You might have heard that some Satanic provocateurs had a nine-foot bronze statue unveiled in Detroit, in honor of the evil one. The event, which drew 700 people, was “harmlessly festive,” judged a writer for Time.
He should speak to Father James Martin, SJ. Though he is one of the most recognized voices for progressive Christianity, Fr. Martin takes Satanism with a seriousness that you rarely find in liberal Christian circles. He writes in America that the Detroit devil-worshipers and those who find it all amusing are “playing with fire.” Excerpt:
These people have no clue what kind of forces they are dealing with. In my life as a Jesuit priest, and especially as a spiritual director, I have seen people struggling with real-life evil. In the Spiritual Exercises, his classic manual on prayer, St. Ignatius Loyola calls this force either the “evil spirit” or “the enemy of human nature.” Sophisticated readers may smile, but this is a real force, as real as the force that draws one to God. Moreover, there is a certain identifiable sameness about the way that the “enemy” works in people’s lives. I have seen this. And after all, Ignatius’s comments reflect not only his own experience in prayer, but also his experience in helping others to pray. He was even able to describe some of the ways that the evil spirit works, and this also jibes with my experience: like a spoiled child (wanting to get his way); like a “false lover” (wanting us not to reveal our selfish motivations and plans); and like an “army commander” (attacking us at our weakest point). Pope Francis has also spoken frequently about the presence of evil in the world and of Satan. Again, some may laugh, but the pope is, again, speaking about something that is not only part of Christian belief, but quite well known among spiritual directors.
In other words, I’m not describing only about my belief, but my experience. Evil is real. How Satan fits into this, I’m not exactly sure, but I believe that a personified force is behind this. There is a certain “intelligence,” if you will, and a sameness, as St. Ignatius identified. As C.S. Lewis said about Satan, “I’m not particular about the horns and hooves, but yes I believe.” Me too.
This reminds me of two separate conversations I’ve had in the past two years with Haitian taxi drivers — one in New York City, the other in Boston. I wrote about the NYC one here. And I wrote about the Boston encounter here. An excerpt from that post:
He said one of the oddest things about living in Boston is the blindness of so many of the people there to the supernatural. “I drive people from Harvard and MIT all the time,” he said. “When they find out I’m from Haiti, they want to talk about vodou. They don’t believe any of it.”
From the backseat, I saw him smile, in a “those poor fools” kind of way.
“I tell them, you need to go to Haiti and see for yourself. This stuff is real. When you see it with your own eyes, you don’t doubt it.”
He told me a few extremely creepy stories about things he has seen, and that happened to his family there. He became grave, and said that there is very real, very dark spiritual power in vodou, and that we Americans are far too naive about spiritual reality.
“When my sons became 15, I took them to Haiti to show them,” he said. “I told them, you need to know for yourself what’s really out there.”
The implication was that being raised in America, they are blind to a dimension of reality with which they, and all of us, have to struggle, no matter where we live.
You may learn how real this stuff is the hard way. Sometimes, that’s the only way to learn. In college, a friend of mine did an internship in a psychological rehab center for teenagers. She was not particularly religious, but told me how without question the most damaged of all the kids the staff treated were the teenagers who had been deeply involved with the occult. Playing with fire, indeed. Good on Father Martin for taking this public stand.