Summoning the Prince of Darkness

Dear H,

When I was young my mom always advised me, if I ever thought Satan was nearby, to never attempt to summon him.  She was worried he might show up.  And so, naturally, I did what any young boy would do when asked to not do something stupid, and I asked him to show himself anyway.  I sometimes asked timidly, and other times with a manly defiance -- but I always asked.  I never really felt like there was anything to lose.  If Satan is in your room, you might as well know he's there for sure; just as it's much better to know if he isn't.  It's the sitting around and wondering that ruins a child's sleep.

It's needless to say I was disappointed in the result; almost as disappointed as my mom was when I told her I spent years trying to summon Satan.  Of course, she still firmly believes in Satan, when Satan was the first thing I stopped believing before I slid into apostasy.  It felt strange talking about him, whether he has a red suit and a tail or he's just a slick-looking businessman trying to gum up the planet.  Silly, really.  Of course, I understand why people believe Satan exists: they want to believe in a good God and can't explain why things have gone in so many ways to hell, and they want to believe that evil thoughts come from somewhere other than ourselves.  Sometimes it's difficult for some men to even accept that something beautiful comes out of their heads, which results in people claiming things like that Homer was inspired.  And when we consider that humans are much better at shifting blame than being humble, it isn't any more difficult to believe that something diabolical can just come out of them too.  We've all had unbelievably dark thoughts and "suggestions" just pop into our minds, and modern psychology can barely explain delusions or psychosis.  What else was a Bronze Age Jew supposed to think about them?  What was he supposed to think about schizophrenia?

There have been several suggestions given to me about my failure to summon the Prince of Darkness, and my favorite of them has been that I wasn't threatening enough to The Dark Prince for any of his minions to appear.  I kid you not -- the man said Satan only bothers people he sees as a threat (which is why he spends his quality time harassing illiterates in Jamaica).  Naturally, this man said he'd had many encounters with demons and such; probably because he's an amazing Christian or something.  What nobody has ever suggested to me is killing a goat or a pigeon.  I think it's because they're familiar enough with the Old Testament to be worried God might show up instead.  Perhaps I've been getting advice from too many white people.

I've heard the argument that Satan only shows up when he's threatened before, and it's the same argument that people use whenever Pastor's kids are a mess, and the same argument people use when they find out that the most homicidal cities in the world are almost all in Catholic countries -- not places where Christianity has lacked influence altogether (say, like, Somalia).  Shifting the blame is understandable.  These things are a terrible testimony unless you have an explanation, and you can't just leave it at "pastors' kids are under a lot of pressure," or "Catholicism has a strongest foothold in places where The Age of Reason never really happened" -- no, that isn't enough to explain why things are as bad as they are.  You need someone actively and purposely ruining everything -- someone you can't see.  I'm surprised nobody has ever used this approach to explain why Christian music is so embarrassing.

The exact nature of Satan himself is questionable: there isn't really enough information in the Bible to come up with a clear description; so you have to go to folklore.  For instance, we know from the book of Job, supposedly the oldest book in the Bible, that Satan roams the earth and plays the role of a cosmic prosecuting attorney -- which is strange, considering that the Judge is supposed to be omniscient.  His very name originally meant the accuser or the adversary.  We also know from Job that he doesn't like people very much, and that he likes to ruin their homes and kill their families just to prove a point.  

We know from the Book of Jude (which borrowed it from The Apocrypha) that he tried to steal Moses' body for some inscrutable reason, and that he's oftentimes called the "ruler of this world" by Jesus -- as if God wasn't Himself in charge.  We know from the Book of Daniel that he has specific territories, and armies to guard them.  And every Protestant, despite all the sola scriptura talk, seems to know about the fall of Satan, despite the fact that nowhere in the Bible mentions anything even approaching Satan's fall, excepting a passage which is obviously a reference to the king of Babylon.  But the strangest part of all is that Jesus personally said that the Ruler of This World is cast out, and Christians still consider Satan to be a problem.  You would think there would be a lot more arguing about the issue, considering so many people demand we take the Bible literally, and Paul and Peter repeatedly contradicted Jesus on the matter.  But I suppose if we wanted to compromise between the two, we could say the Devil telecommutes from the dark side of the moon.

I've only heard one believable story about Satan, and it comes from the most respectable source possible: your grandpa.  Your grandpa is not a liar: more than anyone else I know, he's got his head on straight (and to be fair, there are many intelligent men who at least claim to believe in Satan).  But he said that one day, toward the end of the 60's, he invited a couple of friends over on a sunny San Diego afternoon.  As they were sitting around outside listening to Sgt. Pepper, one of them, a young lady, got a dazed look in her eye as though she'd tuned out completely, stood up, and began running at a tremendous speed down the pavement.

My dad was puzzled at first, but became alarmed when she -- in the middle of a full run -- jumped into the air, went stiff as a board, and landed face-first onto the pavement.  He was in a state of total disbelief; the man next to him wasn't.  Dad's friend ran over and almost as if he knew exactly what he was doing, began chanting over the prostrate woman running his fingers along the side of her face.  It looked as though her whole weight was lifting off the ground with every stroke of his hand.  After a short while, the woman got back up and eventually joined them at the table, only to get the dazed look on her face again, start running, and then dive face-first into the pavement.

After a second round of chanting, she stood up, and was promptly asked by my dad to leave the premises.  I don't know what else a man would do in a situation like that, especially when he believed, like dad did at the time, that there wasn't any such thing as an afterlife.  But that is his story, and I have no way of refuting it.  You can bring contrary experiences to combat a theory, but you can't tell a man he didn't see what he saw.  Our experiences are the surest proofs we have of anything: the only thing we've got to go on, other than that, are the experiences of trustworthy men.  And I believe him when he said what he said.  Who I do not believe is the author of the Book of Job -- a man so anonymous that nobody knows when he actually lived.  But a council said that every word of the Bible is from God Himself, so I suppose we'll have to believe him.

It's completely possible that spirits could exist, and if a spirit can have any kind of a personality, it's possible they could be malevolent.  The fact that I haven't personally seen anything is no proof of something's nonexistence; animals can sense all kinds of things we can't, which means that our entire perception of the universe is shaped by the things we've been permitted by our senses to see.  We barely take into account the things that we do see, or understand the meaning behind them.  How can we take into account everything that we can't?  I hear that narwhals direct themselves using electromagnetic radiation or something like it; and all kinds of animals will start running if they can sense an earthquake coming.  We're learning to detect and manipulate all kinds of invisible things every day.  Who's to say there isn't something we and the animals have missed entirely? 

I'll leave this question to you -- you will have to decide for yourself what you believe on the issue.  There isn't any shame with taking the side of many of history's greatest minds: but if you're going to believe in the Devil, always remember to blame yourself first and foremost if anything is your fault, and be especially curious for natural explanations first.  The people who blame everything on spiritual forces are kooks.