Thursday, March 18, 2010

"The Devil Made Me Do It"

While reading Drudge Report a few mornings ago, I came across an article about the Vatican. No, it’s not about Catholic priests molesting little boys…..per se. The Vatican’s chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, says that Satan has infiltrated the Vatican. Even though the man has performed 70,000 exorcisms in the past twenty-five years, it still hasn’t deterred the “might of Satan.” I’m just going to throw this question out: “If the Vatican is such a holy place, how could Satan possess such a stronghold over it?”

I leave that question aside for a moment, and get to the larger issue at hand: blaming evil on Satan.  In all sincerity, is “it’s the devil’s work” this an actual argument? Satan made me do it?! Growing up as a Catholic, I unfortunately know the answer to that question all too well. It doesn’t matter which denomination of Christianity to which you adhere; the answer is decidedly “yes.” I don’t even want to get into the fact that Satan suddenly becomes a focus in Christian theology when the Tanach only mentions the word “Satan” twenty times [fourteen of which are in the book of Job because Satan happens to be the antagonist in the Book, and the other six times, can be translated as “adversary”]. I’ll even ignore the fact that in the Book of Isaiah (45:7), it states that “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the L-rd, do all these things,” would negate the Christian notion of Satan.

What bothers me is that have you have found a convenient scapegoat—“the Devil.” The reason for feeling perturbed is that if you have a found a spiritual bouc émissaire, personal responsibility goes out the window. “The Devil made me do it” is nothing short of flabby, religious determinism.

What ever happened to free will? Judaism has a skeptical view of human nature. Flip through the Tanach, and it’s a series of stories outlining the imperfections of man. However, G-d teaches that “Sin crouches at the door, but you can overcome it (Genesis 4:7).” No excuses, no finger-pointing. Sure, it’s difficult to overcome one’s evil inclination, but it can be done! If we didn’t have free will, what is the point of G-d telling us to do things such as “love thy neighbor” or “don’t put a stumbling block before your fellow man?” If you can point the finger at Satan, not only would there be no reason to behave properly, but Torah becomes superfluous. So rather than blaming shortcomings on some external, non-existent force, maybe those in the Vatican, like everybody else, should take a look in the mirror and take constructive measures to correct their flaws.

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