Last Thursday night ABC’s Nightline featured a debate on “does Satan exist?” I didn’t see it. For one thing, it didn’t look interesting enough to keep me up past my bedtime. And I had a pretty good idea what it would look like. Dallas Morning News Religion Blogmeister Jeff Weiss said “This was to real debate what air guitar is to Carlos Santana. It may have been entertaining in parts, in a car-wreck-and-flames kinda way. But edifying? Smarter to have watched this week’s episode of South Park.”
“There’s no devil in the Craft” is a line from Sandra Bullock’s character in Practical Magic (which is a pretty good movie, despite being a chick flick), a line that many Pagans have repeated when accused of “devil worship” and similar nonsense. Another, more confrontational way of putting it is “Satan is part of your pantheon, not mine.”
All true. But that still leaves the question, does Satan exist?
As someone who is first and foremost a universalist, the concept of a God of Evil, an adversary who is created by a God of Good but exists to oppose him, doesn’t make sense. It’s an early attempt to explain the presence of evil, and it comes from Zoroastrianism and most likely from the religions that preceded Zoroastrianism in the Middle East. There is no comparable figure in any of the European pagan religions or in the Eastern religions.
But it seems odd for Pagans to simply dismiss Satan when we worship (or at least acknowledge) virtually every other god, goddess, demigod, or fae known to humankind. If Satan didn’t exist, he has surely been created and sustained by all the attention he’s been given over the past couple thousand years.
That humans can do great evil to their fellow humans is, sadly, irrefutable. In asking “why?” it is much more palatable to blame it on “the forces of evil” or “the Evil One” rather than putting the blame where it belongs – on the humans who do such things.
Because if some humans can do great evil, then all humans can do great evil – and that includes you and me. The Stanford Prison Experiments and the complicity of ordinary Germans in atrocities of the Nazis show that the capacity for great evil lies in all of us, not just the worst of us.
Does Satan exist? Yes – we created him. And he will continue to live until we – individually and collectively – accept that we have the capacity for great evil as well as great good, and choose to do good and not evil every day of our lives.
As Pagans, we are wise to ignore Satan, to refuse to feed the thoughtform of an Evil One, and to accept responsibility for what we do and don’t do. Would that our Christian friends would do the same.