Why I Wish Pope Francis Was Joking about the Devil (and Other Beliefs)

Jun 9, 2014

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:

1. God

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.

34 comments on “Why I Wish Pope Francis Was Joking about the Devil (and Other Beliefs)

  • 1
    Cairsley says:

    It is quite a treat to get from a professor of mathematics such succinct, practical advice as: “Stop believing in demons.” Thank you, Prof. Silverman!

    A personal, rational engagement with reality, as the good professor emeritus says, ensures that all the nonsense and hysteria arising from the fear of devils and demons are banished and will not arise again. The problem is not to be found in reality but in make-believe.

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  • The biblical, supernatural events are all so laboured and well, primitive. I think we’d do far better in the line of supernatural wizardry these days. We have so much more to work with. Take virgin births for example. They look rather passé considering that we can achieve the same results by means of artificial insemination.

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  • 3
    Miserablegit says:

    The Catholic Church at its heart is a very simple organisation, what they say is good and what they disagree with is evil. These ideas then become even more warped when people in power from the pope down use this hold over its followers to manipulate them into doing its bidding. The whole point of the myth of the devil is to instill fear and even terror into those who might be prepared to stray from this twisted propaganda.

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  • 5
    Bob Springsteen says:

    In a week he admitted to praying for Argentinian success in the World Cup, Pope Francis advised Englishmen not to mention the Falklands. David Beckham said he’s not even sure what group they’re in.

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  • 7
    giorgiojt1 says:

    Technically, god did not punish Adam and Eve for doing evil, he punished them for disobeying him. The message is clear: don’t think for yourselves, just do what I tell you…

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  • 9
    Bob Springsteen says:

    Pat Robertson is the world’s most famous televangelist, and according to Forbes he is worth 110 million dollars. Every time Robertson shows his face on TV, I see Satan!!

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  • OP

    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”.

    Naturally I am intrigued as to what “progressive” superstitions the worthy theologian does believe in ! Presumably the wine still turns into the blood of Jesus, and the cracker into his flesh during the mass ? Progressive ? Not in my book.

    The whole history of the RCC has been a reactionary one. Always opposing progress. Always seeking to control the rulers of countries and the Church’s adherents, especially women, with their particular brand of superstition.

    Yes I know the first one to mention Galileo loses the argument, (only a 300 plus year wait for an apology that the RCC was wrong to persecute him), so instead I’ll ask if the RCC ever apologised for their ridiculous and dangerous ban on contraceptives and their opposition to stem cell research ?

    OK, rhetorical question !

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  • Thanks, Bonnie. I assume they are phasing in changes to the website, though it would be nice to have some mention of this somewhere.

    Will they add continue reading links? One would think so. Will they no longer archive comments? Inquiring minds would like to know. Mods?

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  • 15
    RachaelBlack says:

    The new “continue reading” link is at the bottom of the article following “Source”. In this case, it is the clickable “Faith Street” button.

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  • ” Why I Wish Pope Francis Was Joking about the Devil ”

    I wish he was fervently serious about on satan. That way the edifice that is the church will crumble much faster from within and without.

    The within part.

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  • 18
    rbmead1960 says:

    Can easily prove why his 4 points are all wrong. God is proven using logic and reasoning. That is how predominately discussed and knew things of God throughout much of mankind’s history. So I am concluding a book proving the existence of God using just logic and reasoning. Bring it on, Dawkins, anytime and any place. I discuss much harder concepts than these four. Why did God need to die for mankind? Why can’t God spend eternity with all mankind? Why are their GOD RULES? Why 3 = 1 and many more. Have a good day. Keep discussing God and you can find Him.

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  • Nice job trying to tempt the herd with your “tantalizing” suggestion that it is you, Robert, who has solved the mysteries of God (using logic and reasoning no less – who knew?)

    So keep concluding your book and I’m sure we will all know soon enough. I won’t hold my breath. Just know that this clumsy approach worked much better for Normal Mailer in his reliably titled tome, Advertisements for Myself. It will be interesting to see if the unfamiliarity of the new format allows for the usual pushback by the more patient members among us.

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  • 22
    Bob Springsteen says:

    Hi Robert, Objections of some weight have been brought against natural theology and the pride of place it gives to reason. You face opposition from the very greatest Christian theologian of the twentieth-century – Karl Barth. Reason, like the rest of man’s nature, Barth argued is fallen and unredeemed and therefore INCAPABLE of reaching the truth about God.

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  • There is something strange to the point of perversity in the Catholic doctrine of The Virgin Birth. The official dogma is that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after the conception and birth of Jesus. Why say “and after the . . . . . birth of Jesus”? What is that supposed to mean? Are they saying Mary still had an intact hymen after giving birth? It is truly a mystery and a miracle!
    –‘ In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” ‘ – page 126, Section 499, ‘ Mary -”ever-virgin” ‘, -Catechism of the Catholic Church second edition, “promulgated by Pope John Paul II”.
    And does this mean that mothers who conceived and gave birth in the normal way are less for it? Apparently, because somehow in that process, it seems, original sin is transmitted.

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  • 24
    Bob Springsteen says:

    Robert, The Bible clearly teaches that all Muslims will spend eternity in hell. The koran clearly teaches that all Christians will end up in the cosmic concentration camp. Don’t lose to much sleep, you may have chosen the wrong God!!

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  • 26
    chunkimunki says:

    There’s a god who had to take human form to get himself tortured and killed so he could absolve us all of the sin which he made sure we all had in the first place.

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  • God has not been proven using logic and reasoning. Immanuel Kant spectacularly demolished the pathetic ‘intellectual arguments’ for god 2 centuries ago in the Critique of Pure reason. There has been no successful argument since that pure a priori knowledge of a supreme being is possible. Catlicks just keep pretending their greatest defeat never happened.

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  • Utter drivel. Please explain why an omniscient being aka JC inter alia god created everything but suddenly thinks that a fig tree bears fruit out of season? He then goes over to the tree and when he finds it is not the season for figs and there aren’t any to be had he curses and kills the tree!!! The Dumb-ass! This moral delinquent also believes in the perfection of eternal punishment. At some other juncture he is found raving at people who don’t like his preaching, an attitude most common among xtians. So exactly what is valid about his teaching? Follow my rules or else?

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  • Why did God need to die for mankind?

    That’s a good question Robert seeing as how omnipotent your God is ! I mean couldn’t He just have forgiven us “sinners” rather than have a part of Himself tortured to death to “pay” the price of the sins of humanity ? My sceptical mind wonders just how “dead” Jesus actually was, seeing as he managed to ascend to heaven to join Himself, (without the aid of any flying horses), on the 3rd day after his “death”. Please apply your “logic and reasoning” to my point if you bother to reply and haven’t effed off to some other place in that great electronosphere called the internet.

    Why can’t God spend eternity with all mankind?

    Please consult your nearest science textbook and look up the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Incidentally a scientific law largely brought into being by Lord Kelvin, who was a devout Christian ! Whilst you are looking at the book, please familiarise yourself with all the other laws of thermodynamics. I mean Jesus wouldn’t want you to be caught out with number 1 or 3, now would He ? (There again that could be part of His great plan, innit?)

    Keep discussing God and you can find Him.

    Sorry Robert, your God hypothesis is not needed by me, and I have other things to do. I certainly don’t want to waste my precious time talking God into existence.

    Many others have tried that and failed. God ain’t needed.

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  • 32
    Michael says:

    I’ve always wondered when the Catholic priest blesses the eucharist what body part does the bread turn into? Am I eating a piece of his nipple, foreskin, etc? Inquiring minds want to know.

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  • robert Jun 11, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Not even close. There are many proofs to the validity of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Care to know any? Good day!

    Perhaps you could point out the confirmed evidence that such a character actually existed, and then progress to produce some contemporary witness statements and historical evidence, as to what the teachings of this mythical character were!

    BTW: I don’t mean circular arguments that some character in a story written decades or centuries after supposed events, said their story was true and that the other story characters with conflicting accounts, were all lying!

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  • robert Jun 11, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Can easily prove why his 4 points are all wrong. God is proven using logic and reasoning.

    Only self-consistent fantasies are “proven by logic and reasoning”, in the absence of verifiable evidence as a starting point.
    Proving fallacious circular arguments to yourself is easy.
    “Proving” properties of entities with evidence to objective critical thinking scientists and historians, is much harder, and is usually impossible in the case of gods, due to their abilities to recognise evidence, the absence of evidence, and to spot flaws in fallacious thinking.

    So I am concluding a book proving the existence of God using just logic and reasoning.

    Clearly this is a personal or copied fantasy, as no one has ever produced scientifically verifiable evidence for any god or gods!

    Logic and reasoning are precise deductive processes, – not badges of authority to be stuck onto unsupported speculative personal assumptions or assertions.

    You have a particular male god in mind? – but no clear description or evidence of its properties, or demonstration of logical reasoning from confirmed evidence.

    Keep discussing God and you can find Him.

    The neuropsychologists have already found the location of god(delusions). http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120419091223.htmNow, University of Missouri researchers have completed research that indicates spirituality is a complex phenomenon, and multiple areas of the brain are responsible for the many aspects of spiritual experiences.

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