The Devil, You Know – by Marc Brenman

Some psychologists, linguists, feel-gooders, and progressive reframers want us right thinking people to seriously listen to those on the extreme right, consider their thoughts and feelings, and show empathy and compassion. This is supposed to be a route to mutual understanding, reconciliation, agreement on some issues, and a reduction in discord and violence. But is this really possible? I think it might be in a few isolated cases, if the practitioners on the left are skilled enough and the rightists open-minded enough. But the greater reality seems to be that many of those on the extreme right are white evangelical Christians who have strayed far from any real Christian beliefs. Some core Christian beliefs include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, welcoming the stranger, and turning the other cheek.

The tour away from these beliefs by those who profess to be Christians is not new; white Southern slaveholders in pre-Civil War America used Christianity to uphold slavery. There was indeed slavery in the Bible, but slaves were released in the jubilee year (every seven years), one was not born into slavery, slave families were not broken up, slaves were permitted to learn to read and write, and excessive punishment of slaves was banned. 

Those on the extreme right have instead chosen to follow Donald Trump, who exemplifies no Christian values whatsoever. He’s an immoral lying thief who brutalizes women and expresses incestuous thoughts and desires toward his daughter. He does not render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, does not turn the other cheek, and jumps in bed with Godless communists. He is more like the Anti-Christ than like Christ. He is the ultimate enemy of Christ; he will reign terribly in the period prior to the Last Judgment. The Christian idea of the Antichrist was derived from Jewish writings, particularly the Book of Daniel.  It foretold the coming of a final persecutor who would “speak great words against the most High and wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws” (7:25).

 In his nihilism, running after evil, engaging in Lashon Hora (a evil tongue), greed, and threatening use of nuclear weapons (like Putin) Trump is a follower of the Devil. Some evangelical Christian justify their cultish belief in Trump because they believe he is a precursor or accelerator of the End of Days. When he destroys the world, they will be raptured into Heaven. The first epistle of John introduces a distinction between “the” Antichrist who will come and the many antichrists who are already active in the world. We see them among the followers and enablers of Trump, among the January 6 insurrectionists, and in groups like the Proud Boyz. The New Testament says the Antichrist will come at a time of a general apostacy,  deceive people with signs and wonders, sit in the temple of God, and claim to be God himself. The signs and miracles performed by the Antichrist are polar opposites of Christ’s, because Antichrist’s supposed miracles will be only tricks.

A common Christian view of the characteristics of the Devil include being proud, fierce and cruel, powerful, deceitful, and subtle and crafty. Even Michael the archangel would not rebuke him without calling upon the name of the Lord. (Jude 9) Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil.” The Devil takes many forms. “Satan” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word which means “adversary” or “opponent.” In 1 Timothy 3:6, the Apostle Paul warns Timothy that any elder “must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” 

The prophet Isaiah compares the arrogant king of Babylon to a particularly ambitious divine being who has “fallen from heaven” (Isaiah 14:12). This king said to himself: “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (14:13–14).

Satan is a negotiator and a briber: the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said … (Matthew 4:8–9). 

The Jews of Jesus’ time believed that Satan was the ruler of the demons. Some Jews believed that it was only by Satan’s power that Jesus could cast out demons the way he did. But Jesus says this isn’t the case: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand” (Mark 3:23–26). 

Abraham Lincoln understood this well, and said so In his June 16, 1858 speech to the Republican State Convention in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln’s law partner thought the speech was too radical. Lincoln responded, “I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.” The speech was explicitly in regard to slavery. Lincoln stated, “We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.” 

Now here we are in the sixth year after Trump’s rise to Commander in Chief. Many of his supporters are in the White South, home of nostalgia for slavery, high rates of divorce, drug abuse, gun violence, domestic abuse, and low rates of education and health. 

There are no easy answers. We must understand our opponent, the Great Deceiver. We can try to cast out the Devil. There is no need for or efficacy in compassion or empathy for him, and no need or usefulness in listening to him. We should shut our ears against the Great Tempter. We are not in the Garden of Eden, but neither are we in Hell, yet. Climate denial may however be a slippery slope toward it. The River Styx is not going to dry up in the thousand year drought. Stupidity is in infinite supply. The forbidden apple is covered in pesticide. The snake in the grass is more like a virus. Exorcism maybe one of the few solutions available to us. We can say “Get thee from me, Satan!” by voting. 

This may be inadequate, but as we’ve seen in the heroic victory of the liberal and progressive women of Kansas and in the warrant serving FBI at Mar-a-Largo, there may be some successes at the margin. As Merrick Garland says, No one is above the law. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg choose “Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue” as the title of her memoir. The quote comes from Deuteronomy 16.18-21.9. The Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, commands us to appoint judges who will “judge the people with a just law,” and that those judges should “not pervert the law [and] show any partiality.” (Deuteronomy 16:18-19). Justice, not just us. 

Marc Brenman

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