You don’t believe in the devil, do you?

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Ricardo Saludo

Ricardo Saludo

American priest Fr. Robert Barron is probably the most popular Catholic preacher on YouTube, at least among those preaching in English. Also found on his website www.WordOnFire.org, his 5-10-minute discourses offer theologically sound and highly accessible answers to frequently asked religious questions, from what hell is like and why the Eucharist is the True Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, to why Catholics leave the Church and how to win them back.

One talk that caught this writer’s ear recently was about the devil, traditionally known as the evil spirit battling with God for souls. In this column’s efforts to bring Christian teaching into public affairs, the main interest in Fr. Barron’s discourse are the key elements or characteristics he ascribes to devils based on the Bible and Church tenets.

First, as fallen angels, devils are pure spirits which, though bereft of physical form, are believed capable of influencing human thoughts, feelings, and actions, or even take possession of souls. When Jesus sent His apostles out to preach, among his first instructions was to cast out demons. That priority task from Christ Himself underscores how real and paramount an obstacle to godliness the devil is.

What the devil is the devil?


If readers are rolling their eyes over this devil drivel, it’s no surprise. If faith in God has declined in many nations despite the tireless efforts of world religions, belief in the devil would drop even more, with no vast congregations providing instruction and rituals on matters satanic.

That suits just fine Lucifer, Satan, Mephistopheles, and their dark ilk in horns, batwings and tails. Dismiss their existence and don’t bother calling on the one Being who has defeated them. Instead, rely solely on human wits and will, so easily deceived and manipulated. Exactly what the tale of Adam and Eve, who faced the wily serpent by themselves, warned against.

This cavalier disregard or outright disbelief in the devil is seen by some religious writers as its most insidious weapon. Like unseen puppeteers, satanic forces can incite conflict, crime, corruption and other concupiscence, with no one ever thinking there is anything but human faculties and earthly factors at work.

In ages and places where religion was dominant, evil’s influence made people think that heaven wanted bloodshed for the faith. In modern times, where science, economics and politics hold sway, mass suffering and the despoilation of nature are justified for national interest, free enterprise, and scientific advancement. In Christianity’s view, demons spurred the excesses of both ancient religions and modern ideologies. And today, the devil plies its trade among people who refuse to see and believe it.

The eternal battle between unity and disunity
All the more reason to know demons. Perhaps one way to think of them that is more attuned to modern minds is as worldly forces opposed to God’s will. Fr. Barron cites four characteristics of the devil which could correspond to trends in society and culture, rather than traits of spirit beings.

First, his video explains, the devil is a great fragmenter, even as God unifies and builds bridges in His creative love. This diabolical divisiveness—the Greek word diabolos means divider and deceiver—can apply to different levels of society, from the individual and the family to the global community of nations. And the primal fissure, epitomized by Lucifer’s rebellion, puts self above all others, including God.

The American thinker Ken Wilber, drawing from vast fields of knowledge from ancient history and particle physics to psychology, sociology and spirituality, sees the same clash between union and division. He propounds a theory that throughout the universe, there is a force that constantly propels things and beings to combine into more complex and capable entities.

Thus, after the Big Bang, the exploded bits of the cosmos began condensing into stars and planets, asteroids and comets, solar systems and galaxies. At the elemental level, electrons, protons and neutrons form atoms, which combine into molecules, and the latter, in turn, make up gaseous, liquid and solid substances.

Billions of years ago, certain substances came together into self-replicating strings of molecules, which eventually led to living organisms. Evolution brought even more advanced beings able to grow, reproduce, move, and eventually think, feel and will, and join together in families, communities, organizations and nations. For Christians, this unifying force is none other than the creative power of God.

Yet throughout the formation of the cosmos and the development of life and society, there has also been the opposite tendency for higher, more complex entities to break down into lower, less developed forms. Compounds dissolve into separate elements, living creatures die and decay, and social groups, from families and firms to international groupings, disintegrate.

Divider, detractor, deceiver and death-dealer
The devil can then be seen as the force or being that seeks to put asunder what God brings together. It spawns conflict, animosity, misunderstanding, repression, violence, and other acts that pit man against man. It brings disaster, disease, decimation, decay, and disintegration. And its ultimate goal is death and dissolution, for all creatures and the many ways they come together into higher, beneficial forms of union.

Besides divider, Fr. Barron cites three other devilish traits, intimated in the above paragraphs. In the Gospel of St. John (8:44), Jesus Himself calls the devil “the father of lies” and “the murderer from the beginning.” For in telling Eve she would not die after eating the forbidden fruit, the devil told the first untruth which led to disobedience and death for humankind.

Even dispensing with Biblical texts, the forces of fragmentation do prosper using deception and misunderstanding, and they bring death through war, crime, and oppression. Not to mention the misuse of resources and the failure of the wealthy to help the needy, both spawned by society’s division between haves and have-nots, powerful and powerless.

Fr. Barron’s fourth trait for the devil is one not usually attributed to Satan, yet it’s the original meaning of that name: accuser. The devil builds walls between people and between man and his Maker with blame and condemnation. While God forgives, Satan accuses and tempts the accused into sin. True enough, so much discord and conflict are borne of charges and countercharges. Witness the pork barrel controversy.

Division, deception, accusation, death and destruction. Wherever these forces rule personal as well as public life, beware the hidden hand of the devil. And in this battle against the divisive dissembler, detractor and destroyer, make sure to call on the Way, the Truth and the Life.

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8 Comments

  1. This article is great. But I have to add some points too. We say God is perfection and through Him, all things made including the devil. If there’s an oppressor how come there is a perfection in terms of someone rejects comes out? The first perfection that God attribute to the creation is the freedom, a free will, all creation are made perfect. Then the perfection of free will that even God did not bother you or make his mind to us, are the ones that makes us ruin. Even the Devil of all their free will make a rebellion against God. But no one understands that God respect their freedom, their free will. Go then make up your mind, use your power, a power of your own mind to think. If God hinders the mind of his creation, then that is not perfection, since he is controlling. But then we see that it is our very own self mind that perfection resides, no one dictates just us. That moment we can think what we want. We can choose to believe in God or reject him. We can choose to be a villain or a hero. It is just us. That’s perfection that God can be given to us. In there’s anything wrong,it will. If you see unbalance, it will. But then, in the end, we are all in the decaying process. You want proofs? Then witness the day of resurrection.

  2. “…the devil plies its trade among people who refuse to see and believe it.”

    Poor devil – the guy who nobody sees. He (or, she?) gets blamed for all the wrong things happening in the world. And man, the intelligent author of oppression, injustice and all that make human experience sad, gets away with it.

    There was a time when darkness was thought of as the time the ‘evil hand’ ruled. But, then, as we all know, humans outgrew it. We learned that the Earth was rotating on its axis and …(yada yada yada…).
    “The devil… seen as the force…that seeks to put asunder what God brings together.” C’mon, it’s man. And, if you will, that’s one of those dimensions of man – the human creature – that has yet to realize a process of ‘evolution’. A man truly evolved might become more of a ‘Jesus’ or, a ‘Buddha’ or, whatever.

    But, this religious story-telling still comes handy to a ‘receptive’ audience; an audience that grew up with the narrative and growing up into it really like fanatics.

    Somehow, some of these guys should already have gone over or, outgrown it. Like we usually do with diapers, santa claus and baby toys.

    :)

  3. Sometimes, the situation has gone a bit deeper though in the amount of control over a person’s life. “Be angry, and yet do not sin… and do not give the devil an opportunity.” (Ephesians 4:26,27) Sin that is not dealt with properly gives the devil an opportunity, or foothold. The purpose of a foothold is to gain some kind of control. When a person finds that they exercise less and less control over their own behavior, that is the time for them to seriously consider the possibility that they are under deeper spiritual oppression. Here are some symptons of demonic involvement/attachment(this is not a comprehensive list.) The first couple of symptoms listed have an initial appearance of being something good:

    Extra knowledge, some people dream or have visions of things that come true. This knowledge has clearly come from an outside source.

    Special abilities, such as using divination tools to locate lost objects. Or special healing abilities through touch or some other kind of contact.

    Repeated nightmares; vivid dreams where the same person or thing is causing distress or terror night after night.

    Irrational feelings of fear and paranoia, obsessions, compulsions. These are thoughts and feelings that begin to paralyze or control a person and keep them from living a life of freedom.

    Difficulty reading scripture, difficulty or aversion to praying out loud.

    Extra voices in the mind. These would be “inner” voices that tell someone what to do, or argue with the person or with other inner voices.

    Irrational imagery of death or killing. Mental images flashing in of that person harming themselves or someone else.

    Other languages, having periods where the person speaks in a tongue previously unknown to them.

    Extra strength, having abnormal times of physical strength or psychological control over another person.

    Extra personalities, having other distinct personality traits that come and go.

    Period of blacking out or no memory of extended periods of time.

    Regular visits; the repeated knowledge of a presence of an invisible spirit or of seeing a spirit or spirits.

  4. I always notice when we comment our comments have to be checked, i have had many comments not put up here because someone didnt like that i criticised the pinoy. You say you believe in free speech but you dont, your censoship is very biased in this country & hate being criticised by any foreigner.
    But i have a little question for Rogelio Lim about troubleing thoughts & if you say go away spirit & the thoughts stop you have a good idea where the thoughts came from, well what if the thoughts dont stop do you then say that it is just a bad mind you have & not an eveil spirit. If that is the case then tell me do you not think that is a very very stupid answer, i do.

  5. What a load of tosh. Listen people as they get older know the difference between right & wrong. They do what they do for manny different reasons. How many priests abuse young men or women or both, not many are caught as most abused stay silent. How many priests steal & lie, now they have mostly had a life of bible or religious indoctrination yet still do these things. Its down to the individual & to see the majority in the philippines makes me wonder what they do teach in their churches. I dont believe in god at all but i think more of the poor people than the majority of pinoys. A very simple for instance. In my subdivision 2 young boys were struggleing to carry a very big water container & had to keep putting it down. Most pinoy men walked straight past them but i took it from them & carried it for them. That is called a good deed. Just a simple one but you have a me me me society here its all about me. That is not religion well not as i was taught at school. How many of you would trust another filipino here as ive learned the hard way when it comes to money most pinoys cant be trusted, they want that money for themselves full stop. If they have to lie they will just so long as they get it & doesnt your religon tell you that if you ask for forgiveness god will give it to you. Then lie & cheat again & again ask for forgiveness & god will again forgive you.

  6. There are symptoms of oppression by evil spirits. While we have often erred in not recognizing the symptoms of demonic oppression by evil spirits, there is also a danger in assuming that all our woes and problems stem from oppression by evil spirits. Human are somewhat complex in their relationship to physical, mental and spiritual. For instance, I can guarantee that proper diet and exercise can be sufficient treatment to cover a litany of woes that we feel emotionally. But no mistake, the Bible says that our enemy is on prowl looking for souls to devour. The first and foremost front of attack from the enemy is in the mind. How do we know if the thoughts(usually troubling ones), flying around inside are from wicked spirit to gain a foothold? There is a simple test to determine the source of thoughts or feelings, that we may find causing a problem in our minds. Jesus set the example when Peter was counselling Him not to go to Jerusalem if death was in store for Him. Jesus said “go away Satan, you are stumbling to me.” If you have troubling thoughts and you determine before Jesus to confront the source of those thoughts and say, “go away spirit” and the thought stops, then you have a pretty good idea of where those thoughts were coming from.