Get Behind Me Satan

So I watched the Nightline debate that aired last week on the existence of Satan. If you haven’t watched yet, you can watch the long edit here, which in my opinion is much more compelling than the short edit that aired on TV.

My first thought while watching was that I wish both Annie Lobert and Bishop Carlton Pearson could have been replaced by more knowledgeable panelists. Not that they both don’t have interesting histories and worthwhile stories to tell, but they didn’t seem able to articulate their positions as well as the other panelists. I think this is especially the case with Annie. She has a great story and is doing great work now, but I struggle to find why she’s on this panel other than the whole idea of “Hookers for Jesus” along with her appearance were found to be a bit more “TV ready” by the producers of Nightline than many others who could have added significantly more strength behind the “Satan is real” position. How nice would it have been if instead we had NT Wright and Elaine Pagels on their perspective sides of the issue? But maybe I’m expecting way too much from ABC News.

I suppose that my position on the issue is probably more aligned with Deepak Chopra’s articulation of his argument with a little bit of Driscoll’s perspective thrown in. I believe that a large chunk of Chopra’s perspective is still reconcilable within Christianity. I agree with much of his main points but he really seemed uninterested in articulating his view in a way that was more relatable to Christians. Not that he was uncharitable, but he didn’t go out of his way to connect to those who are on the other side of the issue. Driscoll, on the other hand, seemed charitable and kind. I did think it was painfully ironic that Driscoll cracked on Chopra for being “demeaning” to other perspectives. Pot, meet kettle. Driscoll also criticized Chopra for saying that he had a more “enlightened view” than those on Driscoll’s side of the debate, which again, it’s funny to no end for those of us who’ve kept track of Driscoll making a career out of the exact same practice. Would Driscoll not call his theological view more enlightened than Doug Pagitt’s or Rob Bell’s? Give me a break, Mark. It’s like Barry Bonds complaining that the other players are taking steroids.

One of the main thrusts of Chopra and Pearson’s argument was to critique the mythology within Christianity, as evident by the commonly held belief in a literal Satan figure. I second this critique of the mythic, exoteric nature which is widely found in Christianity today. In moving forward, this is going to be huge hurdle for Christians to move beyond. Myths serve a purpose and myths have value, but we must move beyond the common myths prevalently found within Christianity. In my view, Satan as a literal figure of any kind is a myth. He serves as a visual symbol that represents the evil found in the human experience. I disagree with with Chopra and Pearson that acknowledging the existence of Satan is inherently dangerous to one’s spiritual development. It all depends on how we use the image of Satan in our understanding of evil. If Satan is a figure “out there”, separate from ourselves, causing us to participate in evil behavior, then I would agree that view would be unhelpful and invalid. But if we acknowledge that Satan represents our own personal and corporate capacity for evil, an evil that is found within, then giving that evil a physicality is often helpful in confronting that evil and moving beyond it.

Another interesting moment was when Annie was talking about how the Bible is “the standard” and how we can’t deviate in any way from what it teaches…..while wearing gold earrings and no head covering to be found. When Pearson pointed this out, Driscoll defended with the “you can’t judge her.” Again Mark, take a peek at your blog archive, por favor.

Another moment of interest was when Annie got emotional at the end. She had clearly been affected by Chopra and Pearson’s side of the argument. She made the appeal that “God is love” and he’s not about arguments but then in the same sentence she reiterated HER argument that Satan is real and that is that. I have no proof of this but I think her emotion is a reaction to her beliefs being firmly challenged rather than the argumentative nature of the debate. If you can’t handle having your ideas thoroughly challenged, then you should probably stay away from debating your view. But when our hallow certainties are challenged with well thought out positions, a panic can set in. All I can say is may we embrace and move through our doubts. It’s so much more fun on the other side. 😉

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17 thoughts on “Get Behind Me Satan

  1. “How nice would it have been if instead we had NT Wright and Elaine Pagels on their perspective sides of the issue?”

    Man, that would’ve made this so much more compelling.

  2. Is hearing Chopra saying “Big Bang” as weird to anyone else as it is to me? And then he starts going on about a perceived ignorance of humanity?

    All in all, though, not bad. Yes, the cringing every time Annie started to talk got a little old, but not enough to make me want to turn it off.

    -Andy

  3. zach

    you pointed out the main issue i had with Driscoll during the debate.
    He can criticize and demean other peoples points of view but if you counter his position in any way, he plays the judgement card.

    in this sense, driscoll is absolutely childish.

    it ranks up there with some calvinists saying, “i hold to a God centered theology” when discussing theology. as if the other person doesnt want to center their theological position around God also.

  4. Yeah. She is difficult to stomach. I had to fast forward through some of her parts.
    How great would it have been to have Driscoll and Rob Bell on the same side of the stage? haha

  5. I liked the fact that they had the Bishop on for some other perspective that carries in some way, shape, or form the “Christian” label, you usually don’t see that. And I appreciate that they had Annie on for the personal story. Like everyone else Wright and Pagels would be preferred, but at least if it’s going to be done in that way they included “experience” and something beyond fundamentalism. What I would really have liked to have seen would have been a conversation where everyone was less interested in proving they were right and more interested in understanding what each other were saying (as opposed to assuming they knew each other’s point of view and weaknesses in their arguments prior to meeting each other). I would have found that much more engaging and helpful. But, you gotta love the media – arguments, dramatic stories, and tears oh my. And think what you will about Annie you gotta give the girl props for the guts to do the show and share those stories.

  6. i like and agree with what you said here: ‘In my view, Satan as a literal figure of any kind is a myth. He serves as a visual symbol that represents the evil found in the human experience.’ i never thought of Satan in this way and this really helps me. i no longer believe in a literal Satan anymore but struggled with how to express this.

    i also liked this when you said, ‘But if we acknowledge that Satan represents our own personal and corporate capacity for evil, an evil that is found within, then giving that evil a physicality is often helpful in confronting that evil and moving beyond it.’

    This reminds me of Brian McLaren talking about systems being evil.

    Thanks for a really great comment on the interview as i do not feel i need to watch it because you covered it thoroughly with great commentary! 🙂

    Warm Regards,

    EP

  7. >>>”But when our hallow certainties are challenged with well thought out positions, a panic can set in. ”

    To me, you’ve nailed the crux of this issue on the head with this one sentence, Zach… and it can apply across the whole of Christendom.

  8. I also had the impression that Annie had been moved by listening to the counter arguments, although I don’t think they really swayed her. They definitely gave her something to think about, though. And you have to admit that “Hookers for Jesus” is a pretty catchy name for her group, much better than “Whores for the Lord.” But she was “raped by demons?” Really? You have to wonder about her mental health when she says stuff like that. But Chopra said it best: “Healthy people don’t need Satan.”

  9. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not too convinced that the argument of whether a literal satan figure exists is that important. Either way evil exists and we’re all part of the problem both individually and corporately in some way shape or form and need to figure out what to do with that.

  10. I’d appreciate theological foundations for the nonexistence of Satan rather than pop psychological sociological assessments of the human psyche. Drawing ontological conclusions on poorly thought out metaphysics is absolutely ludicrous. How anyone can disbelieve in Satan and still maintain a coherent theodicy is one of the most ridiculous notions within all of Christendom.

    • I guess I’m not all that interested in developing a “coherent theodicy.” Actually, I don’t think that’s even possible, and I’m ok with that. Thanks for the comment though, Matt.

  11. matt,

    your first sentence should be well noted and answered. but you probably lost a lot of interest with those next few sentences. if know you were probably dying to write them but people will be more responsive without the attacks.

  12. I have to say that the thought of Satan not actually existing disturbs me. Would that imply God made him up to scare us into salvation? What happens with Job? Who tempted Jesus out in the wilderness? I definitely believe in evil and demons being more than just the human condition, so the jump to Satan isn’t a big one for me. The discussion is an interesting one, but I seriously think they could’ve found 4 better people for it. Pearson jumped to assuming if I believe in Satan I’m a fundamentalist that’s afraid if I smoke I’ll go to hell. Driscoll did come off as arrogant…I’d rather see this discussion with 4 more.

    And, just because the movie was great…

    “The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled Was Convincing the World He Didn’t Exist” -Usual Suspects 😉

  13. Zach,

    “In my view, Satan as a literal figure of any kind is a myth. He serves as a visual symbol that represents the evil found in the human experience. I disagree with with Chopra and Pearson that acknowledging the existence of Satan is inherently dangerous to one’s spiritual development. It all depends on how we use the image of Satan in our understanding of evil. If Satan is a figure “out there”, separate from ourselves, causing us to participate in evil behavior, then I would agree that view would be unhelpful and invalid. But if we acknowledge that Satan represents our own personal and corporate capacity for evil, an evil that is found within, then giving that evil a physicality is often helpful in confronting that evil and moving beyond it.”

    Since this is through the written word on the internet I want to preface this to make sure my tone is not misconstrued. I am not intending to challenge your view or tell you that you are wrong, I simply wish to understand.

    That said I would love to hear how you came to this view/your theological basis for this conclusion. It seems the Bible is pretty clear that Satan is a literal figure.

    I have always been in the camp that Satan, along with demons and hell, is real. Not in the way much of modern Christianity view them, but real none the less.

    I also hold the belief that modern Christians give him too much credit instead of dealing with what is going on inside of them. After all, James says, “each one is tempted when he is carried away by his own lusts.”

    I do not hold a strict fundamentalist view of the Bible (although I used too), yet I still do not see how one can say that Satan as an entity does not exist based on what the Bible says. I will accept that parts of the scriptures can be seen as “myth”, i.e. creation, I am just not sure if this really falls into that category.

    But perhaps I’m missing something, and that is why I raise the question.

  14. Steve,

    I think the word “real” gets us in to some problems. Do I think that Satan is “real”? Yeah, I do. But it depends on what one means by “real.” While I don’t think hell or satan exist in a literal sense, I think they exist. And I’m not really all that interested in convincing those who disagree with otherwise. I just happen to believe there are helpful and unhelpful ways in perceiving the evil in the world and believing in a literal Satan figure can be an obstacle to dealing with the Satan within us and outside of us.

    But I’m curious, if Satan is a literal being, then what does he/she/it look like and where would one look to see for themselves?

  15. Stumbled across this blog from another, ended up watching the entirety of this debate online, and went and read your response.

    Quick comment: I was surprised to read that you thought so poorly of Pearson as I had actually finished viewing the discussion thinking he was rather helpful in bridging the two “sides.” With his cheesy mock up I wasn’t expecting a ton out of him, but I ended up being relatively impressed with the knowledge he drew upon and the point of view he provided

    As for the whole debate, I am torn on my exact position (as I should be, I suppose.) Certainly I would call Driscoll’s perspective a bit limiting, though I don’t think I can outright dismiss the existence of a “Satan” figure completely. Personally, my understanding of much of the transcendent has been directly impacted by my brief exposure to a better understanding of dimensional reality as a whole. Thus, as I try to come to terms with the reality of a 4th dimension and beyond, it only seems appropriate that I can’t completely dismiss the existence of creation beyond my experience.

    As to your question relating to the identity of a literal Satan, C.S. Lewis did a fantastic job of blowing my mind in his ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ trilogy. But of course, he used dimensional space as well, so I can only suggest reading it if you haven’t already.

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