On Myth and Theology for Grownups
On May 28, 2015, the American Family Association (AFA) website One Million Moms launched a petition to prevent the series Lucifer airing. The petition stated that the series would “glorify Satan as a caring, likable person in human flesh.” Eventually the literal-minded fundamentalists garnered more than 134,000 but failed to accomplish their objective.
A caring, likable person in human flesh – perhaps like Jesus?
But no other “Divinity?”
“My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”John Dominic Crossan
A while back we started watching LUCIFER as part of our sifting through all our ROKU channels seeking things we had not already seen. Covid has prompted in us a greater patience for TV entertainment, particularly in the evenings.
The series focuses on Lucifer Morningstar, a handsome and powerful angel who was cast out of Heaven for his rebellion. As the Devil, Lucifer tires of the millennia he spent being the Lord of Hell, punishing people. Becoming increasingly bored and unhappy with his life in Hell, he abdicates his throne in defiance of his father (God) and abandons his kingdom for Los Angeles, where he runs his own nightclub called Lux. When he finds himself involved in a murder investigation, he meets the intriguing Detective Chloe Decker. After helping the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) solve the case by using his power to manipulate humans into revealing their deepest desires, Lucifer accepts a subsequent invitation to work with Chloe as a consultant to the department, and throughout the series, they encounter all sorts of supernatural beings while solving crimes together and developing their relationship.Wikipedia
We found the crime-detection aspect of the show fairly standard although humorously spiced with Tom Ellis’ portrayal of an over-the-top narcissistic Lucifer who constantly refers to members of his mythological family in familiar terms, calls God “Dad” and God’s wife as “Mum.”
The cast of mortals includes an LA police detective and a Psychiatrist – both of whom assume that Lucifer Morningstar is an over-user of metaphor. That assumption allows Lucifer to get away with outlandish and personalized opinions of Heaven, Hell, Angels and Divinity.
We’ve gotten attached to the show and have both come to realize as former church-attenders that the dialogue and plots connected to Lucifer’s adventures as a Divine but vulnerable immortal create much more pondering than mere entertainment.
For my part, my culture taught me of an essentially one-dimensional God whose authoritarian personality is demonstrably limited. Any personality attributes can only be perceived by what the God personality said and others wrote down. A personal image of God is what people make of the beliefs they are taught, not what they learned in personal encounters with an actual divine being.
Roger American Writer writes that,
“Different peoples imbue their god with different attributes. Many of these virtues appear anthropomorphic in nature. They describe human virtues as well as those of a one-dimensional god.
In this stage, the existence of god is simply not questioned but accepted as an indisputable reality. There is no crisis of doubt or faith (save on the rarest of occasions). The study of comparative religions is not needed. Attitudes toward other religions can vary widely across a range of human responses from hostility to acceptance (in the sense of toleration) or from benign neglect to condescending belittlement.
Such believers depend upon organized religion as the best way to express and validate their religious commitment. The individual functions best as part of a religious society that shares the same views. There is safety and security in numbers. One’s beliefs are constantly being reinforced by others like themselves. They have the security of the religious womb. They have the privilege of certainty. They avoid anxiety, stress, and worry. They can hew to a straightforward world without fear of interrogatory or exclamatory interference.”
Quiet, simple acceptance creates psychological certainty and comfort. God exists, god is above them; heaven exists, heaven is above them; god creates the universe, the universe exists; there is life after death, the soul exists; god sees all, knows all (omnipotence); god can reward or punish; god is there, god knows all. These beliefs can be amended slightly or stretched this way or that a little. In general, however, these are common basic ideas. If this is what you were taught, if this is what you believe, then you are living in the world of a one-dimensional god. It is not a bad world but it is not a complete world; it is missing dimensionality.http://Roger American Writer
What happens when you encounter the sort of divine personalities in Judeo/Christian religion that existed in ancient Greek and Roman mythology? Gods behaving like mortals?
There’s an episode in Lucifer in which Eve has escaped from Heaven and showed up in Lucifer’s residence ostensibly to renew an intimate relationship between them that is at least 6,000 years old and began in a garden. She explains that Adam was “okay in the Garden but basically sat around doing nothing and letting God tell him what to do. Then she tells Lucifer that in being created from Adam’s rib, she suddenly woke up stuck in the Garden committed to a life she did not ask for and mated with a man she had not chosen for herself.”
When I heard that line, a light bulb came on.
We’ve heard the Bible stories since we were children. But how many of us thought of those stories as critically as we learned to think of Aesop’s fables with talking animals and the like? How would we ever know that there was nothing wrong in hearing the biblical accounts as nothing more than stories with morals and not-so-moral morals? It’s an old trope but truly we are no more obligated to accept literally ancient Bible stories and accept as fairy tales non-Biblical ancient stories. There in truth is no difference between God, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny except to those who take themselves and authoritarian sources much too seriously.
Who told us Jesus was truthful, tender, sensitive, extremely pious, spiritually powerful and compassionate? Upon what other than the Biblical fairy tales was that information based. The same folks told us Lucifer was the opposite based on the same source.
If God is/was an unreasonable, judgmental and even childish tyrant who insisted on being humored for eternity, who was there to shout “Not So?” The worse kind of tyrant is an unchallenged tyrant. The tyrant’s “servants” who insist on unprovable threats, unprovable realities and unprovable theologies are as misguided as the original Church Fathers who concocted such nonsensical ideas as the Fall, Redemption and a God of Judgement Day.
I love logical extensions. Long ago I learned that a logical extension of someone’s statement of conviction will serve as an authenticator of the legitimacy of a point of view.
Who is this authoritarian god that can’t quit meddling in human affairs? He’s The Narcissist Evangelicals Worship and Serve.
Here’s a version of the Authoritarian God (it’s an excerpt from Victor Koman’s The Jehovah Contract):
A giant hand darted out of infinity at an impossible speed to seize me between a thumb and finger of planetary dimensions. Crushing pain steamrolled across me. The immense digits rolled my body around like a ball of snot; after ages of grinding, twisting agony, the fingers separated.
Across a million-mile chasm, bridged by an arm thicker than worlds, I stared at my quarry face to face.
His hair had been styled in a crew cut. I had never imagined that God would look like Jack Webb.
“I love you,” bellowed a voice that rumbled deeper than earthquakes.
He had some way of showing his affection, having smeared my body across a good portion of his index finger. Stinging anguish cried from every particle of ruined flesh.
“Knock off the displays, little boy,” I said. “I’ve been worked over by professionals-L.A. cops.”
“I love all of you, and you’ve all turned your backs on Me.”
“According to Your supporters,” I shouted across the gap, “You gave us the ability to do so!”
“You stole it from the Tree!”
“Why didn’t you take it back, Omnipotent One?”
“You didn’t have to use it!” He put the squeeze on again.
When the fingers released, I said, “You’re supposed to be all-powerful, yet You didn’t remove the knowledge of good and evil from us. You could have easily corrected the Original Sin, yet a third of the angels turned against You. Why are the creations of a perfect God so flawed? Is there something we’ve overlooked?”
“Mocking me. You’ve always mocked me. I created the world for your happiness-“
“Yeah,” I said, seeing an opening, “and filled it with storms and earthquakes and famines and wars and suffering when you could have made it a paradise.”
“I had!” His voice thundered like a thousand Hiroshimas. “You broke the rules, and I had to throw you out!”
“You gave us the ability to break the rules.”
“I didn’t want mindless automata, I wanted free minds-“
“Then why,” I screamed, “do You threaten us with punishment in Hell for exercising that freedom? You could have turned us into robots, but You didn’t. Why can’t You accept the consequences of Your actions?”
“I wanted you to choose Me freely, out of love for Me.”
“Freely? Under threat of eternal suffering? Out of love? For a God that obliterates civilizations, murders infants, punishes the slightest deviation with brimstone and hellfire? On earth we have a term for that-protection racketeering.”
“It’s your fault, not Mine. You were bad.”
I gazed around at the blood and guts smeared across the mountainous ridges of His fingerprint. “We only questioned Your authority.”
“You disobeyed a direct command! You became one-in-yourselves. You became divine in your own right and left Me with nothing. Nothing!”
Thunderclouds formed around His one visible eye. Lightning flashed in His gaze. A hot blue bolt of energy sizzled a few inches to my right.
“It was She,” He said. It was the first acknowledgement He had made-I wouldn’t let it be the last. “It was all the work of the Woman. She conspired with the Horned One to ruin My Paradise. I sent My Son to destroy Her works.”
“That reminds me,” I shouted, desperate to find some sort of leverage.
“When a God such as Jove or Jehovah impregnates a human, is it rape, incest, or bestiality?”
“Your mockery damns you!”
“Then take away our power to mock! Don’t keep killing and maiming, expecting to coerce us into loving You in self-defense. We’re too tough to knuckle under!”
“Her doing. She tempts you back into sin, forcing Me to discipline you.”
“Forget it, pal. I take the rap myself. As long as I have free will, I reject You. Don’t pretend You’re giving us a choice when the wrong choice results in eternal torture. You’re giving us rules-rules for slaves.”
He snarled. “You must obey your God!”
“Why?” I asked. It was an ancient child’s game, but it just might work.
“Because I created you.”
He stiffened up-millions of miles up. He towered over me until I shuddered from terror.
“Because I wanted to recreate My own image.”
“So you would obey Me!” His voice rolled like the sea.
I wasn’t going to get back into the whole free will contradiction again-He seemed rather impervious to logic. I gathered together all my resolve, half-expecting the result.
“Why?” I asked.
” BECAUSE I’M BIGGER THAN YOU! “
Most if not all Christian churches thrive on the linkage between Satan, Lucifer, The Devil and Evil. Evil is the stuff from which much of church theology and teaching are created. Without evil as a preaching/teaching subject, the clergy will struggle for consistent sermons that build loyalty, fidelity and that bind memberships to groups.
For Satan is Abroad in the Land
“In the Old Testament, he is merely the Adversary, a forbidding member of God’s retinue. How then did Satan become the Gospels’ Prince of Darkness, who brings about the crucifixion of Jesus as part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil? And why did Jesus’ followers increasingly identify Satan with their human antagonists – first Jews, then pagans, and then heretics of their own faith?“
“In this groundbreaking work of religious and social history, the author of The Gnostic Gospels traces the relationship between the embattled members of a breakaway Jewish sect and the myth they invoked to explain their persecution. The Origin of Satan is at once a masterpiece of erudition and a book resonant with contemporary implications. For in its pages we come to understand how the gospel of love could coexist with hatreds that have haunted Christians and non-Christians alike for two thousand years.”– From the back cover, The Origin of Satan, Elaine Pagels, Knopf Publishing Group, 1996.
The above writing contains the phrase, “a cosmic struggle between good and evil.”
To understand our feelings about Satan one must also address one’s personal cosmic vision first and foremost. There is a need to understand the assumptions made as humans who internally constructed their own definition of both reality and – if spiritually inclined – a spiritual world.
In a very powerful subconscious way, those who practice a Christian religion do so with an internal image (something imagined) of that unseen spiritual reality but still a reality they believe exists; the very reality where God “is”, where Jesus “is” and to many, where Satan “is” or “wants to rule.”
In mortal or human terms I personally consider an internal image of the spiritual world upon which people have based their Christian religious foundation to be a “mental construct.” By that I mean an internally visualized – imagined, if you will – spiritual reality. That construct serves as the context for how to combine a mortal practice of religion with an understanding of God and the Divine.
Although for all or most Christians the realm of God truly exists, but all do not agree on what that existence looks like, what such an existence means or how it impacts our personal lives.
Furthermore, for many Christians, the spirit world exists in some other dimension and interacts with our own world only in divinely driven supernatural ways.
This is consistent with a view of a purely supernatural, all-wise, all-knowing and almighty God who some times intervenes in the affairs of mortals in dramatic or not-so-dramatic ways. Such believers easily accept and live according to the idea of an invisible God personage who is vitally invested in human life and directs forces of good against the other supernatural power and source of evil, Satan.
Others do not see the supernatural God as a personage who exists “somewhere else” and as someone outside the sphere of mortal perception and who communicates spiritually from a distance through the Holy Spirit.
Taking a cue from Jesus’ words, “The kingdom of God is within you,” they have a sense of God being omnipresent and an on-going constancy in which the Holy Spirit is an uninterrupted and steady influence toward good works and a desire to live in an appropriate manner, for example, by following the Golden Rule.
On the one hand there are people who talk about spiritual warfare, evoking images of the spirit world as some sort of zone of conflict in which Satan and God operate simultaneously for and against human life.
On the other hand, others see Satan more as a conceptual part of their attempts to get a grasp on the idea of the existence of evil. Evil for them is not something we are tempted to do by a supernatural Satan. Rather, evil is more an active part of life that serves as a kind of resistance or counter force against our intention or tendency to behave in a positive independent manner – acting in a ways that reflect the “goodness” way that God might want us to be.
The same sort of controversy between biblical literalists regarding God as the “Boss of the Universe” who is commanding humans to behave based purely on obedience and morality as opposed to a non-judgmental God who fully encourages positive human behavior as a consequence of total agency exists around the reality of Satan.
To literalists, Satan becomes the direct opposite and yet needful counter to the goodness and righteous-requiring Commander-God; to such persons, Satan acts as a supernatural reality who tempts mortals to both “sins” of commission and of omission.
To non-literalists Satan represents among other things the natural mortal tendency to self-focused, self-interested acts that disregard the good of anyone else. Concepts of laziness, selfishness, arrogance and intolerance, for example, represent the fundamental source of evil in the lives of non-literalists.
This is the sort of thing addressed excellently by Scott Peck in People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.
Regardless of whether or not a belief in a real Satan is an absolute tenet of one’s personal faith, it remains a valid exercise to explore and attempt to understand how and when humans first became aware of Satan and his impact on their actions.
Moses never referred to the Serpent in the Garden as Satan or the Devil – in fact never used either word in his writings. Yet many believe totally that the serpent was Satan, “that old liar.”
The biblical appearance of Satan by name does not occur until the Book of Chronicles and the word “Devil” finally appears in the book of Revelation.
Reference to Satan in Chronicles is additionally intriguing in that the context is King David requiring a census. In the book of Kings, this event is described as something provoked by God. In Chronicles, which consists of the post-Babylon reconstruction of Jewish records, it is Satan who provokes David to take a census.
As a child I was taught that Satan is a real personage and the spirit-world equivalent of someone like Hitler or Stalin; someone of whom I should be mortally terrified and for whom I should be constantly alert.
As I grew older I found myself in the curious circumstance of being caught directly between the goodness of God and the evil of Satan. If I sinned it was Satan’s fault for tempting me. If I did something good, I was obligated to credit God for prompting me. Either way, I was bereft of any ability to own my own life’s choices and actions as something I had brought about due to my own free will.
That kind of lack of ownership means a lack of proprietorship for one’s own life and is contrary to Jesus’ description of loving the Lord thy God with all thy heart, strength and might. You cannot do that if you do not possess sufficient freedom to choose for yourself – thereby effecting your devotion to God freely without expectation of reward. The reward isn’t necessary.
Satan also serves as the deterrent compliment to a judgmental and punitive God, since – at the bar of judgment – those unrepentant sinners will be consigned to hell and the realm of Satan.
My father passed away as what Protestants would label a “back-slidden” Mormon. Shortly after his death I received a letter from a devout family friend who, while offering consolation for the loss of my Dad, also quoted from the Book of Mormon about how those who give in to temptation become captured by Satan who laughs as he enfolds his victims in chains to drag down to hell.
Satan is also an essential ingredient for the End Times and Rapture believers. As most good narratives require some sort of conflict for the hero of the story – be it a natural disaster like an earthquake or flood, or an animal like a shark – most narratives utilize a personified villain such as Oil Can Harry, Black Bart, Ming the Merciless or the old Soviet KGB.
Satan’s role in the End Times narratives is vital as he is the ultimate source of villainy to be put down when Jesus returns and, after a war against evil, finally sets things straight (and also having consigned the Devil and his unrepentant sinning minions permanently to outer darkness.)
Elaine Pages’ marvelous book, The Origin of Satan, is well worth the reading. You need not be a doubter to ponder her work. In fact, if you experience an immediate internal emotional reaction – especially if that reaction is negative or fearful – I recommend you read The Origin of Satan carefully.
Give yourself a chance to throw off the chains of an internal mental construct that may have had a serious long term impact on how you perceive the world.
Back to LUCIFER the series
The program is not an act of blasphemy. I think that I’d recommend it as required viewing for every person who reaches an age of discernment and understanding of grown up stuff. The earlier in their lives the better.
A program about mythological creatures that makes no bones about being entertainment (in this case it’s entertainment based on characters that originate in DC Comics publications) might become the perfect counterweight to the seriously logic-slanted either/or portrayals of good, evil and the sources of both.
Lucifer is as angry at Dad as Dad might be angry at Lucifer. The entire cast of Heavenly Characters (with the possible exception of the Angel Amenadiel) seem to ascribe attitudes and mind-sets to Dad that seem to have no basis in fact. Why? Because “Dad” doesn’t seem inclined to spend much time explaining His Divine Self.
“Dad” has never explained His Divine Self to me no matter my searches, ponders and prayers. The answers that come to me from such efforts come from within, not without. I think that is what life is all about.
If you are spiritually inclined then you and no one else are the one to create your own spirituality. Search what you must, ponder what you must, and pray if you must. Then create your spirituality out of your imagination and you will have done the same thing as others who built a belief system.
No need for someone else’s magic.