The Devil Made Me Do It

temptation of the devil

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: (1 Peter 5:8)

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed in a literal Devil (Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Serpent, Dragon, Evil One, Prince of Darkness) who, along with devils and demons, waged war against God and his church.  I believed the Devil:

As a follower of Jesus I had to:

  • Submit to God and resist the Devil (James 4:7)
  • Put on the whole armor of God so I could stand against the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-18)
  • Witness to the lost so they could be delivered from the spiritual darkness of Satan (Acts 26:17-18)

For most of my life, I believed the Devil was very much a part of the natural and spiritual world. I believed that I was in a death struggle with the Devil, and only by fighting, resisting, and holding fast, would I overcome him. After all, the Bible said, he that endureth to the end shall be saved.

the devil made me do itAfter reading books like This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness (Frank Peretti), along with a plethora of books about demonology and spiritual warfare, I was sure that there was a spiritual war going on all around me, some of it visible some of it not. While I was not so extreme that I saw a demon under every bed, I did think that the Devil was to blame for the evil that went on in the world. I also thought that much of the theological compromise and moral failure in the church was the direct result of the Devil causing Christians to fail. In other words, to quote Flip Wilson, the Devil made them do it.

As I look back on this now, I see that blaming the Devil was a way for Christians, pastors, and churches to escape culpability for their actions. If only the Devil hadn’t tempted them, led them astray…. Countless churches have excused the debauched behavior of pastors, deacons, and lay people by saying that the Devil took advantage of the person when they were spiritually weak.

As an atheist, I know there is no such thing as a Devil or demons or God for that matter. I have no one to blame but myself when I behave poorly. I am accountable for what I do each and every day. It is my life, my choices. No Flip Wilson moments, no blame. If I ever had an affair it would be my fault. If let my emotions get the best of me and I lash out at someone, it is my fault. When I look back over my almost 57 years of life, I see many transgressions and failures. While many things contributed to these lapses in good judgement, I alone am responsible for these things.

This is the one area of Christian thinking that irritates me the most. When a Christian “falls” into sin (seems like a lot of Christians run, not fall, into sin), acts like an asshole, exercises poor judgment, commits a crime, or behaves poorly, there is always some excuse for their actions.  Weakness, the flesh, temptation, lack of prayer/Bible reading, lack of the wife putting out, lackadaisical church attendance, and it is the Devil that lurks in the shadows of all these excuses.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Christians owned their behavior. Imagine how different and safer the world would be if churches called a spade a spade. Instead of circling the wagons and calling the lawyers, imagine a church calling a press conference to let the world know:

Yes, our pastor was arrested for molesting children. We immediately reported him to authorities when we found out about it. We want him to be legally punished and we will do everything in our power to make sure he never pastors again. We accept full responsibility for what he did on our watch.  We apologize to everyone who was hurt by our pastor’s actions. We have set up a multimillion dollar fund to help his victims. While this can’t take away the pain of what he did, we hope, in some small way, this will help those whose lives were devastated by his vile, wicked actions.

All of us understand how it possible for an authority figure to take advantage of others. As awful as it is, it happens. Outside of the church, we use the legal system to punish such people. Unfortunately, in the church, as the Catholic and IFB abuse scandals clearly show, excuses are made, evil acts are covered up or denied, and victims are forced to sue in order to get their pound of flesh. Far too often, the abusive, predatory pastor, deacon, or church member evades being held accountable for their actions and later moves down the road to start their new life in Christ.

If I could preach one sermon to Christians it would be…stop making excuses. Stop blaming the Devil for bad or criminal behavior. Stop turning church members into weak, frail children who just can’t help themselves. Stop blaming Devil inspired women, with their short skirts, tight pants, and push up bras, for the lust and moral failure of Christian men. They chose to look, they chose to touch, they chose to have an affair. No one is to blame but them.

How about you? Did you believe in a real Devil? Do you think believing in a personal Devil allows some Christians to have a the devil made me do it excuse when they behave poorly or morally transgress?  Please share your devilish thoughts in the comment section.

Comments (10)

  1. ismellarat

    You’re missing the potential of this idea. You could be saying that it’s not your fault that you deconverted, because the devil made you do it.

  2. Ahab

    When I was a Catholic, I saw Satan not so much as a tempter but as a malevolent force who wanted to spiritually harm me. In that fear-based belief system, there was no shortage of paranoia fuel, such as Satan, Hell, and failing to measure up to God’s impossible standards & provoking his wrath. After deconverting, there was a LOT less fear in my life.

    I see a similar dynamic among Apostolic Christians I used to know. Demonic entities and spiritual onslaughts from Satan were normal parts of their world, and could be dispelled only through prayer and faith. Several told stories of terrifying visitations by malevolent spirits. Whether these people were collectively unwell, had overactive imaginations, or were steeped in a paranoid theology, I don’t know, but their belief in Satan and demons gave their faith a hysterical tone.

    Among some New Apostolic Reformation preachers, such as Lou Engle and Cindy Jacobs, Satan and demons become cosmic forces driving everything they don’t like (homosexuality, abortion, etc.). The problem is, is one believes that an issue is backed by Satan, it makes rational conversation and dialogue about it impossible — thus their intractable positions on these issues.

  3. Angiep

    I’m almost too embarrassed to admit I actually believed in Satan. I didn’t believe he held any real power over Christians, but he was actively at work in the world. Now when I hear of people describing themselves as Satanists, I know they aren’t actually about immorality or doing bad things to people, they just have a different mental approach to life. And I am not at all bothered by that.

  4. sgl

    first, i think the greatest crimes in the world are done by institutions, usually gov’ts,, not by individual people.

    i don’t and never have believed in a literal devil. however, more recently as a metaphor for powerful institutions committing great crimes, and the people associated with those institutions going along without much protest, it may be apt.

    in particular, there are a number of interesting essays about “power and principalities” on the experimental theology blog. as one example, see the following essay, which says that corps and gov’ts are “powers and principalities” and people devote their lives to those entities, thinking they control them, but in fact they are the ones being controlled (no pithy quotes, so read the whole thing):
    (also note: i left a comment on that thread, for those interested).

    and, another author, who uses different terminology, but likewise sees that we humans let various mental constructions and institutions rule our lives without really thinking about them:

    In his groundbreaking “Eros and Magic in the Renaissance” (1984) Culianu argued that modern advertising is a form of magic, and proposed that modern consumer societies can be seen as “magician states” in which social control is primarily maintained not by violence but by manipulation through magically charged images. It’s a crucial insight; when people treat, say, fizzy brown sugar water as a source of their identity and human value, their resemblance to fairy-tale characters under an enchantment isn’t accidental. They’re quite literally caught up in a spell.

    Those who aren’t used to magic may find it easier to think of spells as stories. Quite a lot of magic, in fact, can be understood as storytelling. The mage uses symbol and ritual to tell a story, and makes it so spellbinding that the listeners come to believe that it’s real — and then make it real by their actions. Magical combat is a struggle between storytellers, in which each mage tries to define a common reality in terms of the story that best serves his or her purposes. The struggle between the global corporate system and the activist community, to build on Culianu’s insights, can be seen as a conflict of magicians telling opposing stories.

    Consider George Lakey’s fascinating account of the Otpor movement against Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in his article “Strategizing for a Living Revolution” (pp. 135-160). One of the tactics Otpor members used to halt police violence against them was to take photos of their wounded and make sure the family members, neighbors, and children of the police got to see them. This was a brilliant bit of magic. The individual human beings who made up that reified abstraction, “the police,” were stripped of that identity by a spell of unnaming, and turned back into neighbors, husbands, children, parents: people who were part of civil society, and subject to its standards and social pressures. That couldn’t have been achieved if Otpor had reified and protested “police brutality,” since that act would have strengthened the reification of police as something other than ordinary members of society.

    the whole essay, while rather long, is well worth reading i think, as it gives a very interesting and unique view of the world.

    also, consider that right now, the federal reserve has been printing up $85 billion in new money out of thin air for almost 2 years, as if this somehow makes us wealthier, and yet few people seem to be paying attention. if we can print money without consequences, why does anyone need to pay taxes? why can’t we just print enough money to make everyone in the world rich?

    or, a more humorous look at how we get ourselves confused by these mental constructs:

    “Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Because the players are always changing — the team can move to another city — you’re actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it. You know what I mean? You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt — they hate him now. Boo! Different shirt!! Boo!”
    — Jerry Seinfeld


  5. Byroniac

    I believed strongly in a real Devil though I was never extremely charismatic in my beliefs, yet I secretly harbored a perverse desire to be “noticed” by Satan as an enemy. LOL!

  6. Jada

    So many christians cannot understand what really happens when they zealously defend their leaders who behave badly. Ethical people who can no longer lie to themselves leave the faith, and the world thinks a little less of the believer and his beliefs with every transgression that remains unaccounted for.

  7. Stephanie

    I could see this making sense in a metaphorical sense. Satan could represent the bad/selfish/evil side in all of us. The problem only comes when he is seen as a scapegoat for everything bad people do. I was always taught that satan could tempt someone but they still had a choice, which I think makes more sense.

  8. Aram McLean

    Martin Luther said it most eloquently regarding drink:

    “Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.”
    ― Martin Luther

    1. NeverAgainV

      Dang….no wonder many of the Lutherans I know are heavy drinkers!!
      Sheesh!! LOL!!! :)

  9. JP

    “Yes, our pastor was arrested for molesting children. We immediately reported him to authorities when we found out about it. We want him to be legally punished and we will do everything in our power to make sure he never pastors again. We accept full responsibility for what he did on our watch. We apologize to everyone who was hurt by our pastor’s actions. We have set up a multimillion dollar fund to help his victims. While this can’t take away the pain of what he did, we hope, in some small way, this will help those whose lives were devastated by his vile, wicked actions.”

    If only IBLP would do something like this now that Bill Gothard has been put on administrative leave. Sadly, many people have been hurt or damaged through that organization. They need to own their actions (but likely won’t).


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