Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Mythologizing the devil won’t end well, Archbishop Chaput warns


A society that relies on reason and technology, without faith, risks forgetting God and making a deal with the devil, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia has warned.

“We’re in a struggle for souls. Our adversary is the devil. And while Satan is not God’s equal and doomed to final defeat, he can do bitter harm in human affairs,” Archbishop Chaput said. “The first Christians knew this. We find their awareness written on nearly every page of the New Testament.”

Writing in his June 5 column for Catholic Philly, titled “Sympathy for the Devil”, he said: “The modern world makes it hard to believe in the devil. But it treats Jesus Christ the same way. And that’s the point.”

The archbishop noted a medieval Christian saying, “no devil, no Redeemer.” When the devil is denied, it is difficult to explain why Christ came to suffer and die for humankind.

“The devil, more than anyone, appreciates this irony, i.e., that we can’t fully understand the mission of Jesus without him,” he said. “And he exploits this to his full advantage. He knows that consigning him to myth inevitably sets in motion our same treatment of God.”

The archbishop’s column drew on the life of Leszek Kolakowski, a onetime critic of the Catholic Church who was a leading Marxist in communist-ruled Poland before being exiled. He later became an admirer of St. John Paul II.

In 1987, Kolakowski delivered a lecture at Harvard, saying, “when a culture loses its sacred sense, it loses all sense.”

“Evil is continuous throughout human experience,” the scholar said. “The point is not how to make one immune to it, but under what conditions one may identify and restrain the devil.”

Continuing this theme, Archbishop Chaput reflected on the story of Faust, the intellectual and scholar who sells his soul to the devil to learn the secrets of the universe.

“Faust doesn’t come to God’s creation as a seeker after truth, beauty, and meaning,” the archbishop said. “He comes impatient to know, the better to control and dominate, with a delusion of his own entitlement, as if such knowledge should be his birthright. A prisoner of his own vanity, Faust would rather barter away his soul than humble himself before God.”

“Without faith there can be no understanding, no knowledge, no wisdom,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We need both faith and reason to penetrate the mysteries of creation and the mysteries of our own lives.”

A society that relies on mastery of reason and its products like science and technology, but does not have faith, “has made a Faustian bargain with the (very real) devil that can only lead to despair and self-destruction.”

“Such a culture has gained the world with its wealth, power and material success. But it has forfeited its soul,” Archbishop Chaput warned.

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