When I first ventured onto Facebook several years ago, I was filling out the personal info forms which included books that I had read, two of which were by Neal Donald Walsch. Shortly thereafter, someone with whom I had went to high school, posted without specific reference to me, an observation to another person I had went to school, “Neal Donald Walsch is of the devil” and his friend responded quickly with, “Yeah, straight from the pits of hell.” I immediately knew it was “Welcome to Facebook” from my old classmates, though without the courage of telling it to me directly.
But I also knew immediately, “Well, they are right! Walsch is ‘straight from the devil’ given the world they live in, the world which I somehow managed to leave decades ago.” For with Walsch and so many other authors, I had ventured into forbidden territory. For any tribe offers its young patterns of thinking and behaving from which departure is discouraged with warnings such as, “It’s of the devil.” It reminds me of the warnings ancient cartographers would emblazon on parts of the world maps to which no one had traveled, “There be the dragons.” And to venture beyond the pale prescribed by these tribal elders is to incur duress which might feel at times like “hell.”
This memory provided a flashback of my youth spent in die-hard biblical literalism of the American South and the stern admonishment that anyone who ventured to look at the Bible with an open mind was already flirting with Satan. And I also recalled how this rigidity disallowed me from questioning any Biblical, “axiomatic” truths such as that Blacks were an inferior race, that women were to be submissive to their husband even to the point of what we now call “marital rape,” and even…and here I get into the mundane…that the Southern Baptists were “unscriptural” and “liberal” and thus following the devil because they were sending their missionaries out through a “Mission Board.” (See explanatory footnote)
But, I still believe firmly in the existence….or “presence” of a “devil”…though I do not see him or “it” as I was taught. This is partly due to discovering the darkness in my own heart and accepted that I will have to wrestle with it the rest of my life. And I see this darkness throughout the world when I observe the stubborn blindness of my fellow man to disregard the spiritual dimension of life and blindingly worship our modern deities…such as consumerism…even as we convince ourselves that we are worshipping God, thinly disguised as, “Truth, justice, and ‘the American Way.” So, yes. There is a devil!
The Devil, Satan, or whatever you want to call it is always a very real presence with each of us. I have found “it” is most present when I’m most sure of myself and even more so when I’m sure of myself with spirituality. Reflecting back to my days in “certainty” I realize I had subscribed to a “willful blindness” rather than accept that I could only “see through a glass darkly.” It was easier to just keep my blinders on and shut out doubt and insecurity, scream my dogma and jargon a little more loudly when threatened than to venture into the primordial silence which the Bible describes as “the still small voice of God.”
I think the devil is most conspicuous in our need to be right. I think the surest way to locate the devil is to watch for those who are most emphatic in announcing “we are right” and they are always ready to explain why. And, knowing they are right, they usually feel that “god” is leading them to force others to believe and behave just like they do. The need “to be right” always reveals a profound internal conviction of being “wrong,” really, really wrong, intrinsically wrong. And even there in that unconscious “knowledge” a narcissistic wounding expresses itself in a kind of grandiosity. Being a mere mortal, fraught with human frailty and avarice, is not enough. They must be “intrinsically bad.”