The devil you know. (Or *do* you?)
February 20, 2015 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Vincent Price is theologically significant. Price wore a devilish goatee that made him look like Satan. How do we know that’s what Satan looks like? We learned it from Vincent Price — and from a thousand other pop-culture and folk-culture figures preceding him. Price carries a pitchfork — a red one, of course. That tells the audience that he’s the devil. What does a pitchfork have to do with the devil? Simple: It’s what we always see him carrying in movies. The pitchfork simultaneously references those folk traditions and reinforces them for future audiences.

But these pop-culture portrayals also reference and reinforce our “theology” of the devil. Sure, most Christians realize that the pitchfork and goatee don’t come from the Bible. But the devilish stuff that most Christians think does come from the Bible cannot be found there either. [Fred Clark, The Slacktivist]
posted by Atom Eyes (96 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was crowdsourcing himself.
posted by Iridic at 11:28 AM on February 20, 2015 [27 favorites]


We learned it from Vincent Price

I learned it from the Louvin Brothers.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:30 AM on February 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Well, it's not as bad as what IS in the Bible.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:42 AM on February 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


Most of what people associate with Christianity itself (in America, at any rate) doesn't come from the Bible whatsoever anyway. Which is not to diminish the point being made in the post, just noting that conceptions of the Devil are not unique in that regard.
posted by clockzero at 11:48 AM on February 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


You know what else isn't in the Bible? That there's a Bible.

The Bible as the source of Christian theology is a uniquely Protestant idea. Fred Clark stands in that tradition. But for Orthodox and Catholic Christians, this kind of thing is only worth a shrug of the shoulders.
posted by Jahaza at 11:49 AM on February 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


oh - this one is simple… the Overlords look like the devil. i thought Clarke settled that for us :)
posted by joeblough at 11:54 AM on February 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


oneswellfoop, that's kinda the point of the article. Satan's barely there in the Bible.

I don't understand the "how many people God kills vs. how many people Satan kills" thing anyway. Even if you add in all the non-Biblical theology and folk theology about Satan, and look at the Bible using that as a lens, why would you expect to find a Bible full of Satan killing people and be shocked that he doesn't? He isn't supposed to be a killer, but a corrupter of souls....

It's one of those weird little atheist "gotchas" that doesn't actually make any sense when you stop and think about it.

(The question "what's up with God doing all that killing," is still a legit and disturbing question, once you discard the irrelevant and misleading "God vs. Satan" thing, so why include it?)
posted by edheil at 11:55 AM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


+1 for Fred "Slacktivist" Clark, one of my favorite bloggers!
posted by tippiedog at 11:56 AM on February 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think I've been basically stealing Slacktivist's writing style (well okay with an extra layer of Internet damage on top) and overall ethical sense for like almost a decade now. Crazy.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:56 AM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Satan, or the Devil, is mentioned 47 times in the Bible (according to a word search on Bible Gateway).
posted by lazydog at 11:59 AM on February 20, 2015


This is why Ken's Guide to the Bible is so valuable a resource. Not only does it mention what things AREN'T included that people think are in there, it also has handy iconography to identify odd things in the Bible, AND a litmus test to determine the politics of the translators.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:03 PM on February 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


I love Clark's work. He is so knowledgeable, articulate, compassionate and humane that it passes all understanding why he continues to identify as an Evangelical. He has addressed that issue before, mainly to say it's out of contrariness. As a Bible-belter who is continually trying to understand my cohort, I appreciate the heck out of him.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:08 PM on February 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


A guy told me once, totally seriously: "The Bible says, neither a borrower nor a lender be..."

...which isn't totally silly, I guess, since there once was a Christian prohibition on money lending.
posted by thelonius at 12:10 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I find this subject fascinating!

Here are a few of my favorite tidbits about the history of the devil:

1) The snake in the Garden of Eden is not described as Satan by Genesis... in fact, you can find lots of medieval Christian stories and images that depict Lilith as that snake.

2) The folklore about the devil seems quite different from official Christian notions. Like the story about the guy who outwits the devil by asking for as much gold as can fill a boot and then offering a boot with a hole in it. I'm very curious about the divergence between that figure--who functions like a fairy in a fairy tale--and the vastly powerful Lord of Darkness.

3) There's a theory that a lot of the imagery we associate with the devil comes from pre-Christian European deities, as a way to denigrate and literally demonize those pagan rival gods. I.e., the devil has horns and goat legs like Pan (and other European horned gods). This would be a continuation of an old Judeo-Christian tradition. Beelzebub is a mockery of the god Baal, worshiped by some of the Israelite's neighbors and rivals.
posted by overglow at 12:17 PM on February 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


[Insert not-as-clever-as-I-think-it-is pitchfork(.com) “hipsters” joke here.]
posted by D.C. at 12:18 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unless I missed a link to a second page, that article ended just when it was getting interesting. I'd happily read an in-depth study of depictions of the Devil in popular culture, starting with Paradise Lost, the greatest work of fan fiction ever written and the template for all modern sympathetic depictions of Satan. We also know that at some point Satan acquired goat-like characteristics from Pan, but how and why?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:18 PM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


overglow makes a good point.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:19 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not a pitchfork, it's a trident.

(satanically pedantic)
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:21 PM on February 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


There was a thread the other day on which a metafilter user claimed they had read the entirety of the Bible more than once, although I forget the exact number (twice? thrice?). Literary critic Northrop Frye who wrote two excellent analyses of some of the scriptures, The Great Code and Words with Power, claims that this is impossible, to read the entire Bible from the first verse continuously through the last. He says many people try and almost everybody gives up before they finish Leviticus.
posted by bukvich at 12:22 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


We just watched Rebecca last weekend, with a young, beardless, non-Satanic Vincent Price, and it was an odd experience.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:22 PM on February 20, 2015


Similarly, anyone who uses the name "Revelations" for the final book of the Bible, when discussing the events contained therein, you can pretty much guarantee is full of shit.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:23 PM on February 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


[Insert not-as-clever-as-I-think-it-is pitchfork(.com) “hipsters” joke here.]

This is one of those devil-you-know-vs-devil-you-don't situations, isn't it?
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:24 PM on February 20, 2015


Didn't the bald, goateed Satan image come from an instruction by William Hearst to his cartoonists to depict the Devil as Lenin?
posted by acb at 12:25 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]




Also- Vincent Price was also kind of awesome.

He filmed all of his bits for The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (a 1970s southern Ontario Saturday-morning staple) over a three day weekend, and apparently was great to work with: professional, super cool to the cast and crew, and generally a good guy.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:26 PM on February 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


I think the biggest misconception (which we get from Milton) is the idea that Satan is the ruler of Hell. The vague, sparse references in the Bible seem to portray Satan (and devils in general) as evil spirits roaming the Earth and causing trouble for a time until the end of the present world when they will be imprisoned in Hell.

There's no sense of Satan winning or receiving the souls of the damned. Devils seem to just want to hurt people out of spite. (And you thought Loki's motivation in the Avengers seemed flimsy...)
posted by straight at 12:28 PM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


So I can't not put phrases that have similar stress patterns to "they're magically delicious!" into the Lucky Charms jingle. As such, I'm going to be thinking "frosted Lucky Charms, satanically pedantic!" on and off for the rest of the day.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:29 PM on February 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


Faint of Butt: We also know that at some point Satan acquired goat-like characteristics from Pan, but how and why?

Well, Pan is one image, but BBC's Culture section has an article titled How Egyptian god Bes gave the Christian Devil his looks. Wikipedia article on Bes, "an Ancient Egyptian deity worshipped as a protector of households, and in particular, of mothers and children and childbirth. Bes later came to be regarded as the defender of everything good and the enemy of all that is bad." Except he looks a bit rough, with that beard and tail, and sometimes had "serpents issuing from his body." Another case of an otherwise nice god judged harshly by his tough appearance.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:29 PM on February 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


[Insert not-as-clever-as-I-think-it-is pitchfork(.com) “hipsters” joke here.]

This is one of those devil-you-know-vs-devil-you-don't situations, isn't it?


More of a devil-you-were-into-before-he-was-cool-vs-devil-you-probably-haven't-heard-of situation.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Don't tell me there's nothing in the Bible about going down to Georgia with a golden fiddle.
posted by Foosnark at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2015 [19 favorites]




A friend has the Diableries stereogram book, and it's amazing. (Yes, that's Brian May showing off the book.)

Vincent Price... I've met him once, and he was charming. It was on his speaking tour, "The Villains Still Pursue Me." My favorite film of his is The Baron of Arizona, directed by Sam Fuller. (He's not the devil in it, but he sure is a cad.) He's also written a couple of cookbooks, which are lush in both recipe and printing quality of the books. I don't think of Price as the devil at all.
posted by Catblack at 12:34 PM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Foosnark: Don't tell me there's nothing in the Bible about going down to Georgia with a golden fiddle.

That's in the Really New Testament.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:35 PM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Bes? Really? He's my favorite Egyptian god. Ancient Christians were jerks.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:36 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Literary critic Northrop Frye who wrote two excellent analyses of some of the scriptures, The Great Code and Words with Power, claims that this is impossible, to read the entire Bible from the first verse continuously through the last. He says many people try and almost everybody gives up before they finish Leviticus.

Weird. Surely someone as educated as Frye has plowed through books longer and more tedious than the Bible? Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum was way harder to get through than Leviticus.
posted by straight at 12:36 PM on February 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


It always struck me as odd as a kid how chummy Satan and God are in the few passages where Satan explicitly makes an appearance (as in the Story of Job). They speak to each other like old friends, not bitter enemies. A useful theological framing mechanism I learned about later to make sense of some of those passages is the frame of Satan as the Adversary and Jesus as the Advocate, with Satan being kind of the little devil that sits on Gods shoulder and whispers that humans deserve more punishment while Christ is the little angel appealing to God's more merciful instincts on behalf of mankind.

I kind of feel like all the theological richness and variety has been flattened out of Christianity for most lay practitioners these days. Now everyone seems to share the idea that God and the Devil are opposites, and to subscribe to some version of the Satan as Lucifer idea.

Not saying I endorse any particular theology (I'm not really a dogmatic person), just that it was interesting to learn later in life that there were different takes on the roles of Satan and Jesus and their relationships to God than the more absolutist, Satan-as-the-purely-evil-opposite-of-God view that most evangelicals just assume is the universal theological view of Christendom.

(Personally, I don't think Lucifer and Satan are identical except in the most tortured reading of the text. I can't find a way to read Job that doesn't require assuming a completely different kind of relationship between God and the Devil than evangelical/protestant Christianity popularly imagines.)
posted by saulgoodman at 12:37 PM on February 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


Relevant TVTropes entry: Word of Dante
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:40 PM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


I also think it's odd that he mentions Leviticus as the sticky point... My Biblical scholarship consists of flipping idly through the Gideons in cheap hotels, but I always found Leviticus relatively interesting. It's a sketch of a distant culture, one that's like and unlike ours in surprising ways.
posted by hattifattener at 12:47 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


My conception of Satan is a suburban pipe-smoking dad telling his uncanny star-son a funny thing about regret.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:50 PM on February 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


We just watched Rebecca last weekend, with a young, beardless, non-Satanic Vincent Price, and it was an odd experience.

You should also see him as a young, not terribly bright, genteel Southern wastrel getting in over his head in Laura. (Basically just watch all films whose titles are traditionally feminine given names and report back on which feature Vincent Price.)

It would be interesting to watch Price's films in order and see how he went from being another actor to having a very defined persona. At what point did he tip over into a place where it didn't really matter what he did or how well he acted because casting him was about taking advantage of that existing persona. Sort of like Boris Karloff, who in later films would be credited simply as "Karloff!" because you knew who he was and what he signified. Most of the Poe films, Dr. Phibes, even the later weird beach movies. They were about Price as persona, not his character.
posted by Naberius at 12:51 PM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Bes later came to be regarded as the defender of everything good and the enemy of all that is bad.

I'd never heard of Bes until today, and my first thought when I clicked on your link and saw an image of him was, "That's totally the Green Man!" What a strange and interesting place our world is.

As for good old Mr. Scratch, I've often wondered if it'd be better to think of him as an Adversary in the mold of Snape or Gunnery Sgt Hartman: he's there to improve you through his opposition to you. Because he is hard, you will not like him. But the more you hate him, the more you will learn.

Or maybe it's better to think of the Big G that way?
posted by lord_wolf at 12:52 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Literary critic Northrop Frye who wrote two excellent analyses of some of the scriptures, The Great Code and Words with Power, claims that this is impossible, to read the entire Bible from the first verse continuously through the last. He says many people try and almost everybody gives up before they finish Leviticus.

It's also a dumb and arbitrary way of thinking about what the Bible is. Like pointing to a single-volume collection of Shakespeare's plays and thinking it's a gotcha if someone hasn't read all the plays in that particular order cover-to-cover.
posted by straight at 12:54 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


D'oh! In fact, Chrysostom, I'm pretty sure you already did see young, non-satanic Price in Laura, because it looks like he wasn't actually in Rebecca.
posted by Naberius at 12:58 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've read through the Bible, though I'll admit to skimming a bit over the begats. But there's not much to "read" there, it's just names, not a narrative.

Now whether I comprehended all that I read, no, I'll admit I didn't. Because it is a confusing mess and was never meant to be read as one book anyway.

It doesn't surprise me that ideas about the Devil and hell (and Mary, and later the saints) were glommed on to the bare text of the Bible. It's an unsatisfying narrative on its own, that goes nowhere in particular and seems to teach completely contradictory lessons (Slaughter all your enemies! No wait, love your enemies!). No wonder people made up their own stories. At least the story of Lucifer rebelling, falling to hell, ruling over it, and it being a place of punishment for the sinful makes a sort of narrative sense. And of course, it's a really useful scare tactic for keeping folks in line when they ask uncomfortable questions about your interpretation of Scripture.
posted by emjaybee at 12:59 PM on February 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Vincent Price was the featured speaker at my high school graduation in 1980 (his grandson was in my graduating class).

Which, if you ask my wife, explains a lot about me.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:04 PM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I quite like the description of Satan as Christianity's Other God. Stands to reason, if it's all a Great Battle where God will Finally Win, the opponent has to be pretty darn hot to stand up to an omnipotent megabeing.

Christianity tells itself that it's monotheistic, which makes for even more fun.
posted by Devonian at 1:17 PM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


According to Jewish tradition, Satan is basically G-d's prosecuting attorney. Like all other angels, he has no free will - he just serves a function for G-d. Judaism doesn't really have a Devil (at least not a personified one). And the snake is just a snake.
posted by Mchelly at 1:20 PM on February 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


I majored in theology in college. My senior paper was actually on Satan in the Old Testament.

The Hebrew word Satan appears a total of three different times in the Old Testament.

The Israelites were monotheistic and originally attributed everything that happened to Yahweh. However, this became problematic as they found that such a belief system required them to attribute even the horrible things in the world to Yahweh. As their belief system developed, they found that they were not so comfortable with the idea that their wonderful god did such horrible things. As a result of that, things that had previously been attributed to Yahweh started to get a little more removed from Yahweh. The best example of this begins in 2 Samuel 24:1.

"Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go, number Israel and Judah.'"

It was a bad thing to take a census. It let your enemies know how many soldiers you had. Yahweh would often have an "angel of the Lord" do his dirty work. The above was no exception. The "anger of the Lord" above was represented by an "angel of the Lord." Yahweh wanted David tempted, so he had an angel of the Lord do it. After David succumbed to the temptation and did take that census, Yahweh had the angel of the Lord kill 70,000 Israelites. Yes, that's right. God told David to take a census, David took a census, and God killed 70,000 people to punish David.

I Chronicles 21 tells the exact same story, but it was written later than 2 Samuel 24:1.

"Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to number Israel." Again, David does so and Yahweh kills 70,000 people. It is incredibly interesting that the same story and language is used, but instead of attributing the tempting of David to an "angel of the Lord," it is now attributed to Satan. This is clearly a conscious effort to move the responsibility for evil in the world from an all powerful Yahweh to someone else entirely. The Israelites wanted Yahweh to be good. In this example, they literally re-wrote something to absolve Yahweh of responsibility for these actions. So bad things in the bible go from being the fault of Yahweh to being the fault of an angel of the Lord to being the fault of Satan.

The second mention of Satan in the Old Testament is in Zechariah 3:1-10. This mention is similar to the best known mention in Job. Joshua is on trial in a high court. Satan is the accuser. God is the one who convicts or accuses.

Lastly, Satan appears in Job. This is also a high court situation. Satan challenges God and tells him that Job is only faithful because God has given him everything. Satan tells God that if he took those things away from Job, then Job would not quite be so faithful. God then tells Satan that he is wrong, and tells Satan to take everything from him. Satan does that. Satan is a member of the same court as God. He is not evil. He is the accuser. As my paper oh so many years ago said, Satan is simply representing one side or part of God. Satan is the accuser. Satan is an angel of the Lord. Angels of the Lord are simply facets of God carrying out various tasks. As such, Satan is not just representing God -- Satan is God.
posted by flarbuse at 1:26 PM on February 20, 2015 [96 favorites]


I have in-laws who are deeply Catholic and they have all these notions about the devil and dark superstitions. They all run in the vein of Hollywood's horror movie depictions of evil -- spirit possessions, hauntings, etc. that they insist are true because, for example, the Amityville Horror is based on true life events so things like the walls bleeding really happened.

It's fascinating to see them cleave more deeply to their faith as a result of these depictions despite them being rooted in fiction.

I always thought if Satan existed, he'd be awesome because all the things people tell me are going to send me to hell tend to be fun and interesting and I think we'd hit it off!
posted by loquat at 1:28 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


(satanically pedantic)

Satantic? Sadantic? Hmmm...
posted by Palindromedary at 1:33 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love Fred Clark but when I reached the end of that article I thought i'd reached the end of the introduction to that article.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:33 PM on February 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think the biggest misconception (which we get from Milton) is the idea that Satan is the ruler of Hell.

Well, and also the popular notion of Hell as an underground cave where bad people go to suffer for all eternity just ain't in the Bible either. There's the temporary death that ends when Jesus comes around with the Space Jerusalem carpool, and there's permanent death.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:42 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Naberius: "D'oh! In fact, Chrysostom, I'm pretty sure you already did see young, non-satanic Price in Laura, because it looks like he wasn't actually in Rebecca."

You are completely correct, it was Laura. Oops.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:49 PM on February 20, 2015


I love Fred Clark but when I reached the end of that article I thought i'd reached the end of the introduction to that article.

Is he still doing Left Behind, page by page? It looks like he finished sometime in the last decade, and is now recycling the essays as "Classic Left Behind." I couldn't take any more after about Year 2, when he gave the spoiler, that the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelations happened long ago, and we are all left behind. Sorry, no rapture for you, or anyone else. That ship has already sailed.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:04 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


We learned it from Vincent Price

Oh, I learned lots more than that from Mr. Price! Like biology, how to host a sleepover, how to make it in showbusiness, how to deal with my critics, how to make a career comeback, the importance of workplace safety, how to deal with grief, how to care for the developmentally impaired, and so much more!

...you don't suppose I picked up any other misconceptions from Mr. Price, do you? I mean besides that pitchfork stuff.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:09 PM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Jahaza: You know what else isn't in the Bible? That there's a Bible.

The Bible as the source of Christian theology is a uniquely Protestant idea. Fred Clark stands in that tradition. But for Orthodox and Catholic Christians, this kind of thing is only worth a shrug of the shoulders.
You... are really, really wrong, and I have no idea where you got that notion from.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:12 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Great comment, flarbuse. Maybe you could confirm something for me?

I was told in a religion class at one point that the actual language (high Latin vs "baby" Latin, I think - but this makes no sense considering that Latin wasn't the original language) used in the Job story as its come down to us suggests that the Satan/Lucifer framework was added later as a way of making a complex story more palatable to the masses.

To whit, the original story was about this guy named Job who ran into a bunch of tragedies but, at the end, was still sitting on a garbage heap talking to God (he is never rewarded). The lesson was that Job had a closer relationship to God (because he believed God was right there to speak to) than to people who only spoke to God in the temple. Furthermore, Job doesn't abandon God even though he's suffered lots of misfortune.

The God/Lucifer framework makes the piece a little more flashy, but also significantly changes the meaning and implications of the story.

Anyhow, this is how it was explained to me, but I've never really found a whole lot of corroborating evidence to support this. I'd be curious to know if this rings any bells with you.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:13 PM on February 20, 2015


Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum was way harder to get through than Leviticus.
Heresy and Slander!

There's a great deal of things that all Christians know that aren't in the Bible, like (as a completely unrandom example) heaven. The dead are resurrected when Jesus returns, but until then, there's nothing about souls going up to a land of fluffy clouds.
posted by Hactar at 2:16 PM on February 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is he still doing Left Behind, page by page? It looks like he finished sometime in the last decade, and is now recycling the essays as "Classic Left Behind."

He's about midway through Nicolae: Rise of Antichrist right now, the third(?) book. I think the deal with Classic Left Behind is that the site he's posting on these days demands a certain number of posts per week, and that's the easiest/most hit-attracting (or whatever metric people use these days) filler for him to put up when he doesn't have a new post.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:17 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Israelites were monotheistic and originally attributed everything that happened to Yahweh. However, this became problematic as they found that such a belief system required them to attribute even the horrible things in the world to Yahweh. As their belief system developed, they found that they were not so comfortable with the idea that their wonderful god did such horrible things. As a result of that, things that had previously been attributed to Yahweh started to get a little more removed from Yahweh. The best example of this begins in 2 Samuel 24:1.

Just out of curiosity, is there any empirical evidence of this which isn't deduced exclusively from the text of the Torah?
posted by clockzero at 2:18 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows Satan looks like Barack Obama.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 2:19 PM on February 20, 2015


overglow: 2) The folklore about the devil seems quite different from official Christian notions. Like the story about the guy who outwits the devil by asking for as much gold as can fill a boot and then offering a boot with a hole in it. I'm very curious about the divergence between that figure--who functions like a fairy in a fairy tale--and the vastly powerful Lord of Darkness.
The popular, modern image of Satan/The Devil as "a vastly powerful Lord of Darkness" is fairly new. If you read through the Bible (Old & New Testaments), chronologically this figure (or figures, if you don't believe all the references are to the same angel) goes from being a sort of Prosecutor General of Heaven's Judgment Court to an agent provocateur testing Christ.

There are stories of demons "infecting" humans (possession), but nowhere is it made clear that they answer to an evil overlord.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:21 PM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


But how do the Ainur fit in to all of this?
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:24 PM on February 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


Dr-Baa: It's not a pitchfork, it's a trident.

(satanically pedantic)
Citation needed. I'll bet I can find medieval depictions of devils carrying pitchforks to "harvest" souls in Hell. I *know* I can find depictions of devils using meat hooks, another common tool for catching and moving stuff.

The introduction of the fork to the Western tableware was resisted by Church authorities ostensibly because it looked like a devil's three-tined whateveryouwanttocallit, and the early answer was to use two-tined forks. (The real reason is more likely that they came to the West via Muslim culture, and were therefore a sign of acquiescence of an "evil" influence.) Two-tined forks just aren't as good as three-tined, though, so they mutated. Most today are four-tined, of course.

Pitchforks can have three or four tines; tridents (obviously) only have three.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:27 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was told in a religion class at one point that the actual language...used in the Job story as its come down to us suggests that the Satan/Lucifer framework was added later as a way of making a complex story more palatable to the masses.

It's easy to tell that Job is a book containing poetic soliloquies wrapped in a brief prose frame even in translation. Job chapters 1 and 2 and 42:7ff are clearly a different style than what comes in 3:1-42:6. But I think the idea that the frame was added to "make it palatable to the masses" is way off base. I don't see how "here's a person who is completely righteous, but God allowed Satan to ruin his life, kill his kids and leave him in constant torment for no reason" is supposed to be an easy-to-swallow crowd-pleaser. Besides, the scholarly consensus is that the short prose tale came first and a later writer decided to use it as the setting for the poetic theological debate he wanted to write. I think that editorial process makes more sense. The prose stands pretty well on its own, but the poetry requires the prose to set the tale.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:32 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


True Christians use three-tined forks to remind us of the Trinity, or two-tined forks to remind us of the dual nature of Christ in hypostatic union, on holy days dedicated to Our Lord and also when eating small pickles or olives.

Regardless, I reject your heretical quadrinitarian cutlery.
posted by tivalasvegas at 2:32 PM on February 20, 2015 [16 favorites]


Bill Cosby is the devil...
posted by jonp72 at 2:58 PM on February 20, 2015


The problem with reading the actual bible instead of watching movies is that the more you read the bible, especially the old testament, the more you realise God is a sociopathic asshole who will crush you like an ant if you draw his attention and worshipping him seems like a terrible idea. The movie is way better than the book.

Jesus, on the other hand, clearly has his heart in the right place. So God killed him. Those movies are terrible.
posted by fshgrl at 3:08 PM on February 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


I just realized something that explains so much about the quality of contemporary American Christianity: American Christians don't follow the Christian bible, they follow its fan fiction. We're stuck with the 50 Shades of Gray version of Christian theology now! /cheapshot
posted by saulgoodman at 3:30 PM on February 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


There are stories of demons "infecting" humans (possession), but nowhere is it made clear that they answer to an evil overlord.

The closest you get is this passage in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) where Jesus casts out a demon and the religious leaders say he's casting out demons because he's in league with Beelzebul:
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.” 25 He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. -- Matthew 12:24-29
So the religious leaders in the time of Jesus had some sort of belief about a ruler of demons, which Jesus doesn't contradict. Rather he explains his exorcisms in terms of the Spirit of God allowing him to subdue Satan in order to cast out demons (tying up "the strongman" to plunder the strongman's house).
posted by straight at 3:38 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


There was a thread the other day on which a metafilter user claimed they had read the entirety of the Bible more than once, although I forget the exact number (twice? thrice?). Literary critic Northrop Frye who wrote two excellent analyses of some of the scriptures, The Great Code and Words with Power, claims that this is impossible, to read the entire Bible from the first verse continuously through the last. He says many people try and almost everybody gives up before they finish Leviticus.

This was most likely me. Frye underestimates the power of religious belief as a motivating factor. Reading the whole Bible is a project Protestant children are commonly encouraged to tackle, generally on the one book a week plan. Parts of it certainly are a slog, and lots of folks do wash out, but I'm not the only one from my own childhood church who made it all the way. BTW the Book of Job is comedy gold, offering a particularly different view of the rationship between God and Satan.

I embarked on my project, which took about six weeks each time, at the ages of 11, when I was recently baptized and very deep in the church belief system, around 14 when I was starting to doubt my faith, and again at 16 when I was pretty sure I was done with it all and wanted to be sure I wasn't missing something.
posted by localroger at 4:00 PM on February 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


huh. i didn't realize that God hates the census.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:15 PM on February 20, 2015


Add me to the list of people who met Vincent backstage at one of his speaking tour stops (in Kansas!). I was a rookie radio announcer and just in awe.

He was the quintessential story teller...and just a great person off-mic and camera.

There are lots or readings, shows, and full movies with Vincent on youtube if y'all are in the mood for some Arch devilish entertainment.
posted by CrowGoat at 4:30 PM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


The real gem here is the Paul Davidson essay in the third link. It's amazing!
posted by Kevin Street at 5:25 PM on February 20, 2015


You... are really, really wrong, and I have no idea where you got that notion from.

Huh, I am not wrong, but perhaps you can explain why you think I'm wrong and then we can see if you really disagree or if you have misunderstood my point?

The canon of Scripture is not something determined by the scriptures themselves. And in Catholic and Orthodox theology the teaching of the Church is epistemically prior to the creation of the New Testament. See the discussion in, for instance, Dei verbum, 18:

"The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." (emphasis mine)

Because of the inspiration of Scripture, it is particularly useful for theological reflection, but to simply say that some thing is not in scripture does not for Catholics and the Orthodox mean that it is without foundation.
posted by Jahaza at 6:12 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


You can read the whole Bible by skimming the boring stuff and hunkering down on the funny, scary, and weird stuff. It's a lot like Infinite Jest.
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:50 PM on February 20, 2015


I have my own Vincent Price story.
posted by pjern at 7:30 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


on the one hand it seems to me that the only book of the bible that you really need is Ecclesiastes. But on the other hand, I'm a nihilist, so of course that'd be my favorite.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:25 PM on February 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Reading the whole Bible is a project Protestant children are commonly encouraged to tackle, generally on the one book a week plan. Parts of it certainly are a slog, and lots of folks do wash out, but I'm not the only one from my own childhood church who made it all the way.

Seconding this. I grew up in a Methodist church in a rather ordinary middle-class suburb outside of Baltimore where the social norm is that most people go to church, but the culture is not given to being exceptionally pious or evangelical. And yep, we were absolutely encouraged to tackle reading the whole Bible, exactly as localroger said. They got the ball rolling during classes leading up to confirmation, which was at about age 11, with the hope that we would keep at it and finish. There were also special Bible Study classes supporting grownups who were making a project of reading the entire Bible, IIRC.
posted by desuetude at 10:34 PM on February 20, 2015


Literary critic Northrop Frye who wrote two excellent analyses of some of the scriptures, The Great Code and Words with Power, claims that this is impossible, to read the entire Bible from the first verse continuously through the last. He says many people try and almost everybody gives up before they finish Leviticus.

That's so weird that I wonder if it's even a serious claim, rather than disappointed hyperbole about the state of the average believer's knowledge of their own religion. Leviticus was hard to put down, what with being full of instructions for animal sacrifice and other stuff I was not particularly expecting. (The only place I skimmed was Numbers - I mean, it wasn't even like the begats, it was just repeating counts on stuff.)

on the one hand it seems to me that the only book of the bible that you really need is Ecclesiastes. But on the other hand, I'm a nihilist, so of course that'd be my favorite.

... I came here to say something similar, but saw you beat me to it. Ecclesiastes is the only thing in there that still grabs me, after leaving religion behind.

I just realized something that explains so much about the quality of contemporary American Christianity: American Christians don't follow the Christian bible, they follow its fan fiction.

I've been following Fred Clark's blog for years now, and that's one of the important points in his criticism of Left Behind. The short version is that the authors of Left Behind crib from the work of Hal Lindsey in a manner very similar to EL James and Stephanie Meyer. (Lindsey is himself rooted in a tradition that comes from the Scofield Bible, which is itself basically fanfic.)

That may or may not sound like the worst thing ever, but he does a good job of showing that it is: people have taken something with a message, scooped that out and replaced it with what they wish it said... then passed it off as the real thing. It's fascinating to see the whole deal dissected, week after week, if also very troubling.
posted by mordax at 10:53 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


My $0.02 on this: I grew up in a quite fundamental Christian church and did indeed read through the entire Bible, including Numbers and Leviticus, a couple of times. More fundamentalist denominations view this as a desired activity, and have the same attitude towards memorizing large chunks of scripture.

I'm not too familiar with Fred Clark but appreciate his take on Left Behind. It seems pretty accurate to say that the Old Testament doesn't contain anywhere near what people think it does, in terms of the number or the coherency of those references, regarding the modern concept of Satan. The replies already here are pretty much on the money so I won't comment further about this.

Kudos to TheWhiteSkull - any intelligent commentator on the Book of Revelation should at least have read the first verse :o) I'm going to go out on a limb and say commentaries that refer to "The Revelation of Saint John the Divine" should be viewed with similar skepticism.

What I do want to specifically comment on is the text of the NT. Obviously Christians give high weight to remarks attributed to Jesus - the NT observes (plausibly, I think) that Jesus was a bit of a rabbi-rouser from a young age and was probably very conversant in not only the Jewish scriptures themselves but the associated commentary and viewpoints. For someone who claims to be "the truth" then, if he's confronted with some wild-ass theological idea, you'd assume he would have a thing or two to say if it's wildly incorrect. Hence Christians from my theological background take quite seriously instances where Jesus has the opportunity to correct a controversial viewpoint but doesn't. I don't know how widespread this attitude is outside Americanized Protestant Fundamentalism but within it, it's very common. Hence anytime Jesus confronts some theological idea that would be controversial based purely on OT texts, a lot of Christians have a tendency to defer to Jesus.

What I think is a lot trickier is when modern Christians attempt to take this idea of "all their canonical books" being inspired, and then resolve the inconsistencies you get with books like Revelation. The problem is this. If "all scripture" is inspired, then tricky books like Revelation must be inspired. And since "all scripture", meaning "all my canonical books", are inspired, they ought to form a coherent whole, so any exegetical efforts should aim to resolve inconsistencies. But if you try to do that, you're in an immediately difficult situation, since you can't make Revelation coherent with the rest of the OT and NT without coming to some quite bizarre conclusions.

This is how you end up with Hal Lindsey-esque theology. It seems like a bunch of profound crackpottery, but the intentions are honest, and the effort is necessary if you accept the axioms I've just mentioned (basically, inerrancy of the entire "Protestant canon", and "scripture" status for Revelation.)

That aside, and FWIW, Jahaza and IAmBroom, I think you're actually quite close to agreeing.

Jahaza:

You know what else isn't in the Bible? That there's a Bible.

Correct. The idea of canonicity was developed later, a few hundred years after the last "canonical" book was written. Large numbers of Protestant Christians today seem to take NT verses like 2 Timothy 3:16:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God...

And seem to think that the phrase "all scripture" refers to what they consider to be the canonical books. Well, no... Those canonical books weren't decided upon until hundreds of years after that line was written. (This is leaving out a discussion of how Jews view the Tanakh (roughly = Christian Old Testament), and the role of rabbinic commentary.)

The Bible as the source of Christian theology is a uniquely Protestant idea...

Erm, well, yes and no. IAmBroom pointed out this isn't quite right. Catholics and Orthodox Christians tend to be more accepting of books not in the One True Canon. But that canon was established quite early.
posted by iffthen at 5:51 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, just to stir the pot a little more, since it's my specialty :P

You can probably, rightly refer to Hal Lindsey as a crackpot, but if you want to take on someone more formidable who represents the theology behind Left Behind, try Chuck Missler's commentary on Revelation. I'm not going to give my personal opinion here except to say that some of what he says is quite uncomfortable.

If you accuse him of being a right-wing fundie nutter you'd probably be not far wrong. But the problem is he's a *smart* nutter (ex-Western Digital CEO, formerly an officer in US Missile Command). And if you're going to take on an ideology or theology or whatever, it's best to find the best representatives of that viewpoint, not the worst ones.

;)
posted by iffthen at 6:07 AM on February 21, 2015


Vincent Price's recordings on cuisine are excellent. He was a foodie before it was cool.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 7:39 AM on February 21, 2015


Vincent Price in Dragonwyck is such a handsome devil, lounging about with his long legs and nihilistic aristocratic sensibilities. It's two years after Laura so he's had time to settle into his villainous persona a bit more. I had a massive crush on him when I was a kid, I would have loved to have met him.

(Paradise Lost as) the template for all modern sympathetic depictions of Satan.
Actually I think the sympathy is inherent to the myth of Lucifer, certain versions of which have a different set of lessons.
posted by glasseyes at 9:31 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Elaine Pagels's The Origin of Satan is another good book on the topics discussed in the FPP. (Though more focused on how the idea of Satan was used and molded by early Christians in response to external conditions.)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:42 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Paradise Lost, the greatest work of fan fiction ever written

What's the Aeneid, chopped liver?
posted by ersatz at 9:42 AM on February 21, 2015


no, just worse than Paradise Lost
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:59 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


And if you're going to take on an ideology or theology or whatever, it's best to find the best representatives of that viewpoint, not the worst ones.

'Best' depends a bit on one's goals in studying the material, though.

If you're a Christian interested in the scholarly study of various theological questions for your own enlightenment, it's definitely better to take a look at people with a deeper understanding of, well, *anything* than LaHaye and Jenkins. A recommendation to read something deeper and better thought out is a good suggestion, which I'd have to second.

Personally, I'm more interested in this from a 'understand the neighbors' perspective, which means that the best examples to look at are the ones actively being passed around. Left Behind is a household name, and thus more accurately reflects the popular understanding of the ideas presented, which is what impacts how a larger number of people live their lives. It's sort of like... if you want to understand how many people view relationships, stories like Twilight and 50 Shades are impossible to ignore simply because they grabbed such a huge audience. Doesn't matter that they're awful books, they're what people picked up.

Fred Clark strikes me as a good guide because he grew up in the subculture, which I find baffling as someone raised in a mostly Catholic environment - I don't really care what an outsider thinks of the books, I want someone with context. (I also like reading Clark because it's a good reminder that many theists are people I'm actively pleased to share a society with.)

It's basically the same thing going on with this specific blog post - our ideas about Satan mostly don't come from the Bible, so understanding the popular notions of the figure require stepping outside it and examining pop culture.

Oh, just to stir the pot a little more, since it's my specialty

Thank you for doing so, by the by. :)
posted by mordax at 11:04 AM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


okay so I'm just going to take this opportunity to link to a couple of my favorite slacktivist posts:

Holy Saturday. He puts this up before Easter every year. Thanks to this post, I have a favorite day of the liturgical calendar.

The Abominable Shellfish. A response to the right-wing response to the "god hates shellfish" meme, wherein Fred discusses a story from Acts wherein Peter receives a vision of unkosher food. People who can't read books, or who are tactically pretending to be unable to read books, interpret this passage as being specifically about the repeal of kosher dietary laws. People who can read books, and who choose to actually read the book of Acts, can see that that's not at all what's going on here.

FWIW, I had to google for "slacktivist cornelius" to find that second one. If you do that, you can also find a bunch of homophobic responses to Slacktivist's article wherein the homophobes in question carefully try to limit the implications of the story that you find when you actually read Acts. Because Slacktivist's post neatly eviscerates the argument that this story is specifically about dietary laws, the responses to the post (this one, for example) try to wriggle away by claiming that, well, okay, sure, it's not specifically about dietary laws, but still it's just about laws regulating contact between Jews and Gentiles, and so therefore we shouldn't let the radical inclusivity that underpins this passage do anything crazy like change our lives or our beliefs or our practices or anything.

One thing I've learned from reading Slacktivist and responses to Slacktivist is that there is that many right-wing Christians have an absolutely relentless drive to prove to the world that their religion is irrelevant, meaningless, pinched, and useless, even when, or especially when, confronted with writing by people like Slacktivist, writing that demonstrates how Christianity might instead be made meaningful and relevant.

It's puzzling why people would be so devoted to proving that their religion doesn't matter. But people are, if nothing else, very strange animals.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I love Fred Clark, but that Abominable Shellfish article is not one of his best. He fails to consider that the entire middle section of Acts is about how the first Jewish Christians decided whether and on what basis Gentiles would be allowed to become Christians, including how they interpreted Peter's vision and his experiences with Cornelius. In Acts 15, Peter and the Apostles have a council and officially decide that Gentiles are welcome to become Christians without having to keep all the Jewish purity laws, but that there are a few of those laws that even Gentiles must keep, including abstaining from "sexual immorality" (πορνεία).

It's debatable whether this reference to πορνεία would have had anything to do with homosexuality, but it's still makes the whole "God Hates Shrimp" meme seem really ignorant to a lot of Christians. The distinction between shellfish and sexual morality is not some modern hypocritical/ignorant picking-and-choosing among laws in Leviticus, it's a distinction made deliberately by the first Christians.
posted by straight at 1:34 PM on February 21, 2015


The problem with reading the actual bible instead of watching movies is that the more you read the bible, especially the old testament, the more you realise God is a sociopathic asshole who will crush you like an ant if you draw his attention and worshipping him seems like a terrible idea. The movie is way better than the book.

Jesus, on the other hand, clearly has his heart in the right place. So God killed him. Those movies are terrible.


The Gnostic interpretation makes a lot more sense of that narrative, altho it's a lot more complicated. You have the Godhead, which is the truest all-encompassing form of divinity - infinite, perfect and pretty much static. However, in order to have a dynamic cosmos, the Godhead created more fractured portions of itself. The Creator god who made the physical world is basically a flawed copy of a copy of this true Divinity, a jealous and warlike egomaniac.

After a while the higher divinity hijacks the Creator's version of Christ (who was supposed to come in as a warring leader leading the Israelites to glory) and introduces the newer, more loving ideology in an attempt to change the paradigm. Flawed Creator God isn't having this, and engineers the crucifixion, but the new faith has already taken root and starts changing the world in this new image.

the full story is even more convoluted, but that's the basic gist.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:40 AM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


no, just worse than Paradise Lost

I may prefer PL, but I think we've lost the frame of reference for appreciating the Aeneid. It's been considered a founding work for more time than PL has even existed and even if more people would pick PL now, this doesn't mean either one is better or worse.
posted by ersatz at 11:28 AM on February 22, 2015


straight: So the religious leaders in the time of Jesus had some sort of belief about a ruler of demons, which Jesus doesn't contradict.
Thank you! I was unaware of this passage. Fascinating - and yet another proof of what a savvy rabbi Jeshua ben Joseph really was.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:54 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jahaza: You... are really, really wrong, and I have no idea where you got that notion from.

Huh, I am not wrong, but perhaps you can explain why you think I'm wrong and then we can see if you really disagree or if you have misunderstood my point?
OK, I see I missed a fine point you made:
Jahaza: You know what else isn't in the Bible? That there's a Bible.

The Bible as the source of Christian theology is a uniquely Protestant idea. Fred Clark stands in that tradition. But for Orthodox and Catholic Christians, this kind of thing is only worth a shrug of the shoulders
I read that to mean, "Orthodox and Catholic Christians don't have a Bible." What you are (apparently) saying is, "Orthodox and Catholic Christians don't believe the Bible is origin of the faith."

However, you later quoted:
"The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John."
Emphasis by me (IAmBroom). The Bible may not be self-defining (that there exists a Bible isn't in the Bible), but it is explicitly considered a foundation of the faith, if not the origin.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:10 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


iffthen: Jesus was a bit of a rabbi-rouser
Favorited just for that pun. Well played, sir.
That aside, and FWIW, Jahaza and IAmBroom, I think you're actually quite close to agreeing.
Yes, I see now we are.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:16 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tangentially related, Fred Clark has published the first volume of his dissection of Left Behind as an eBook. I've been waiting for this since he floated the idea of collecting those posts into book format, because I really wanted to read them again, but had little desire to find a way to read them sequentially via the blog interface. Also because I normally think, "I'd like to read that" just before a long train ride.
posted by frimble at 12:18 AM on February 25, 2015


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