The Devil is Real and Halloween is His Holiday?

It’s the 21st century, and you would think that educated people were done talking like this, but Richard J. Mouw, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California–a seminary with a reputation for theological liberalism–continues to believe that the Devil (with a capital “D”) and his angels are real, literally:

[T]he Apostle [Paul] […] told us that we wrestle with more than “flesh and blood” in our spiritual struggles. The Devil and his minions do not confine their insidious influences to “systemic” political and economic patterns. They also seduce us in other, more personal, ways. Luther reportedly threw inkwells at the Devil. I strongly suspect that he knew he could not actually hit his intended target. But he did need to let the Enemy know that he was aware of his presence, the kind of presence that Andrew of Crete was also aware of: “Christian, dost thou feel them, how they work within, / Striving, tempting, luring, goading into sin?”

In other words, the Devil is akin to a bad Santa. He gets around. Not content to hang out at the Mall of America, tempting passers-by with material goods, or whispering in the ears of world-leaders like Barack Obama, he (or one of his fallen assistant elves) visits every single one of us personally, listening in on what we’re doing, collecting data on us, finding out whether we’re being naughty or nice.

So look out! You’re under surveillance. Who needs to fret about the NSA?

But take comfort. If you’re worried that Mouw’s model of the Devil is true, note the weakness of the authorities he enlists in support of it: Luther, Andrew of Crete, and Saint Paul. Let’s start with Luther. He was a didactic, rash, and hysterical thinker; the Rush Limbaugh of his day. You certainly wouldn’t want a contemporary American president with Luther’s poor judgment. He thought and preached, for example, that the Jews in his country were a malevolent force and needed their synagogues burned down. So if he had a habit of throwing inkwells at the Devil, maybe it wasn’t because the Devil exists, but because Luther was a bit whacked-out.

As for Andrew of Crete, he lived a long time ago, way back in 700, right smack in the middle of the Dark Ages. From where Saint Andrew stood in time, Greco-Roman intellectual culture was 300 years in the past and 750 years from revival in the future (during the Renaissance). The lights were seriously out over the whole continent of Europe. What a shit time to be born. What a shit time to think clearly.

As for Paul, well, it’s hard to be neutral about him; you either like the old misogynist or you don’t. And what did he really know? He got so much wrong. He got the Second Coming wrong (he thought Jesus’ return was immanent); he got slavery wrong (he thought it was acceptable); he got Adam wrong (he thought Adam was a literal historical figure). So why should Paul’s opinion on the existence of devils be thought right? What evidence did Paul possess for anything that he ever said on the subject of devils?

But Professor Mouw likes all these guys and the way they generally think–Paul, Saint Andrew, and Luther. He’s simpatico with them. They’re his buds. And this has consequence for Halloween. Mouw doesn’t like it. And he thinks his buds wouldn’t like it either. He has some fond memories of his own childhood experience of the holiday, but as a grown-up he now advocates that serious Christians rain sober poo-poo on the candy-giving festival, reminding one and all of its malevolent nature:

The powers of evil work in very personal ways. Among their subtle seductive strategies are the ones that lure us into a fascination with skulls, curses, mysterious personages, and magical sights and sounds in the night. Which is why I should perhaps get over deciding about Halloween on the basis of pleasant memories of past Octobers. At least I should act on the obligation to encourage a more assertive teaching ministry about these matters.

Talk about a sour caterpillar inching over the open candy bag and laying its eggs right on the candy corn!

So let’s sum up. In Professor Mouw’s estimation, the Devil is not getting his proper due from contemporary people. He’s as real and personal now as he was for Luther, Saint Andrew, and Saint Paul, and you better not mess with him and his minions. Professor Mouw is nice about it, but his bottom line is: be afraid of getting too involved with Halloween festivities. In the teeth of warranted credulity concerning supernatural claims, it is Professor Mouw’s difficult but necessary obligation to nevertheless swallow hard and assert this: Big Devil and his assistants are watching you. You better be good.


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to The Devil is Real and Halloween is His Holiday?

  1. Anonymous says:

    That Andrew of Crete lived in the dark ages does not in any way suggest that he couldn’t “think clearly.”

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Unless you posit Andrew of Crete to be a stand-out genius, then I disagree. It’s very difficult for even very intelligent people to think clearly absent tools for thought. It’s like trying to hit a baseball with an open hand and not a bat. It’s why scientists (for example) get trained in systematic methods of inquiry. It helps. You’re just not likely to get very far all by your lonesome. One thinks better with the help of intellectual tools, information, and a vibrant and open intellectual exchange with others.

      But so much had been lost to intellectual culture in 700, so of course it was harder to think clearly (either synthetically or analytically) at that time. To cite two examples: the library in Alexandria had burned to the ground and Aristotle was simply forgotten (with his invention categories, etc.). Fewer books, fewer tools.

      I used, for example, an intellectual tool to call into question Mouw’s claim that a personal Devil exists: reductio ad absurdum. This tool helps one to think about Mouw’s claim more clearly by posing a question for it: Does it lead, if true, to one or more ridiculous conclusions? I think it does. It leads, for example, to a Santa model of the Devil’s activity in the world. To believe that the Devil is personal, one has to posit that he is like Santa on Christmas night, everywhere at once, or that he has literally billions of demonic angels assisting him.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t think its necessary to posit that Andrew of Crete was a “stand out genius” for him to be able to “think clearly.” You don’t need to be a genius to think clearly, nor do you necessarily need tools to think clearly about an issue and reach a correct/truthful conclusion.

        Would these attributes help? Absolutely.

        Are they necessary? No. And you even admitted as much: “it’s very difficult” [but not impossible], “it was harder” [but still possible]….to think clearly…

        So you really don’t disagree.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Well, I guess you’ve cornered me on some technicalities, so I’ll concede the checkmate. There are people who can think clearly without necessarily knowing what formal intellectual tools they’re using (just as people speak grammatically without knowing what grammar rules they’re intuitively following).

        Whether such clarity can be sustained consistently without environmental support and critical thinking habits is an open question.

        With regard to Saint Andrew, though, I wouldn’t put him in the class of the clear thinking. Whether he could think clearly and whether he did are separate matters. To my mind, Andrew’s religious indoctrination made it harder for him to think clearly.

        And I think of Jerome, who disrupted his own intellectual growth by swearing off the reading of secular philosophers. And Origin, who lost his male organ because he locked in on some religious memes that overtook his judgment.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It was one particular fault argument, though the track record you have for making valid arguments is solid, and that’s why I follow your blog.

    My other criticism I have, and one I have with other atheists (like myself), is the lack of appreciation and recognition for what Catholicism did for western culture. Unlike what you hear from those who are anti-religion, and those who are even proponents of any particular religion, religions like Christianity did much to foster art and music, and it was instrumental in how mankind thought about happiness and god given rights, which [later] sowed the seeds for secular laws and democracy.

    In short, the birth of the Renaissance and rational/scientific thought owes much to Christianity, as paradoxical as that might sound.

  3. Pingback: Fear of the Devil | Interesting Words and Expressions by Stephen Darori

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