Faiola alertly notes how Francis shows an awareness of how un-trendy is the belief about Satan. He has the pope paraphrasing critics: “But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the Devil in the 21st century.”

And he provides good background of Church teachings on Satan:

Since its foundation, the church has taught the existence of the Devil. But in recent decades, progressive priests and bishops, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, have tended to couch Satan in more allegorical terms. Evil became less the wicked plan of the master of hell than the nasty byproduct of humanity’s free will. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a lofty German theologian, often painted evil with a broad brush.

Enter the plain-talking first pope from Latin America, where mystical views of Satan still hold sway in broad areas of the region. During his time as cardinal of Buenos Aires before rising to the papacy, Francis was known for stark warnings against “the tempter” and “the father of lies.”

Faiola shows a way with clever phrases. He says Francis wants to “rekindle” the old image of Satan. He says some people view exorcists as “crazy uncles” of the Church. And he mentions “hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.”

The reporter shows an old hand’s touch in a quick two paragraphs on the drift of opinions about evil, from personification in a devil toward a “nasty byproduct of humanity’s free will.” He also shows that Francis hasn’t changed his tune over time — it’s just that more journalists are paying attention:

Since its foundation, the church has taught the existence of the Devil. But in recent decades, progressive priests and bishops, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, have tended to couch Satan in more allegorical terms. Evil became less the wicked plan of the master of hell than the nasty byproduct of humanity’s free will. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a lofty German theologian, often painted evil with a broad brush.

Enter the plain-talking first pope from Latin America, where mystical views of Satan still hold sway in broad areas of the region. During his time as cardinal of Buenos Aires before rising to the papacy, Francis was known for stark warnings against “the tempter” and “the father of lies.”

Some of Faiola’s remarks take risks, but he proves most of them. He says Francis is fighting the devil in words and deeds. He then quotes the pope warning the faithful, even laying hands on a man and praying for him after the man claims to be possessed.

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Pod people: Are Christians crazy, or just stupid?

There is little new under the sun when it comes to anti-theistic arguments. Whether it be high minded philosophical critique or rabble rousing anti-clericalism, what was old is now new.

Richard Ostling observed in his Get Religion post “Is the ‘New Atheism’ any different from old atheism?” the content of the criticism remains the same, but the tone has changed. The new atheism has taken a:

[A] tactical lurch toward emotion-laden partisanship and take-no-prisoners rhetoric that might make a Fundamentalist blush.

In this week’s Crossroads, aGet Religion podcast, Issues, Etc., host Todd Wilken and I discussed two posts that touched on anti-theism — but approached the subject from different perspectives: French media disdain for religious believers and a “heretical” Episcopal bishop.

While there have been other non-theistic Episcopal bishops, Jack  Spong of Newark was the media  darling of the ’90s. A fixture on talk shows and op-ed pages in his day, Bishop Spong was the subject of a profile written by the Religion News Service that was released in advance of his next book.

Pressed by Todd whether my dislike of the story was motivated more by my theological disagreements with Bishop Spong than journalistic concerns, I responded that I had no quarrel with Bishop Spong being Bishop Spong. What stoked my ire was the the lack of balance, hard questions of context in the RNS piece. It was more of a People magazine puff piece than journalism.

The second half of the story was a review of my criticism of two different accounts of the trial of four French West Indian immigrants in Paris, accused with kidnapping and torturing a fellow immigrant. They have denied the charge, and in their defense have claimed they were exorcising demons from their victim. The journalistic issue I saw was the discrepancy between AFP’s English and French language stories — released at the same time. The English language version noted the defendants said they were motivated to act by the tenets of their Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. But it included the information the four had been expelled from the church some time ago — and that their actions were contrary to that church’s doctrine and discipline.

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