Pagels, The Origin of Satan

In her historical recount on how Satan came to be, Elaine Pagels presents in The Origin of Satan some very interesting and relevant questions. She presents a great deal of dates, names, cultures, and understandings of the idea of evil and Satan and therein she can’t help but bring up some huge questions. I decided to just make note of some of these questions and explore those with a modern context in mind.

  1. How has Satan transformed from a representation of evil, lust, greed, envy, and anger (introduction xvii) into the commonly accepted idea that Satan is a spirit who presides over Hell and all of the damned souls? Logos, merchandise, television, comics, film, all realms of pop culture seem to have accepted this little red-skinned gentleman wielding a pitchfork, perhaps a horned and hooved creature, as the scariest depiction of Satan possible. After doing a quick google search with the keyword “Satan,” one website referred to him as “unsportsmanlike,” which I suppose is quite accurate. It seems to me that our culture has taken this being that is supposed to epitomize evil, secure fear in the hearts of the masses, and represent all that is “bad” and neutralized him…. turned him into a punchline so that we can’t justly fear him. I don’t know what the cultural implications are of such a gradual and unintentional cartoonization of the devil are, but on a preliminary thought it probably has a lot to do with fear.
  2. Considering Satan as a reflection of ourselves is a practice usually reserved for God. People love to throw around the phrase “made in his image” so we’re continually seeing ourselves as a reflection of God. It is a lot more fun (accurate?) to see ourselves as a reflection of Satan. Do we ever see our immediate selves as possessing Satanic qualities, or is that a judgment we reserve for “others?” Is it merely another way to create a moral superiority over those we meet?
  3. Pagels stresses the point in this book that throughout human history, the enemy has always been the other. That often becomes represented by the image of Satan because it is the easiest representation of the attributes in another that we don’t understand. The fear/hatred of the other is a very simplified (and to me, intriguing) way to easily disassociate yourself from those you don’t understand completely. We see it all the time between groups of people: black vs white, gay vs straight, American vs non-American, Christians vs. Non-Christians. It seems that every major political and personal battle fought throughout history can be boiled down to being a struggle between us and them. To oversimplify an issue that could probably solve all of the world’s problems, bring peace to the middle east, end hunger, create peace, and enforce love: How can we as humans overcome the us vs. them mentality that seems to be inherent in our makeups?