“The space between our wicked lies
Is where we hope to keep safe from the pain.” — Dave Matthews
My wife and I have tickets to the Alley Theater. Each season contains four or five plays and we are in the middle of the current season. Last night’s play was written by a new playwright. He managed to capture teen angst in a way few people are able to. Yet, the subjects appeared to be more adult than you would expect at a high school.
One of the characters was a regular church goer who was dealing with the same kind of confusion most teenagers go through as it pertains to religion. She asked a fairly innocent question that got her into a whole heap of trouble. She simply asked, “why don’t we pray for Satan?”
It seemed like a throw away line at the time and in the grand scheme of events in the play it really didn’t matter much. Each character seemingly had their own identity crisis and that character may have been the least interesting of the group. The playwright couldn’t possibly develop every character in the same way, so some had to be shortchanged.
However, I got stuck on the question: why don’t we pray for Satan? It seems basic enough. The gospels frequently tell us to be kind to our enemies. It tells us to turn the cheek. We should pray for those we like and those we don’t like. Why shouldn’t we pray for the force that brings most if not all evil into the world?
The answer provides us with a glimpse of one of the reasons why societies break down. Those of us of a certain age remember hating the Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wall gave us tangible evidence that we needed to move on. Our parents hated communism. Their parents hated Hitler and Mussolini. Even if they didn’t hate those leaders specifically, they hated the idea of fascism and oppression.
Archetypes demand their opposite. Luke Skywalker needed Darth Vader. Captain Kirk and and Captain Picard needed their Klingons. James Bond needed his Bond villain. People need a focus. Otherwise we would begin to blur the lines between good and evil. Otherwise, we might risk becoming that which we most loathe.
So, we pray for anyone that may be in Satan’s clutches, but we certainly don’t pray for Satan. We certainly don’t forgive Satan. We must hold Satan up as a paragon of evil because as long as we can do that we retain a purpose in life. There remains a focus for our fervor. It’s what keeps us going after a long day.
One of the hallmarks of Russian propaganda is the notion that there is no good and evil. They get you to buy into the relative nature of things. What you’ve done is just as bad as what I’ve done. Truth exists in the spaces between moral nihilism and the traditional good versus evil story. Everyone must straddle the line at some point in their lives.
What that looks like can be more frightening than the existence of evil itself. When evil forces die off or change their nature then we give into our own nature to keep that focal point. We must have something to focus on. Maybe it’s a rival school or team during football, baseball, or basketball season. More often than not, it is someone that believes something different than what we believe. It could be someone from another religion or someone from another political persuasion.
Part of the fun of identity politics is realizing why these identities exist in the first place. Why does anyone need to have one? In short, delineating or classifying people makes them easier to love or hate. It’s easier to identify them as allies or as arch enemies. They provide a focus for our hate. Except hate is no virtue. We aren’t supposed to hate anyone. We are supposed to love them and pray for them as we would our friends and family. Why don’t we pray for Satan again?