As a retired minister I am sensitive to the various expressions of religion in life and so picked up my ears when Rick Santorum discounted President Obama’s religious faith. This is a short response to that, squeezed into 300 words.
Both religion and politics can be ugly, and when thrown together, even more so. I’m thinking of Rick Santorum’s judgement on President Obama’s religious beliefs. His remark instantly brought both a groan and a chuckle as I recalled a Princetonite, on hearing I didn’t believe in the devil, responding, “Oh, those Methodists are so ungodly.” I never made the connection between being Satanless and Godless, but it did put me in good company with those other “godless” people of scripture, the patriarchs, David and Solomon, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other prophets. Also the Psalms and Proverbs, etc. ad. inf.
The idea of a devil was borrowed from other religions and came quite late as a Jewish, then Christian, world-view. The covenantal and prophetic world-views both had failed to explain why the Biblical nation of Israel continually suffered. That’s when Apocalypticism arose with the explanation that people suffered, not because they were sinful, but because they were good, and an evil, cosmic, power (Satan) attacked them for their faithfulness. It was an easy answer, but to suggest that we necessarily are stuck in that ancient world-view severely limits spiritual growth. For instance, the Biblical people had no concept of the ego. The ego’s main purpose is to help us persevere–all animals are ego-driven and totally self-serving, and thus are the evolutionary survivors of life. We humans, too. Hopefully, we learn to transcend the ego, but I suspect that it all too often gets labeled as Satan and is not adequately addressed.
Each of us builds our own theological perspective, but to suggest I have the truth about God and so and so does not, is indefensible, and borders on the demonic. Santorum seems not to understand that, which makes him a scary candidate for awesome political power.
Dick Gist, Princeton