A brief history of the devil - Brian A. Pavlac
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Thus an important question in understanding the Devil, is whether he actually exists or not? From a scientific point-of-view, there is no empirical evidence that the Devil exists: no physical remains, no photos, no credible witnesses to diabolic encounters or acts. Believers in the Devil would respond by saying that their religious ideas and experiences of the demonic show the Devil to be very existent and dangerous. Today various Christian denominations offer divergent interpretations of the Devil. Some view him as portrayed in the Gospels: a real personality who regularly encounters and tempts humans to sin or possesses them. Some have even imagined a vast and complex hellish hierarchy of demons as the Devil’s assistants (mirroring that of angels). The omnipotence of the Christian God led theologians also to argue that any evil done by Lucifer is by divine permission—only we do not yet understand the godly plan. Other Christians consider Satan a mere symbol of an outdated way to explain how bad things happen, for which they do not want to blame a loving God.
Belief in the Devil made possible the tragedies of the medieval Inquisition and the Witch Hunts. Sinners were supposed to have sold their souls by signing his special book in their own blood. Of course, such a book was never found and alleged heretics and witches never had special supernatural powers. Thus, many innocent victims suffered from persecution based on their alleged contacts with the Devil. These TED-Ed videos offer brief overviews of witch hunting: “Ugly History: Witch Hunts” and “Salem Witch Trials”. For a short, readable book on the Witch Hunts, try Brian A. Pavlac, Witch Hunts in the Western World: Persecution and Punishment from the Inquisition through the Salem Witch Trials (Greenwood or Bison Books). Some explanation of the connections between the Devil and witches may be found on this webpage. Many modern believers in and practitioners of witchcraft deny any connection with the Devil, instead having faith in natural forces (such as Mother Earth) or polytheistic deities (such as Artemis/Selene/Hecate).
For most people these days, the Devil is merely a fictional character used to entertain. In novels, television series, comics, music, and movies, no one is supposed to believe that the Devil is any more real than the ghosts, zombies, werewolves, vampires, space aliens, and other monsters portrayed. Often this fictionalized Satan has become an anti-hero, if not an actual heroic character, in such works as Lucifer and South Park. The latter and many other cartoons, or movies like Bedazzled, mock the idea of the Devil with laughter. We keep getting more devils from which to choose for our liking or fearing.
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