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26 February 2012

O Satan, Satan, wherefore art thou Satan?

Some time ago, I dropped the expectation for my research into theism to be simple. In fact, my underlying view of religion is that it's specifically because of explanatory muddiness that so many religions are able to happily coexist alongside one another with minimal friction. Apologetic explanations are consistently just credible enough that the believer can find them convincing, while remaining suspect enough that an outsider can happily dismiss them.

I've recently been toying the apologetics related to prayer. It's one of these practices that has just-credible-enough apologetics behind it that believers seem resolute concerning it's benefits and support for god's existence. Upon any mention of failed prayer, believers have plenty of reasons to offer: God's ways are higher than our ways, god has a greater good in mind, god knows best, one's faith must not have been sufficient enough, god won't "perform" on demand, etc.

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Interjection to Christian readers: what follows might be disturbing to you. I don't think that satan exists, and thus will discuss ideas such as willingly offering oneself for possession very lightly in what follows. I realize that this is a grave issue in Christianity; if you will be disturbed by reading discussions of this nature, abort while you still can!
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I have a twist to offer, and it involves satan. As ruler of this world and one constantly mucking about seeking the ruin of souls, satan is an interesting object of thought. Satan's primary objective, if my theology is still accurate, is to prevent as many people from eternal happiness (separation from god) as possible.

When I was involved with Saint Paul's Outreach (SPO), a campus outreach group, one of the pinnacle events held was called a Fan into Flame retreat. The retreat always followed the same pattern of talks, and one of them focused explicitly on repentance. Part of the talk explicitly listed notable sins to repent from (just in case students weren't able to call any to mind), including forms of occultism and activities that might open one up to evil spirits.

In googling around, there's support over at CARM for this same concept: What kinds of things can open you up to demonic oppression?. The list just seems kind of silly when I read it as a non-believer, for example:
  • "To dabble in [false religions] is to directly dabble in demonic activity."
  • "Emptying the mind, centering prayer, repeating a single word or phrase for long periods..."
  • "Sometimes... people... will curse you or your family. This can focus demonic activity on you."
  • "...Ouija boards, tarot cards, and astrology can open up a person to demonic oppression."

My point with this list is to illustrate that there's what seems to me to be a hypersensitivity with respect to satan and evil spirits... Other religions (perhaps as a news flash to CARM) are practiced, like Christianity, with the purpose of attaining holiness and pleasing god. The other activities range from silly superstitions to party tricks. Thus, this got me thinking:

What reasons would satan have not to possess someone who asked?

If using a ouija board, chanting "Om", or even curses (really??) can open one up to demonic possession, what about a full out proper request? A pledge of allegiance to serve in his minions? A resolution to call upon his world-ruling power to keep others sick, prevent food from reaching the poor and needy, and for the deconversion of souls? Having read bits and pieces of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, that's got to be enough to make the hellish hordes salivate!

We have three possibilities should one offer himself as a servant of the devil:
  • The devil exists, but has reasons not to possess him and thus will not
  • The devil exists and will possess him
  • The devil does not exist and thus will not possess him

I'm interested in support for the first option: What greater good (evil?) would be served by satan denying such a willing body? If none can be found, then a possession request that isn't answered leads us to the conclusion that satan isn't real, which implies under most Christian theologies that god also isn't real.

Perhaps this won't be such a difficult task after all. In skimming some Catholic Answers forum responses concerning ouija boards, one responder said:
Do people or demons in Hell always answer Ouija board calls? No. Sometimes they like to sit back and watch you make a jackass of yourself without their help, and if you're busy falling on your own, they can enjoy the show while working on someone else...

Do yourself a favor - stay away from the stupid thing. Either you won't get an answer, in which case your "conversations" with the dead will only be you fooling yourself, or you'll get an answer you really, *really* won't like.

So apparently there are some reasons out there already about why demons wouldn't take advantage of a perfectly good ouija board possession opportunity. Whether or not the answer holds up to scrutiny is another question, I suppose. It reads as though demons are too busy to possess every ouija board user and thus need to optimize their time utilization and fiddle with some other unwilling spirit. I'm not sure I buy that; I don't think evil spirits are bound by time and space, just like god isn't. Thus, it would be a nonsensical apologetic to suggest that god can't answer all prayers because he's too busy to do so.

In any case, it at least got me thinking and so I thought I'd turn it into a post. I particularly like intersections of apologetics and tangible reality. It's about the only time where two people can propose an experiment in which the outcome has something to say about which belief is more evidentially supported. I offer this particular thought experiment as a creative attempt to bring religion into the light of the real world and out of the shadows of non-disprovability.

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