By Herb Silverman
Here’s my four-word solution for those struggling with demonic possession: “Stop believing in demons.”
In an unintentionally funny comment, progressive Catholic theologian Vito Mancuso said about Pope Francis’ old-school interpretation of the devil and the need for exorcists: “He is opening the door to superstition.” Where to begin when describing a Catholic door that for centuries has been more open than the mythical Pandora’s box? In fact (really, in fiction), the Pandora myth deserves credit for a foundational myth in Catholic theology.
As the story goes, Pandora, the first woman, was given a box (actually a jar) and told never to open it. Of course, the curious Pandora did open it, whereupon evil escaped and spread throughout the world. So it seems that Pandora committed the original “original sin.”
Eve, the first woman according to the Genesis myth, was also led by curiosity to bring evil into the world. While both myths are unbelievable, people in pre-scientific times used “just so” stories to explain unknown origins. The Greek word “theodicy” is an attempt to reconcile traditionally divine characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience with the occurrence of evil or suffering. I don’t think such reconciliation is possible, but that’s not a problem for atheists like me.
This brings me to Pope Francis’ belief in Satan as the cause for evil, which I don’t find any more superstitious than many other Catholic beliefs. Here are seven that I find at least as unbelievable:
An all-loving God wants everyone to go to a good place called heaven when they die but can’t seem to prevent most people from going to a bad place called hell. There is no evidence for any supernatural entities, good or bad, yet I find it especially odd to make up an all-powerful God who creates an evil Satan and then can’t or won’t smite him.
2. Original Sin
A talking snake persuades a naïve and inexperienced first couple to eat from a forbidden fruit, and as a result they stain all humanity with collective guilt forever. Aside from the injustice of suffering for an ancestor’s behavior, God punishes the couple for doing evil even though they have no knowledge of good and evil before taking a bite. And why is knowledge evil?
3. Physical Resurrection
Many centuries after the original sin, God figures out a way to “save” some humans. He sends his son, Jesus (who is also himself), to earth in order to be tortured, killed, and then raised from the dead. People who espouse evidence-free faith in this myth are saved from the fires of hell.
4. Immaculate Conception
Mary (Jesus’ mother) was conceived without original sin. I believe that I was also conceived without the taint of original sin, as were you! My problem with this doctrine is that such a privilege was uniquely given to Mary’s mom. The immaculate conception became an “infallible” pronouncement of Pope Pius IX in 1854.