I suppose there must have been some mention of Satan or the devil when I was in my Lutheran catechism class (a very long time ago), but I can’t recall any specifics. I know we studied the temptations of Jesus; the healing of demon-possessed people; and what happened to Judas, but I simply can’t remember what might have been specifically said about Satan.
In the intervening years, I can’t recall any extensive studies about Satan, other than the standard teachings and reading C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Perhaps I attended churches where there wasn’t much emphasis on the subject. Perhaps I tuned out.
So when I started reading Tripp York’s The Devil Wears Nada – a quest to see if more can be learned about God by learning about Satan and what Christians believe about Satan,, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect or what frame of reference I had. It turns out I wasn’t alone. Even people who thought they knew all about Satan turn out to know more folklore than Biblical understanding.
York, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan University, approaches his subject with fearlessness and a kind of irreverent humor – at least for a time. He talks with everyone from Pentecostals to shamans and witches. He considers everything Satan gets blamed for – from problems with the microphone at a Sunday worship service to the creation of internet, the Smurfs and student loans.
“For many Christians,” he says, “God and Satan are active in every aspect of their daily lives. There is no room for chance, luck, accidents, the forces of nature, or contingency; we are simply at the center of a long-standing battle between the God of creation and the god the earth.” And yet, when pressed, he finds we know far less than we think we do.
So do a lot of others, including Satan worshippers (and Unitarians). Conversely, York points out, to lose the idea that there is a devil ultimately means you lose the idea that there is a God. The early church’s major concern about Satan wasn’t “the devil made me do it” but rather false teaching, and he finds that heresy is just as common today as it was then, including within many of our churches.
The Devil Wears Nada is funny, irreverent, occasionally shocking but ultimately thought-provoking and troubling. I found myself squirming at times (which is not a bad thing). Our understanding of Satan may be more cultural than Biblical, and that is a problem, a problem more serious than we realize, because it also means our understanding of God may be the same thing.