The Devil in the Headlines. And the World. Literally

Written by Steve Pauwels on November 12, 2013

Seems like we’ve been in quite the devil of a season, lately — and I don’t say that because of the dark agenda that’s shanghaied so many political/cultural currents these days (although it legitimately could apply there.) 

No, lately the literal topic of Satan has been ushered center stage on a number of media fronts. 

First, 2013’s just-elapsed Halloween season, combined with the fortieth anniversary of 1973’s horror classic The Exorcist, have folks openly chatting about “the evil one”. In commemoration of the marrow-chilling film, it’s been re-released in a new Blu-ray edition. Some additional attention, accordingly, has refocused on actual events which supposedly inspired the William Peter Blatty novel and subsequent movie.

A recent YouGov poll pegs at 57% the Americans who believe the devil exists. Can you feel the collective eye-rolling of legions of sophisticates who, long ago, ditched any belief in supernatural wickedness?

But the slender majority who acknowledge ol’ Slewfoot can be heartened to find out they’re joined by none other than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. A month ago, the esteemed but controversial jurist unhesitatingly avouched to New York Magazine‘s Jennifer Senior that he embraced belief in heaven, hell ,,, and the devil as an active, personal being. 

In a bracing turnaround, the Roman Catholic Scalia unapologetically took the Lucifer question to Senior: “You’re looking at me as though I’m weird … Are you so out of touch with most of America … which believes in the Devil? … Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels!”

The feisty Justice and his fellow-thinkers will, no doubt, be pleased to discover Pope Francis also shares their theological convictions. After issuing, over the past few months, a dismaying run of muddled statements on several pressing issues, at October 11th’s papal morning Mass the pontiff emphatically affirmed  the actual existence of the enemy of our souls. He’s “on the first page of the Bible”, reminded Francis, and turns up  in the final chapters of the book, as well, “with the victory of God over the Devil.” 

So, the Pope acknowledges the Prince of Darkness — what’s the big deal? I confess, Francis’ admission surprised me a tad. Recall,  he belongs to the Jesuit order, widely considered the “intellectual” shock-troops of the Church of Rome – hardly ripe territory for cogitations over hell-fire, skulking spirits and demonic doings. Many a Catholic “lay person” and not a few among their leadership with whom I’ve interacted over the years insist “Satan” is not an actual fallen angel, a single, identifiable personage, but merely a biblical metaphor for the concept of universal evil. I’d almost guarantee the lion’s share of Francis’ fellow Ignatius of Loyola loyalists would squirm under the notion of a literal, roving-around-the-planet, sin-sowing “devil”. 

The current Bishop of Rome pluckily defies that pattern: “It is .. true there was the Devil … [He]’s like a fierce lion that circles us … Some may say, ‘But, Father, you’re too old fashioned. You’re frightening us …’ No … It’s the Gospel … not lies; it is the Word of the Lord.”

Doubtless, the smarty-pants set will persist scoffing superiorly at these “goblin-chasing” rubes. To keep doing that, however, they’ll have to overlook certain, commanding facts which could inconvenience their materialist certitudes. Among them?:

— Five widely-received, centuries-proven historic documents (the four New Testament Gospels and the follow-up Acts of the Apostles) attest irrefutably that Jesus Christ and his early followers recognized and contended with personified satanic forces. 

— The written testimony of the Apostles Paul, Peter, James and John — each of them, certainly, just downstream from the Savior they worshiped as among the most influential figures of history — avidly affirm the Satanic/demonic realm’s sobering immediacy. 

— Countless experiences of multitudes over the ages — from post-biblical years up to modern times (e.g., a young boy’s 1949, harrowingly other-worldly ordeal which formed the basis for the aforementioned Exorcist novel/film) demonstrate explicit encounters with diabolical beings.

— The concept of a “personal devil” goes a long way — as defensible as any other explanation, at least — toward accounting for the warped  and multi-variegated breadth of evil in the world.

Where individuals and their societies settle on all things devilish is no passing matter: it ends up markedly impacting the way they view and engage life’s most malevolent aspects.

Scalia confronted the New York interviewer with C.S. Lewis’s caution against sloughing-off Satan’s existence. Dismissing his reality altogether, or simply failing to regard him seriously (Tee-hee! A quirky-looking, red-tight-rocking guy with a corny mustache, goatee, and pitchfork!)  is as feckless as ghoulishly obsessing over him. 

It’s impossible to challenge an enemy one won’t bother noticing. Take the Middle East, for instance: we’re presently watching some self-deluded Israeli leaders kidding themselves they can cut deals with predatory swatches of the Arab/Muslim world which unbudgingly reject Israel’s very right to exist. How can that embattled Jewish nation expect to be defended by bovine officials who refuse, on the most basic level, to admit truth about their would-be-terminators? 

A generation ago, late singer/song-writer Keith Green melodiously imagined the Great Deceiver exulting: “I’m gaining power by the hour/They’re falling by the score/… it’s getting very easy now/Since no one believes in me anymore!”

St. Louis University’s vice-president, Rev. Paul Stark, at a panel convened last month to discuss the real-life incident reportedly behind The Exorcist pop phenomenon, reiterated, “If the devil can convince us he does not exist, then half the battle is won.”

Remember Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers? Gandalf’s blazing rescue of Rohan’s King Theoden? The wizard had to expose Saruman’s long-distance-but-paralyzing manipulation of the monarch before Saruman’s debilitating hold on Rohan could be broken. Then — only then – were Theoden’s people positioned to square-off against their adversaries.

A slender majority of Americans, then, agrees the Devil is a presence to be reckoned with? That’s a hopeful – and indispensable – step toward pinpointing and contesting the demon-spawned foolishness cankering our nation. 

But conservative political agitation and righteous cultural activism alone won’t avail against such a threat. It’s usually invisible, always, bottom-line, spiritual — but never harmless, incidental or safe to ignore.

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Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.