Saturday, 10 December 2005

Satan or "the Satan"?

Mike Bird has offered an interesting post on Satan, which has generated some comments on the question of whether we should speak of Satan in “personal” terms.

In my own comment to this post, I suggest that “to be ‘personal’ is to exist within a structure of relationships; and whatever ‘the Satan’ might be, it is the very antithesis of any kind of relatedness, and thus the antithesis of what it means to be ‘personal’. If we were looking for a suitable metaphor, perhaps we should say that Satan is more like chaos than like a person.”

3 Comments:

Simon said...

Well Ben, I feel that somehow you are trying to ignore the rules of the game, the way the pieces are setup. The very idea of evil makes it necessary it should become a possible force of temptation - how could it be tempting of it cannot come close to you? How can you listen to it's sweet murmurs in your ear if it can not whisper into it? How, after all, can you make a _decision_ for or against it if it is not a something or a someone to decide against or for, but merely an abstract universal ill, some fault in the structure of the universe? And how can you have evil and anti- and negativeness if you have no decision?

_I_ do not believe in decisions, or evil But I think _you_ need it, within your believes. Or rather, I don't start to see how you can do without. By not having the great temptator, someone to lead you on a hill and show you the whole world downl there, you make evil so very... well, unsexy, if you'll forgive me. Who'd want to fall for a boring abstract universal Satan aspect or quality like that?

Ben Myers said...

Hi there Simon -- great to hear from you. I appreciate your comment, although of course I disagree with you that "the rules of the game" demand a personal and mythological Satan-figure.

I'm certainly not thinking of an "abstract universal Satan aspect or quality", much less a "fault in the structure of the universe". On the contrary, I think evil really is evil; it really does have its own threatening power and (non-)existence. But I don't think it helps to mythologise or divinise this power, to turn it into a personal or supra-personal "being" (i.e., a god!).

It seems to me that there are two mistakes to avoid: on the one hand, it's a mistake if we fail to take evil seriously (e.g. by calling it a "fault in the universe"); and on the other hand, it's a mistake if we take evil too seriously (e.g. by turning it into a "personal being").

I think the way to avoid both these mistakes is to analyse evil at the one point at which it has been revealed and exposed: for me, this one point is the death of Jesus. In the death of Jesus, evil is taken seriously as a power that threatens to extinguish all existence. But in the death of Jesus, evil is not taken too seriously, since it is revealed only by being vanquished and overcome.

No doubt you'll disagree with me in all this! But it seems to me that this is how evil has to be spoken of from the standpoint of faith in Jesus Christ.

Simon Hengel said...

Ben, I'm sorry I took so long in answering. And first of all thank you for answering my daft questions with so much thought and "ausführlichkeit", how do you say that?
Anyway, I didn't mean to suggest that Satan has to be someone "personfied", a demon or a being like that, within a Christian concept of evil. He can be an "it" - but "it" has to have a very personal power and appeal, for the concept of evil to work at all, does it not?

That is the point that interests me - the point where a human is tempted, subverted, cajoled, forced, thrown into doing evil. On that, the death of Jesus does not seem to have a lot to reveal, I Maybe one would have to turn to the "let this cup pass"-scenes at Getsemaneh (is a "Kelch" a cup?) or that old evergreen of Biblical drama, the tempation by ( a very personal) Devil and the threefold probe as key scenes.

The death of Jesus, his doubts, his going down into the Valley of death and his resurrection, that features him as a victim (and victor, yes yes) vis a vis evil. Not as a perpetrator. It's the perpetrator aspect that I think cannot be explained by too abstract a concept of evil.
On the other hand, that "eli eli lama sabachtani" quote is a perfect way of showing the results of the workings of "the Evil". And not, that's interesting, it's effects on the perpetrator, J.Iscariot or the Roman Henchmen or whomever - but on the victim, who finds himself left by God. Quite fascinating indeed.

I do hope I'm not getting on your nerves too much with my long and winding inept efforts at "Theology", if that is what I'm on about here at all. If Theology is a martial art, I cannot beginn to counter your learned and artful jabs and kicks with anything better than clumsy wild hopeful swinging. I can only hope you will bear with me...

But on the other hand "wild hopeful swinging" is what Rock'nRoll is all about, isn'it?

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