The devil you know

Satanic panics come ’round now and then and the recent Grammy awards was one such time. Non-binary singer Sam Smith and transgender diva Kim Petras epitomized cultural confusion with their duet feature all the usual hellish Hollywood tropes – a horned costume, red leather, flames and general debauchery. So prosaic has this scene become that even the Satanic Temple said it was a bit ordinary

It is a strange time in which we live when such a spectacle can be described simultaneously as “demonic and trite”, as Victoria Marshall pointed out at The Federalist. There is certainly something quite disturbing about a culture for whom this passes as entertainment. But it is just as disturbing when it becomes passé.

Nevertheless, the occult seems to be having “a moment” with Satanists keen to enter the cultural conversation. Virginia parents were “at their wit’s end” last year when the Satanic Temple wanted to start a club in a Chesapeake high school. Last Christmas, an Illinois statehouse featured a devilish addition and more recently, a ghastly statue to honor abortion was installed on a New York courthouse.

It makes sense that Satanism thrives in times when the love of many has grown cold, since it is a religion of self-worship. The zeitgeist has made our age a target-rich environment for idolatry. Adherents embrace transgenderism, abortion, debauchery and hedonism because their god is themself: “Thyself is Thy Master. I praise myself…Through self-affirmation, self-exploration and evolution I am able to become more of myself.”

Whether demon-worship is on the rise is not really the issue – Christians have always lived in evil days, as St Paul wrote. But we need to be awake – the devil is not slacking off in torturing humanity with his schemes, hoping to keep many souls for himself. It won’t always manifest in grotesque statues which would make the Keres proud, but his fingerprints are everywhere if you know where to look. To quote Shakespeare’s tormented Ferdinand, “Hell is empty And all the devils are here.”

The question is: how then shall we live, in a culture so subtly steeped in the demonic? In a recent essay, author Paul Kingsnorth documented his admiration of early cave-dwelling monks in Ireland, “wild saints” as he calls them. He believes that their solitary lives of discipline, prayer and repentance prepared them to return to the “shattered landscape” of Europe with something to offer – “their very unworldliness became, paradoxically, just what the world needed.”

To rebels and “Reddit Satanists“, the devil’s ways are enticing. But the gloss wears off if your attempt to be subversive is met with a shrug. The Satanic panic comes and is gone again. No amount of darkness shocks sinners any more, but a light brightly shining will.

Our call may not be to cave life, but to a culture trapped in the devil’s snares – lethargy, immorality, decadence and deviance – we do have something to offer. We know Jesus can free cultists from the empty worship of self. As we choose a life grounded in God’s Word and his sacraments, loving our neighbor and beating back the white noise, we stand out as bright lights, shining, truly shocking in this dark world. 

The the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day

The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know what makes them stumble.

Proverbs 4 

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