About a week and a half ago in anticipation of writing this post I posted a poll in a Facebook group that is by and large inhabited by heterodox Mormons. There are other variations of belief ranging from none, to close to Orthodox but the meat lies in the middle.
The question I posed was “Do you believe in Satan?” It is important of course to make the distinction between believing in Satan and worshiping Satan; I specifically was interested in whether people believed in the existence of Satan, and what that existence might look like—no more, no less.
I don’t have the poll right in front of me, but the overwhelming majority of respondents reported that they either did not believe in Satan, or they did. There were other choices but they did not get very many responses at all. It seemed that mostly it was an all-or-nothing proposition. I purposely abstained from voting in the poll, or mentioning my feelings in the comments because I wanted to leave it as pure a sample as possible.
Now that the poll has been taken and long forgotten (life moves fast on Facebook) I can safely register my genuine surprise. A belief in the existence of Satan (the Devil, Lucifer, etc…) barely inched out disbelief. Again, this is a group largely populated by active members in different shapes and forms. The majority of those who registered disbelief indicated that they did not believe that Satan existed, but rather that it was a metaphor for the evil side of man. I felt this was certainly an interesting theory, but it was not one I could bring myself to get attached to.
I have seen pure evil in my life. I have seen the stirring behind the eyes that speaks of if not outright demonic possession, definitely the influence. I have also felt myself rip away from such evil influences. With all of these different factors, for me to deny it would be folly. Granted, other people do not have the same life experiences I do so I cannot think ill of them for their own conclusions. To be honest, I am not sure which proposition would be more comforting (if either).
This is not to say that I do not believe 100% in man’s free agency, because I do. The devil is that tricky bit of in between that I cannot quite put my finger on. I think Satan does not take away our agency, or make us do things, but just like other forces he has the power to influence us because of our fallen state. Sometimes, even unbeknownst to us, we let him. That to me speaks of full and free agency.
Aside from personal experience one of the major things that led me to these conclusions is actually not scripture, but the book The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. If you’ve not read it, I am not sure why you are sitting here reading this instead. If I had my way, The Screwtape Letters would be canonized as scripture. I have enjoyed many books, but outside of scripture (and sometimes even inside) I have never read something that actually spoke directly to my soul and my soul answered right back.
Satan as a force, without form but not without function is a daunting idea. The notion that such an evil can be born of God shakes the very foundation of the benevolence to be found there. The idea that his initial sin, in the grand scheme of things, did not even sound too terrible strikes fear into the heart of this sinner. What say you? Does Satan move among us tempting and testing? Outright possessing?