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Is Satan Real?

satan clutching the world

Yes and no. Satan is real to the degree that people believe he is. Evangelicals, in particular, believe that Satan is a living, breathing fallen angel. Evangelicals are Biblical literalists, so when they read what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about Satan, the Devil, or Beelzebub, they believe what they are reading is non-fiction and biographical in nature. In their minds, Satan is every bit as alive as Jesus. He is a roaring lion who walks on the face of the earth seeking whom he may devour. Satan is a tempter who finds great joy in causing Christians to fall into sin. The number one excuse Evangelical preachers give when accused of sexual misconduct? No, not “I DIDN’T DO IT!” No, not “I thought she was eighteen.” No, the number one excuse given by Evangelical preachers is, to quote Flip Wilson, “THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!” 

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According to Evangelicals, Satan has a large army of demons, and in legion with one another, they do their damnedest to tempt Christians to sin against God. Satan dangles the wares of the world in front of them, and in moments of weakness, they give in and sin. Much like the red scare in the 1950s McCarthy era, Evangelicals see Satan under every bed. Try as they might to bind him and cast him out, Satan continues to afflict God’s chosen people. He is their arch-nemesis.

Believing Satan is real allows Evangelicals to escape personal responsibility for bad behavior. The thinking goes that if Satan had not led them astray they wouldn’t have sinned. Dammit, Satan. If you hadn’t tempted me, I never would have had sex with my secretary! Just exchange “sex with my secretary” with whatever sin they are accused of committing. Wait a minute. I thought Evangelicals are indwelt with the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t having God living inside of you provide an inoculation against sinning? How is it possible that the voice of Satan drowns out the voice of God? Evangelicals regularly attend church and do all the religious stuff they are expected to do, yet they continue to sin in thought, word, and deed. What gives?

Of course, Evangelical preachers have all sorts of answers for the continued Satan-fueled sinfulness of Christians, one of which is that they are a work in progress (sanctification) and God is not finished with them yet. Fine, I can understand that. We all grow and mature as we age. None of us is the person today that we were when we were in our twenties. However, it is Evangelicals who demand non-Christians perfectly obey the moral teachings of the Bible. Who is the primary driver and funder of the culture war? Evangelicals. Who is it that has a hard-on over homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and premarital sex? Evangelicals. Hear voices screaming long and hard in the public square about “immorality”? Who is it? Evangelicals. Everywhere we look we find Evangelicals who feel they are the morality police. Yet, these same people don’t practice what they preach.

If Evangelicals can use Satan as an excuse for their bad behavior, why can’t non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, and pagans do the same? After all, the Bible says that non-Christians have been taken captive by Satan and he does whatever he wants with us. This makes sense, as the Bible also says that Satan is our father. Damn parental training, right? If only God had been our father . . . oh, wait, he doesn’t seem to be a very good daddy either.

Here we are, it’s 2022. We live in an enlightened scientific world. You would think that believing Satan is real would be banished to the dustbin of human history. Unfortunately, Evangelicals still live in a world where a real Satan is required to explain evil and behaviors deemed sinful. Over the past fifteen years, I have been told by Evangelicals countless times that I am a tool of Satan. How else to explain my deconversion from Christianity? Satan made me do it!

As an atheist, I firmly believe that culpability for good or bad behavior rests with the person committing the act. While there may be mitigating factors, we are the ones who do what we do. We are responsible for our actions. Imagine how different Evangelical churches might be if personal accountability was preached? Instead, congregants are told that they are broken and in need of saving, and even after Jesus saves them, Satan lurks in the shadows ready and able to tempt them to “sin.” Church members are encouraged to continually prostrate themselves before God, begging for his care and protection. Paul reminded first-century Christians that they were powerless without Jesus; that the Christian life is one of constant battle with Satan and the flesh. Preachers tell congregants to attend church every time the doors are open, tithe, pray, tithe, read the Bible, tithe, and fast, and maybe, just maybe, when Sister Verily Voluptuous walks down the aisle, they might be able to withstand having “impure” thoughts. And you Christian ladies, the same goes for you too. Don’t think for a moment you are exempt. Your longing looks at Brother Wellhung Hunkubut have been noted! Time to follow the lust-prevention plan mentioned above.

I have long argued that Evangelical doctrine infantilizes church members; that it teaches them they are powerless and weak and in need of constant religious care; that without Jesus they will run headlong into sin and act just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Hey, don’t tar us worldlings with that brush! We’re better than that, and when we aren’t we accept responsibility for our bad behavior; all without God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, Christianity, and preachers. Granted, our “sin” lists are much smaller than those of Evangelicals, but we can and do behave in ways that are harmful to others. When I harm others, I apologize and, if necessary, make restitution. No Satan or “flesh” to blame, no God from whom to ask forgiveness. I am to blame, end of story.

I am sure some smart-ass Evangelical will attempt to argue that good behavior requires God/Christianity/Bible, but based on my observations of the Evangelical landscape, that methodology is not working out too well. It seems to me that neither God, Christianity, or the Bible is stemming bad behavior. Catholic and Evangelical churches alike are overrun with pedophiles and skirt chasers, and Christians watch porn at the same levels as their counterparts in the world. Christians seem to, in every way, live their lives in the same manner as those they damn to Hell for not believing Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Light. But, Bruce, a recent study said Christians are HAPPIER! Take that! Yeah, delusion will do that to you. Eighty-one percent of voting Evangelicals voted for the worst American president in American history, so it is clear that their happiness, at least politically, is derived from lies. And I readily admit that the promise of a room in God’s Trump Hotel® in the afterlife might make me happy too, but there is no evidence for the fulfillment of such a promise. We live, we die, end of story. Solemn, at times depressing? Sure, but life is what it is. You can either choose to live in a fantasy world, or you can see things as they are, and not how religious gurus tell you they will be someday.

Did you attend a church where Satan was alive and well? Did you fear Satan? Were you tempted by his wiles and devices — or thought you were anyway? Please share your stories in the comment section!

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    Oh yeah, Southern Baptists believed that Satan was always on the prowl, tempting Saved Sandy and Righteous Rob so he could get his jollies when they sinned. Satan was a busy bee, putting dinosaur bones into the ground to deceive us; controlling Hollywood; making rock musicians record his demonic messages backwards on recordings; giving people cancer; causing hurricanes and wildfires and earthquakes to destroy earth; making people abort babies; influencing Communists and democrats; leading a cadre of demon assistants. (God, on the other hand, just sits on his heavenly buttocks and does very little, waiting for his one day of judgment to just blow it all up. It seems Satan has a better work ethic.)

    All these grown evangelicals from my past believe in God/Jesus/Holy Spirit god combo with their host of protecting angels and Satan with his rabblerousing demons. I can’t help but think, are you guys still 8 years old? You need a god-daddy and a scapegoat devil to blame for what you choose to do? I don’t even know how to have a conversation about religion with people who believe that they are part of Team Jesus and I am evil as a fool of Satan deceived by the Lord of Lies. Their doctrines set them up to never believe or take into consideration anything I say. People just don’t want to become fully functioning adults, I guess. They want Captain America Jesus to save them.

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    That’s a very good point about the Heavenly Trump hotel

    He should sell shares in it, similar to what Jim Bakker did in the 80’s! Think of the trillions he could make off his brain dead crazies!

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      This is an older post, but folks in my family are now making reservations at the Heavenly Musk Motel! Updated amenities, same authoritarian charm!

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    Oh yes, Satan was alive and well, and hiding in every corner according to the IFB and southern baptist churches I attended. Oddly enough, he didn’t seem to have quite as much influence with the missionary baptist crowd. Not sure why that was so. It caused a lot of fear in my life. I always felt that no matter how hard I tried, I was going to fail because Satan is the ruler of this world. Now, I feel quite stupid for ever having believed any of it.

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    Becky Wiren

    It’s pretty interesting how the more religious a state in the US is determined to be, the more said state is shown to consume porn. And conversely the more non-religious states consume less porn. Oh, and the map of countries that are the least religious is almost a duplicate of the map of countries that are most peaceful. Now, correlation is not causation but those facts are fascinating, to say the least.

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      Of course, as Southern Baptists, we were all in on the existence of God and Satan, angels and demons. We believed that these invisible brings were actively engaged in warfare all around us. As a kid, I wanted to know why God hadn’t defeated Satan already – what was taking so long? I was told that God works in his own ways and timeline…

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    Benny S

    I believed certain silly things about Satan, just as everyone else around me also did. I think my beliefs in Satan possibly were a factor in why I finally concluded that Christianity made no sense, because:

    #1 – Satan could read my mind and know what I was going to do before I did it (therefore he was omniscient).
    #2 – All my friends in bible study needed weekly prayer because of his attacking each and every one of them routinely, while also, at the same time, he was deceiving Hindus, Buddhists, etc in every other corner of the world (therefore he was omnipresent).
    #3 – He could change the weather, put certain world leaders in office, give kids cancer, take Jesus up to very high mountains, etc (therefore he was omnipotent).

    Oh, and just as a side anecdote, I used to know someone who, when sitting down in a chair, accidentally mis-judged her planting of her butt in the seat and instead she planted her butt on the floor. What was her first reaction? Getting up off the floor, turning around, and casting / exorcising Satan out of the chair.

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    Thanks for this repost, Bruce. I’d become increasingly concerned that Sam, my 6yo g/son’s other g/parents were telling him he’s a miserable sinner who personally caused jesus to die for him. I went on a mission to counter this and feel I’ve got somewhere with Sam. He now acknowledges he’s not a worm, he’s the best reader in his class, star of the school xmas concert and builds amazing things from Lego and I love him to pieces and always will, even when he’s having a bad day or a temper tantrum. So, (sigh), I now see I’ll need to be prepared for those g/parents telling him about the devil prowling around him. I’m not good ‘off the cuff’ and this post has fore-warned me to have my counter attack ready about the fictitious baddy who has no power over Sam’s – or anyone else’s – life! Then he’ll come into my bed at 6am, when I visit at weekends and we’ll cuddle and then lay side by side, stare at the ceiling and I’ll know when I’ve given him food for thought as we chat, and he’s been reassured that I’ve affirmed who he is, a great little guy. (It’s too long and complicated to explain what his parents feel about the fundy beliefs of the g/parents, but don’t like it and they’re gonna have to confront them one day, I’m sure!) Meanwhile, the naughty granny, me, fills his head with her rational, atheistic worldview.)

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    Is Satan real? Well, you said it, he’s as real as God. So, if you believe God is real then so do you believe that Satan is real.
    Is he the same as God? Not even close. The Bible teaches that he is not to be messed with but nowhere does it teach that he is all powerful like God. I may be jumping to conclusions here but, given that his powers are limited, he can’t make you do anything that you don’t choose to do.
    Do he and his followers encourage you to do things in a certain way? Well I believe they do but, as you so eloquently put it “culpability for good or bad behaviour rests with the person committing the act.” To extend the “sinful act” of voting for a wasted president a bit further;
    Attending a political rally and listening to the motivational speech to encourage us to vote in a certain manner does not constitute a vote. Only when you cast your vote in a specific manner does the encouragement have any impact. In that same way, I believe, any external encouragement is still subject to the decision to act or not to act.
    Is Satan real? Maybe.
    Does he make people do “bad” things? Not so much.
    Would there be “bad” things to do if he were not around? Now there is a topic for your next blog post…

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    Merle Hertzler

    When the thought came of doing something wrong, I was told that this was Satan or one of his demons speaking in my mind. When the thought came about doing something right, I was told that was Jesus or the Spirit speaking in my mind. If these beings were truly speaking in our minds, then there are enough of people in there for great conversation! This is a tragically unrealistic view of the human mind. My brain consists of many neurons, which produce many thoughts in my mind. Some neurons produce beneficial thoughts, and some make suggestions that the unified me can rightly resist. But the thoughts are all mine. No devil is in there talking.

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    MJ LIsbeth

    Ironically, those who say I or people generally have a “sinful nature” are right. Some of the things folks in my Evangelical church attributed to Satan–including my gender identity and sexuality– were, in fact, part of my “sinful” nature. For that is exactly what it is: my nature. No amount of praying or Bible study, no pleas to Jesus, ever took it away.

    Of course, not everything in our natures should be expressed. The examples of the pastor sleeping with his secretary or the priest molesting an altar boy come to mind. But believing that Satan was causing me to be who I am–or simply getting the message that it’s wrong–did me damage I’m still undoing.

    Freud was misogynistic and generally strange, but he did a lot for the human race with his concept of the subconscious–which is more or less what you get when you take the devil out of the equation.

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Bruce Gerencser