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Home > Culture and Society

Hellhound on my trail

"When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside..."

(Luke 8:34)

"...blues fallin' down like hail
blues fallin' down like hail.
And the days keeps on worryin' me
there's a hellhound on my trail."

(Robert Johnson)

5 December 2003

In the village of Bosobe in the Congo, more than 60 people have died having been administered a potion designed to ward off evil spirits. The potion was administered by the village priest.

According to the Democratic Republic of Congo's health minister, Yagi Sitolo:

"Sixty-four of the approximately hundred people who drank the potion have died. We have sent two doctors and a Red Cross team to the site..."
Strangely, after doing all this good work, the priest has fled. Chased screaming through the darkness by a thousand cackling spirits, no doubt.

The priest may have taken his pastoral role a little far, and should probably have read up a little more about which mushrooms make your liver fall out and which don't, but he was driven by good Catholic doctrine: the spirits are out to get you.

And this isn't just a Catholic thing - the evangelical right wing of Anglicanism can be just as nuts. This is from a recent leader from the Daily Times newspaper of Nigeria:

Therefore, we call on the Christian faithful here and elsewhere, to guard their loins against the wiles of the evil one, and, in the name of all that is good, noble, holy and honourable speak with one voice against the ordination of Gene Robinson.

That's right - you've got to: "guard your loins against the wiles of the evil one" - amazing talk. It's as if Satan is flitting through the world, in a pair of backless PVC trousers, trying to coax people into the evil of gayness.

This is what Gabriele Amorth (the Vatican's official exorcist) told the Sunday Telegraph recently: "I speak with the devil every day. I talk to him in Latin. He answers in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in and day out, for 14 years." (Hmmm. Wrestling with the devil while he whispers to you in Italian? Sounds a little gay, Gabriele, don't you think?)

Now, Satan is so obviously made-up that discussing him is about as worthwhile as debating the personal morality of Catwoman, but letís have a stab at it.

Satan got booted out of heaven, and for some bizarre reason was allowed to set up his own kingdom, Hell. Exactly why isn't clear; maybe God was outsourcing punishment of non-believers. Anyway, the important thing is that Satanís minions, devils or demons to you or me, were sent out to tempt people away from God and do evil. This makes sense in a bonkers kind of way because if you're not given the opportunity to be evil (as well as good) you're not a moral agent.

But Satan was by no means a permanent fixture of religion. As Bob Carroll, creator of the excellent Skeptics Dictionary points out: "It is no accident that Satan reached the peak of his career at the same time the Church did, during the thirteenth century."

The more mental elements of the Christian church still subscribe to a literal view of Satan and evil - he exists as an actual entity, as do his demons. When you drink that delicious pint of Stella, thereís an invisible demon at your side encouraging you to do it. This literal view of evil is probably where the cartoon image of an angel/devil on each shoulder comes from. (We're happy to stand corrected if you're doing an MA in Animation and Theology and know otherwise).

But on the whole, modern Christians and people in general shy away from the medieval view of Satan and evil. The consensus is that people do evil things, but they aren't under the sway of a supernatural force of badness. Even the gays. And the concept of evil as a force that can take over human beings certainly doesn't fit with modern ideas of morality and punishment.

Or indeed science, psychology, atheism and not believing that fairies live at the bottom of your garden.


Note: We believe in fairies.



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