DEATANIZING SATAN OR THE DEVIL

 In these times of political and presidential campaigns, it is not uncommon for a candidate to demonize his opponent. There is even an odd division between who is from God and who is from the Devil or Satan.

This term Satan (in Hebrew) or Devil (in Latin) has gained many meanings, positive and negative, throughout history. This occurs in many religions especially the Abrahamic ones (Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

However, we must say that no one has suffered so many injustices and has been so “demonized” as Satan himself. In the beginning it was not like that. For this reason it is important to briefly do the story of Satan or the Devil.

He is counted among the “sons of God” like the other angels, as it is said in the book of Job (1:6). It is in the celestial court. Therefore, it is a being of goodness. It’s not the bad figure that will win later. But he received from God an unusual and ungrateful task: he had to put to the test good people like Job, who is “a man of integrity, upright, fearing God and shunning evil” (Job 1:8). He must submit him to all kinds of tests to see if, in fact, he is what everyone says about him: “there is no other like him on earth” (Jn 1:8). As evidence promoted by Satan, he loses everything, family, possessions and friends. But he doesn’t lose faith.

There was a major mutation starting in the 6th century BC, when the Jews lived in Babylonian captivity (587 BC) in Persia. There they were confronted with the doctrine of Zoroaster which established the confrontation between the “prince of light” and the “prince of darkness”. They embodied this dualistic and Manichean view. Satan was born as a part of the kingdom of darkness, the “great accuser” or “adversary” who induces human beings to acts of evil. In sequence, the confrontation between God and Satan takes place. In late Jewish texts, from the 2nd century BC, especially in the book of Honoch, the saga of the revolt of angels led by Satan, now called Lucifer, against God is elaborated. It narrates the fall of Lucifer and about a third of the angels who adhered and ended up expelled from heaven.

The question then arises: where to put them if they were expelled? There he made use of the category of hell: burning fire and all the horrors, well described by Dante Alighieri in the second part of his Divina Comdia dedicated to hell.

In the First Testament (the Old) there is almost no mention of the devil (cf. Chron 21,1; Samuel 24,1). In the Second Testament (New) it appears in some accounts “...they will be thrown into the fiery furnace; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 8,12;13,42-50; Lk 13,27) or in the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus (Lk 16,23-24) or in the Revelation (16,10 -11).
 
This understanding was assumed by ancient theologians, especially by St. Augustine. He influenced the entire tradition of the Churches, the doctrine of the Popes and has reached this day.
The category of hell and eternal damnation was decisive in the conversion of native peoples in Latin America and other mission places, producing fear and panic. Their ancestors, it was said, because they were not Christians, are in hell. And it was argued that if they did not convert and did not allow themselves to be baptized, they would meet the same fate. This is in all the catechisms that were elaborated shortly after the conquest with which to convert the Aztecs, Incas, more and others. It was fear, which once led and still leads to the conversion of multitudes, as shown by the great French historian Jean Delumeau. It is by appealing to the Devil, to Satan, that today, in times of rage and social hatred, one seeks to disqualify the adversary, often made an enemy to be demoralized and eventually liquidated.
 
Here we must overcome all the fundamentalism of the biblical text. It is not enough to quote texts about hell, even in the mouth of Jesus. We must know how to interpret them so as not to fall into contradiction with the concept of God and even to destroy the good news of Jesus, the Father full of mercy, like the father of the prodigal son who welcomes the lost son (Lk 15,11-23) .
First, human beings seek a reason for the evil in the world. He has great difficulty in assuming his own responsibility. Then transfer it to the Demon or demons.
Secondly, the meaning of demons and the hell of horrors represents a pedagogy of fear to make people seek the path of good through fear. Devil and hell, therefore, are human creations, a kind of sinister pedagogy, as mothers still do to children: “If you don't behave right, at night, the big bad wolf will come to bite your foot”. The human being can be the Satan of the earth and society. He can create “hell” for others through hatred, oppression and the mechanisms of death, as is unfortunately happening in our society.
Third, Satan or the Devil is a creature of God. To say that it is a creature of God, means that, at every moment, God is creating and recreating this creature, even in the fires of hell. Otherwise, it would return to nothingness. Can God, who is infinite love and goodness, propose to this? Well says the book of Wisdom: “Yes, you love all beings and hate nothing of what you have done; if you hated something you would not have created it; and how could anything subsist if you didn't want it... you spare them all because they belong to you, oh sovereign lover of life” (Wis 11,24-26). Pope Francis said it clearly: “there is no eternal damnation; she is only for this world.”
Fourthly, Jesus' great message is the infinite mercy of God-Abba (dear father) who loves everyone, even the “ungrateful and evil” (Lk 6:35). The affirmation of eternal punishment in hell directly destroys the good news of Jesus. A punishing God is incompatible with the historical Jesus who announced God's infinite love for everyone, even for sinners. Psalm 103 had already intuited this: “The Lord is merciful and forgiving, slow to anger and rich in mercy. He is not always accusing nor bears a grudge forever. He does not treat us according to our sins... as a father feels compassion for his sons and daughters, so the Lord will have mercy on those who love him, because he knows our nature and remembers that we are dust...The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting” (103,8-17). God can never lose any creature, however perverse. If he lost her, even one, he would have failed in his love. Well, that can't happen.
Well said Pope Francis who tirelessly preaches mercy: "Mercy will always be greater than any sin and no one will be able to put limits to the love of the God who forgives" (Misericordiae vultus, 2)
This does not mean that one will enter heaven anyway. Everyone will go through the judgment and clinic of God, to be purified there, recognize their sins, learn to love and finally enter the Kingdom of the Trinity. It is the purgatory that is not the anteroom of hell, but the anteroom of heaven. Whoever is there purifying himself already participates in the world of the redeemed.
Hell and demons and the main one, Satan, are our projections of the evil that exists in history or that we ourselves produce and for which we do not want to blame ourselves and we project them onto these sinister figures.
We must finally free ourselves from such projections in order to live the joy of Jesus Christ's message of universal salvation. This delegitimizes all Satanization in any situation, especially in politics and in charismatic Pentecostal churches that use the figure of the devil and hell in a totally exorbitant way. It scares the faithful rather than comforts them with the love and infinite mercy of God.
Leonardo Boff is a theologian, philosopher and wrote: Life beyond death, Voices, many editions 2021.
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