Biblical Satan and GOP rhetoric: Is the enemy within?

Who is Satan and what is he doing in our presidential politics? The figure of Satan is popularly understood as … Continued

Who is Satan and what is he doing in our presidential politics? The figure of Satan is popularly understood as the opposite of all that is godly and good. That’s the culturally held view of Satan, and one that GOP presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, seems to share. It’s just not biblical.

But in Republican presidential politics, biblical views of Satan actually explain a lot.

Eric Gay


Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum waits to speak at the Livonia Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012, in Livonia, Mich.

Ironically enough, the biblical understandings of Satan show us the way human beings can become blinded by their own virtue and thus fail to recognize that temptation comes from within. This is the form of temptation that is tearing the Republican party apart, as was so evident in the Arizona debate. According to Matt Taibbi, what that debate showed is a Republican party turning its enemy paranoia even on itself. The Republicans have “run out of foreign enemies to point fingers at. They’ve already maxed out the rhetoric against us orgiastic, anarchy-loving pansexual liberal terrorists. The only possible remaining explanation for their troubles is that their own leaders have failed them. There is a stranger in the house!”

“There is a stranger in the house,” and even ?a stranger among me and mine,” is a deeply biblical way to understand the real figure of Satan. Elaine Pagels, in her book, “The Origin of Satan,” has aptly summed up what the biblical figure of Satan really challenges us to confront, “that this greatest and most dangerous enemy did not originate, as one might expect, as an outsider, an alien, or a stranger. Satan is not the distant enemy but the intimate enemy—one’s trusted colleague, close associate, brother…Whichever version of his origin one chooses, and there are many, all depict Satan as intimate enemy—the attribute that qualifies him so well to express conflict among Jewish groups. Those who asked, ‘How could God’s own angel become his enemy?’ were thus asking, in effect, ‘How could one of us become on of them?’” (p. 49)

This is, of course, also the question that is confronting the followers of Jesus who compose the gospels. In their struggle within and with the traditional Jewish teaching and practice of the time, these reformer Jews who were followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the writers of the gospels (composed between 70 and 100 C.E.), are trying to figure out why their own religious fellows reject them, sometimes violently. Matthew shows Jesus in a titanic struggle with the Jewish religious leaders of his time, the scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus denounces as “children of hell.”(Matt. 23:15). This struggle reaches its Gospel climax in John.

At the deepest level, the biblical figure of the Devil, as Pagels suggests, is not some transcendent figure of ultimate evil contending with God and goodness; no, the seemingly cosmic struggle with evil the popular Devil with a pitchfork image evokes actually masks what is always actually an incredibly intimate struggle. It is not the struggle with the enemy far off, but with the friend, the neighbor and ultimately with oneself. The Devil in the Bible is not pure evil; Satan is the temptation within, the human struggle to be good in a very broken and conflicted world. Finally the only way to really understand the Devil is to understand the very human temptation to fail to examine our own consciences, and our perhaps greatest human failing, our desire to project evil outward on to others.

Republican candidates are exhibiting this temptation to an alarming degree in their increasingly shrill and targeted attacks on one another, matching “fire with fire” as Santorum noted. All too true.

I cannot, like Matt Taibbi, rejoice in this spectacle, tempting as that may be for me. But when the entirety of our politics today becomes enslaved to passionate negativity, lies too numerous to count, whiplash hypocrisy, and aggrieved partisanship, all fueled by a cesspool of SuperPAC money, surely even the secular as well as the religious can hear the faint echo of Satan laughing.

Republican politicians have been tempted by their own alleged hyper-righteousness, and blinded by the glare of their presumed virtue. And so, they fell into tempation.

But this year, I fear they are taking democracy down with them.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is an On Faith panelist.

  • WmarkW

    The central issue in federal politics today is unsustainable budgets. Cuts are inevitable, but that’s a loser of an issue among politicians who get elected telling the voters what they want to year. Santorum doesn’t have nearly the resume of either Romney or Gingrich, so he scares the voters with bugaboos like Satan. That’s obviously stupid to any thinking person.

    But Obama’s vague and unsubstantiated “hope and change” isn’t based on thinking any less wishful. This election is going to come down to “which candidate is more like me?”

  • ThomasBaum

    Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

    As far as at least one of the “biblical views of Satan”, haven’t you ever heard about the very “personal” encounter between Jesus and satan?

    As far as when Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me satan…”, do you really think that Jesus was saying that Peter was satan or that satan was speaking thru Peter?

    Just as God can speak thru people, so can satan.

  • amelia45

    Well done.

    There is quite a good article “…The Conservative Quest for Absolute Truth” by Ira Chernus at It really deals with our response to fear and uncertainty – and creating an atmosphere of “us” vs “them”, that process in which those who don’t agree with us become the devil.

  • persiflage

    ‘Elaine Pagels, in her book, “The Origin of Satan,” has aptly summed up what the biblical figure of Satan really challenges us to confront, “that this greatest and most dangerous enemy did not originate, as one might expect, as an outsider, an alien, or a stranger.’

    Elaine Pagels is certainly worth reading. Her work on Gnosticism is notable. I have the ‘Satan’ book and several others. She casts religion as myth, allegory and metaphor in her work, as do many comparative religionists.

    But for Santorum, Satan is not a symbolic projection in the Jungian sense – Santorum is a religious literalist and really believes that the devil is in our midst for real, leading us down the road to ruin.

    This kind of superstitious thinking makes him altogether unsuitable as the national leader of a modern nation. Who could really trust such a man??

    And if that weren’t enough, he just doesn’t sound very smart…….but he doesn’t have a corner on that market in the crowd that he’s hanging with these days.

  • Bluefish2012

    “Satan is…the human struggle to be good in a very broken and conflicted world.”

    Huh? I’m sure the father of all lies is happy with this description. C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape had a much better idea of the nature of the king of deception.

  • quiensabe

    Susan! Susan! Susan! Where do you get all the stuff you throw out? Don’t you think it’s time to start reading the Bible? As a Christian, that’s well…mandatory, isn’t it?

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    I think this is good news for the Republican Party. You can only rebuild when the whole structure has fallen to pieces. The Conservative Christians have taken over the party and what would have been absurd and undemocratic comments made behind closed doors is now for all to see and hear. It is the Swan song of a dying group (and a Swan’s call is very obnoxious).

    The question is: Will the moderate Republican’s swoop in to remold the party. For the sake of Democracy I certainly hope so.

  • James210

    Even a blind squirrel can find a nut?
    I’d rather not discuss the school of hard knocks due to my own education?
    judas and taking the money? no doubt

    Taken from a nov.2010 email, in discussion with a state official.
    now again since, this has mostly been corrected.

    ” For the sake of argument, let’s just speculate that a blank, faded triangle isn’t going to say may much to the general public. A lack of notifying park visitors is also a serious safety violation, in my book. Emphasis on collecting the “nickle” at the gate? For all the effort the DNR makes on educating hunters on safety, perhaps a program for The Maryland Park Service. By the way, can I get a receipt for that entrance fee?

    To this date, not only does the hunting community enjoy a bounty-full harvest but also the visitors who wish to hike. and it took a former hunter who, yes knew it was hunting season and knew he was not in compliance with regards to state regulations and hunter interference. And the reason was to inform hunters that they shared the park with hikers and families.

    is the devil within? habitat restoration doesn’t make many friends until it’s too late.
    the devil within seems to care about his first employer and man who shook his hand at graduation, for some unknown reason.

    which- wondering about her house falling in? where does church responsibility start and end? in my book when community safety has failed with the soldier stationed at the door, they need to resign.
    but that’s your call and my opinion, for what it’s worth

  • James210

    local paper and their responsibility?
    well comments like, “learning how the game is played” or something along those lines? most worthless peice of paper i have ever read.

    in continuation of the nov.2010 email

    “I always thought hunters enjoyed the hunt, not running into people. For the record, the hunters are in compliance. I advised some military where they’d find better hunting, Cedarville and/or Doncaster. Of course the areas closed to “Public” hunting at CC, have deer.
    I’m guessing my “interests” are spiritual and, I don’t enjoy it. When I find what I’m looking for, you’ll be the second phone call. ”

    never made that phone call and doubtfull i ever will.
    one must be vigilant.

    something along the lines of an “unknown legend”
    craziness of listening to a woman sing this song?

  • James210

    i’ll cut it short

    not only does she live, but she steal husbands and woves them into a collection of trophy’s?
    medusa? homeland security

  • James210

    I’m guessing your the one chasing me. Shouldn’t have given me anything to fight with. I blame you for my situation. Love/hate relationship and i am glad to accomodate you with my frustration.
    the following has some traps and holes and is to another local government official. Considering the garbage and lack of effort, i’m use to fighting on my own.

    Thank you for labeling me NCP? non compliant or non custodial?

    In this case my friend it seems the court directive which is not a state law, is what Child Enforcement, enforces. You are not subject to the laws but the court rulings. Your latitude at which means you choose to intimidate a NCP is dependent upon your interpretation of compliance (baltimore is wonderful to deal with). If I may ask do you have legal counsel that approves your actions to the court with regards to, not complying with the court directive (checks and balances, separation of powers), or is that up to you or anyone?

    My way of “not working” is still my way, as I am free to choose based on the Constitution. Whether an excessive fine (could be construed as well) as leveled by the court, truly, is not your concern. I appreciate your non-biased execution of your duties and only ask that your actions do not supercede what you would do normally. Comments about people being 40-50k in the rearage and keeping them out of jail should be commended(?) (and reported) as a job well done. My 5k , I would have thought would have received the , commented, few warning notices before a show cause order were to appear. But I could be wrong.

    Now aside from those things, again, when one is politically active against state politicians in challenging them on community issues openly, which ,might also involve “local attorneys” in an example of failed community leadership (preamble to the constitution) and an ex wife, who does not approve of my teachings and, who also has contacts in the local courts, you can see my concern, about recieving a fair and just execution, o

  • xexon

    The biblical Satan is your own human mind. Personified into a supernatural deity for easier understanding. Religious mythology.

    Everybody has a feral human within. “Satan” is who we blame when we do something against our higher nature.

    “The devil made me do it”.

    Not really. You did it because you wanted to.


  • James210

    so, you want me to throw the case away?
    ———let me give you something to ponder——–

    do you think, that yes, I’m sitting at “a” said desk—- when said House leadership walks in , to their office, after voting and, sits in the visiting chair and confronts the reflection of their failures.
    Now let’s say the attitude is, they love nothing more then the sound and, being around a harem of opposing gender. Let’s look at the weakness of turning into a tramp from all the attention.
    This one is crafted and shaped by _____? Responsibility is probably the root cause of attitude whether, chosen or assigned. Assigned is not a very pleasant prospect. From my perspective , usually done with a sense of “i’m going to prove a point”. sort of like Akroyd in trading places- “if that’s the way they want it”
    one need a cohort to approve but , do you think the man who shook my hand at graduation, would have done so, had he looked in the diploma and saw the 80 plus absences?

    Now if one were to, want to talk to the governor and the rest of the state about building bridges(?) it’s generally a sign, of a lack of bridges and failed beauracracy’s.
    Throw it out, or face the reaper?

  • James210

    let us add,
    two counts of perjury in the intitial hearing, (gender) Perhaps they’ll just say they were mistakes or inaccurate embelishments. hence leading to the next act, instead of recess.
    and let us add
    (perhaps)perjured statement by court (employee) in presentation of the show cause order(gender).
    of course the judge would not know this,nor care.
    I’m juts a dumb hick who doesn’t/can’t identify discrimination or abuses of power?

    if you take the improprieties and perjury committed in act one and, the perjured statement in act two- you can see the abuses common people face by those with access and who govern.
    Show me where the U.S. Constitution or Maryland Law plays a roll in defending the rights of indiviuals from corruptions of favortism and discrimination, when said corruptions control the mechanism of enforcement, Sir?
    you can see why my comments about Not believing in either Government mechanisms.

    Let us add the embracing of Biblical failures to swear on and a refusal to do so as normally?
    Hence the first imparital question? with regards to mental health.
    let us add leading the witness(?), clear violation of impartiality.

    but this is just a common reduction in child support hearing? why is she mad at my ability to demonstrate successfully? impartiality?

    why are questions about termination and children, no longer children, being asked?

    there, everyone is forgiven, but me. I don’t care, I’m just watching the clock tick