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The Devil 'Made' You Do It?

18 January 2012, 07:02

This week there was an article on News24 indicating that the people responsible for the rape and torture of Alison Botha may be eligible for parole. I don’t want to dwell on the nature and details of that crime, as it has been well documented. What I do wish to focus on is the claim by the perpetrators that ‘the Devil made them do it’. This is not the first time that we have seen this nonsense being used as a defense, nor will it be the last. One may also recall that Hansie Cronje tried this tired old excuse to avoid punishment and social scorn during the match fixing scandal that rocked SA cricket during his captaincy. Further, I wish to point out that this type of claim is not restricted to the supernatural, but in the absence of a religion featuring a duality of good and evil, perpetrators often choose to claim that ‘society made them do it’. Thus, both the ‘Devil’ and ‘society’ perform the same function of avoiding personal responsibility and in so doing externalizes the source of evil.

Of course, atheists will write off the devil as mere a mere fairy story out of hand, but mere dismissal is not enough. We need to analyze the belief system to see if the actual people involved have any grounds to prove that they themselves believed that the Devil controlled them for the period in which they committed their crimes. If such justification cannot be found in their own religious views, then it becomes clear that they are , at best, callous and calculating liars who underestimate the intelligence of other people or, at worst, totally insane and out of touch with reality. Further, in the absence of religious analyses, we often see criminal psychologists and lawyers push the theory that ‘society’ forced their clients to act in such a way as to break the law. Something is going on here that transcends both religious and commonsense viewpoints.

Firstly, from a strictly religious standpoint, there is no justification whatsoever that the Devil is capable of making anyone do anything. Throughout the bible, Satan tempts people. In Christian doctrine (ironically, perhaps given the attitude of the Church) free will is emphasized. Humans are free to choose between God and Satan. The emphasis is on the responsibility belonging to each individual. A very important passage from Deuteronomy 30:19 states, "Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” This is important because it emphasizes that, according to Judeo-Christian philosophy, not only does this God give free choice, but both blessings and curses flow from Him. In fact, the writers of the Old Testament believed that all things were created by God both good and evil. Like most ancient religions, they believed that bad things happened when God was angry (like the Flood, for instance). However, if things were going well, then people must have pleased God in some way. God created everything. Only God was uncreated. Everything that God created was good. This calls the entire lore regarding the Devil into question.

In Hebrew, a ‘satan’ was a generic term for one that opposes endeavors. In the story of Balaam, as detailed in Numbers 22:21~, God places a ‘satan’ in the form of an Angel in the road to obstruct him from going in a journey against God’s will. The story of Job in which Satan and God exert control over the poor man’s life in order to test his faith does not make sense if Satan is pure evil, as God cannot be in the presence evil, yet here we see him openly betting and conversing with Satan. The ‘Satan’ in this story is therefore one who tests, who assists in God’s work by judging, tempting, probing humans for weaknesses.  It should also be noted that this ‘Satan’ does nothing outside of what is permitted by God. He is not free to directly ‘make’ Job curse God for, if this was the case then the entire belief system of salvation through free choice collapses in on itself. Therefore, we find no evidence that Satan is able to forcibly direct individuals to go against God, or even to break worldly crimes, as the case may be.

Other Old Testament phrases referring to the fall of the people of Israel from God’s grace have been misinterpreted as referring to the fall of ‘Satan’ from Heaven. Christians seem to have no trouble believing that both God and Satan ‘test’ them and their faiths constantly, but I believe that the vast majority would stop short at believing that either entity could possess and control them at will. While possession was thought to be common and possible in times gone by, science has revealed that most, if not all, could be put down to some mental defect or preexisting condition such as epilepsy or schizophrenia .

The real appeal of the concept of Satan, I believe is due to two factors. Firstly, that it lionizes the Church against some unseen foe constantly trying to ensnare the flock that would stray too far from the earthly shepherd, and take their tithes and property with them. As God protects eternal souls from the clutches of Satan in the afterlife, so too does the church protect true believers from the works of Satan wrought in the physical realm. Sometimes this involved the burning of defenseless old women, but I digress. Ideas cannot stand without the active support of a large number of people. Satan allows for a most wonderful scapegoat for people unable to come to grips with the fact that they may be evil. Satan therefore enjoys success as a way to externalize evil. People always like to think that they are good and upstanding members of society, and so blame forces that appear to be beyond their control, sometimes in the most childish ways.

Finally, to acknowledge free will is also to acknowledge responsibility for one’s actions. Inevitably this allows for one to be held accountable for the results of these actions and therefore to be punished, or rewarded, accordingly. It follows that people who claim that this cartoonish figure, with a pitchfork and a goatee, waiting to occupy unsuspecting hosts and ‘make’ them commit crimes can only one of two things. Either, they are cynical about other’s ability to see through their baloney and wish to avoid the consequences of their actions, or utterly insane in that they are unable to recognize that the root of their actions lies within them. There is no Biblical justification to support the idea of the Devil being able to do anything, save test, temp and/or harass humans. The choice remains with us; people like the Botha rapists and the Lottes have chosen to inflict suffering and death on others, and now lack the courage to stand by their choice, no Devil required.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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