Friday, March 30, 2007

Oh, the Devil will make work for idle hands to do...

Allow me to introduce you to Theo Hobson, an occasional contributor to the pigsty that is Comment Is Free. Theo announced in a post a couple of days ago, without a trace of irony, that he “believes in Satan”. How quaint.

I’ve never really understood the whole Satan thing. I suppose if you must believe in the existence of fictional characters then he’s as worthwhile as any other (up there with Zeus, Thor and, I don’t know, Champion The Wonder Horse). But how do Christians reconcile the existence of Satan with their belief in an omniscient, omnipotent God? The very existence of Satan contradicts the concept of an ‘almighty’ doesn’t it?

The medieval philosopher St .Anselm set out to prove the existence of God with his ontological argument. It’s rubbish: a question of semantics rather than anything demonstrative. Basically speaking, he posited that if you can conceive of (i.e. agree to the theoretical existence, but not the actual) some being “than which nothing greater can be conceived” and accept that such a being would be ‘God’, then nothing can be imagined that is greater than God. But if God does not exist, then you can imagine something that is greater than God – namely, a God that does exist. Ergo, God exists. Like I said: a rubbish argument. Couldn’t we perform the same mental exercise with anything? Sausage rolls, teapots, leopards, rocking chairs…

I wonder if Mr Hobson followed this reductio ad absurdum to come to the same conclusion about Satan? “I am capable of conceiving a being (or a beast!) so vile, so vicious, so dripping in pure undiluted evil. What could possibly be worse than that? Why, such a thing that exhibits all the same qualities but really does exist. Therefore, Satan is real! Eeek! Lock up your chickens! Hide the Black Sabbath albums!”

To quote from the article:
Christian faith, in my experience, is all about engaging with Satan, arguing with him, and, above all, trusting that God has defeated him, crushed him. Faith is knowing that, thanks to Jesus Christ, Satan is finished. He might be strong in the short term, but in reality, he is a spent force. Through faith, one can defy him.
Erm. So Christian faith is about engaging with somebody that has already been destroyed by the power of your faith? That can’t be easy. If Satan has been defeated and crushed, what is there to engage with? If, thanks to Jesus, Satan is finished, who are you arguing with? And if your faith is so very powerful, why did Satan ever exist in the first place? For Hobson, belief in evil is intrinsically linked to a belief in Satan – the personification of evil. Again, an argument without legs. I believe in the existence of ‘sleep’ – that crusty build up that forms in your eyes overnight. Am I therefore compelled to believe that the Sandman put it there? What a truckload of gibberish.


Anonymous said...

Admittedly I picked up most of my angelic lore from Hellraiser graphic novels and Tom Holt books but I was under the impression Satan was an Angel, cast out of heaven with various minions for disagreeing with God.

'Satan' as an anthropomorphic personification of pure evil smacks of myths being twisted by people in authority (ie the Church) to keep everyone else in check using the age old 'fear & oppression' tactic.

The Satan of Theo Hobson is no different to the scissor goblin that cuts off a childs thumb if they don't stop sucking it.

Anonymous said...

The Scissor Goblin! As if I didn't have enough to worry about. Why wasn't I warned of this at school, it must be by the grace of God alone that I still have 2 thumbs....