Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dark angel of light

for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).

Paul's statement raises some intriguing issues. One question is whether his statement is rhetorical or serious. Does he actually think Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, or is that just a picturesque way of describing Satan's deceptive tactics? 

Let's explore the implications if, in fact, the devil is an impersonator. A diabolical Peter Sellers. If so, under what guises would he appear to people?

In pop culture, the devil is sometimes a comic character. Take TV shows like Brimstone and Reaper

Sometimes, though, the Satanic theme is treated more seriously. This is true in classic films like Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, as well as some of the better cinematic treatments of possession and exorcism, viz. Dominion, The Exorcist, The Last Exorcist,  The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Rite. Another example is the diabolical serial killer in the X-Files episode "Irresistible". I'm not saying the directors believe in a personal devil, but they treat the subject as if it's for real. 

In Western literature, classic depictions include permutations of the Faust legend, and Milton's Paradise Lost. Some readers think Milton put a little too much of himself in the character of Lucifer. He unwittingly makes Lucifer a somewhat sympathetic or heroic character. Certainly the most interesting character in the poem. God the Father, his Son, Adam, Eve, and the other angels pale in comparison. Milton tipped his hand. 

Milton's Satan is brilliant, versatile, and resourceful. Can instantly adapt to new situations. 

During the Romantic era, Satan was sometimes recast as a Promethean antihero. And you have diabolical nihilism of Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger, where what we take to be reality is ultimately a cosmic nightmare. 

French Catholic novelist George Bernanos has a probing treatment of diabolic temptation in Sous le soleil de Satan.

C. S. Lewis offers a thoughtful and creative interpretation of Satan in Perelandra. His treatment is very different from Milton's. Perhaps he disagreed with Milton's interpretation, or perhaps he thought that even if Milton's interpretation was well-nigh definitive, Lewis enjoyed the challenge of presenting an alternative characterization.

Due to his brilliance and encyclopedic knowledge, the Un-Man is impossible to out-argue. Yet when he's not tempting the Queen or debating Ransom, he's hollow, aimless, and childish. A huge void. A circumference without a center. 

Back to the original question: if the Devil is an impersonator, who will he impersonate to lead people astray? Different guises work for different people. 

In the following examples, I'm not suggesting that these men are the Devil Incarnate. However, maybe Satan uses human disguises, in the sense of using human agents.  

The Archheretic

Unlike an atheist, a heretic doesn't deny religion. Rather, he substitutes a damnable alternative. Take Valentinus, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and Bultmann–to name a few. Replacing the true faith with a counterfeit lures many people to their destruction. A secular equivalent is ufology. 

The Hindu/Buddhist sage

These are pretty interchangeable. The Asian with the beatific expression who dishes out pseudoprofound platitudes. Spouts a philosophy of hearts and flowers. 

The Great Scientist 

Some people think that by definition, the greatest physicist is the smartest man alive, and that automatically makes him wise in all maters. So, if Stephen Hawking is an atheist, then that most be the rational thing to be. Not that Hawking is the greatest physicist, but these people judge by hype. 

The Hipster Quipster

Voltaire was the exemplar, with many lesser imitators (e.g. Bertrand Russell). It makes some people feel clever just to nod at clever witty people. 

The Public Atheist

This imposture takes different forms. For instance, Richard Dawkins has mastered the sneer. He adopts a tone and facial expression of withering disdain, which he translate into prose. For some people, that's effective. It makes them feel smart to agree with Dawkins.

If Dawkins affects intellectual superiority, Christopher Hitchens affects moral superiority. Eloquent but incoherent moral posturing. For some people, that's effective. It makes them feel virtuous to agree with Hitchens. 

Nietzsche strikes the pose of heroic, hair-raising nihilism. An incongruous alloy of cynical idealism. How to be a rhetorical daredevil–which is safer than a real daredevil. 

I recently saw a debate between Alvin Plantinga and Richard Gale. Gale is a more formidable debater than Hitchens or Dawkins. He's much smarter. He's philosophically sophisticated. And he's a natural comedian. That's enhanced by his typecast New Yorker accent and attitude. He's winsome in a way that Hitchens and Dawkins are not. That makes him more dangerous. If I were a movie director, and the devil was a character in my movie, Gale would be a good person to model the devil as a funny, likable guy. Of course, that's the fatal come-on.

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