Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Devil Reinterpreted

Since I've been telling some nostalgic stories, I'll tell another that will lead into some literary recommendations.

When my older son was about five, he saw some tv commercial which comically depicted a stereotypical devil waiting in line for food. He said "Who's that?"

"That's the devil," I answered.

"Who does he fight?" asked my super-hero oriented son.

"Um, he doesn't really fight anyone. He supposedly lives in a place called hell, and they say if you are mean and bad during your life you have to go live with the devil in hell."

"And then who does he fight?" he asked.

Obviously kids aren't being raised with much fear of the devil these days, although I did occasionally stoop to a "liars go to hell" sermon when I thought the boys were dishonest. It was only half-hearted, though, because I have a very uncertain notion of the devil. But that's not for lack of reading about him.

Three of my favorite novels which offer an interpretation of the devil are Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (which is dominated by a theme of good versus evil), C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, which suggests that there are many demons in hell and that Screwtape, a "senior demon," wrote a series of letters to advise a younger one. Then there's Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, which contains all sorts of bitterly ironic definitions.

Maybe once my sons start reading this in school they'll add to their understanding of the devil's history; even in the Catholic schools they don't put much emphasis on Lucifer these days.

C.S. Lewis, though, did believe in the existence of demons and the notion of evil, and he was disturbed by the idea that people would popularized or parody the devil as a way of ignoring a real threat.

Art link here.


Anonymous said...

Can I use that devil graphic?

Spencer richard haley at gmail dot com

Bethany said...

I remember reading The Screwtape Letters and finding it a very interesting read. I'm still working on finishing The Brothers Karamazov - it's a long one. But as far as interesting insights on Lucifer, here is a link to a few references that have been helpful to me.