desatanize satan

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

The category of hell and eternal damnation was decisive in the conversion of native peoples in Latin America, producing fear and panic.

In these times of political and presidential campaigning, it is not uncommon for a candidate to demonize his opponent. There is even an odd division between who is from God and who is from the Devil or Satan. This term Satan (in Hebrew) or Devil (in Latin) has gained many meanings, positive and negative, throughout history. This occurs in many religions especially Abrahamic ones (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

However, we must say that no one has suffered so many injustices and been so “satanized” as Satan himself. At first it wasn't like that. For this reason it is important to give a brief history of Satan or the Devil.

He is counted among the “sons of God” like the other angels, as it says in the book of Job (1,6). He is in the heavenly court. Therefore, he is a being of goodness. He's not the bad guy you'll gain later. But he received from God an unusual and thankless task: he had to test good people like Job, who is “a blameless man, upright, fearing God and far from evil” (Job 1,8:1,8). He must subject him to all kinds of tests to see if, in fact, he is what everyone says about him: “there is no other like him on earth” (Job XNUMX:XNUMX). As evidence promoted by Satan, he loses everything, his family, possessions and friends. But he does not lose faith.

There was a major mutation starting in the 587th century BC, when the Jews lived in Babylonian captivity (XNUMX BC) in Persia. There they confronted the doctrine of Zoroaster which established the confrontation between the “prince of light” and the “prince of darkness”. They embodied this dualistic and Manichaean view. Satan originated as part of the kingdom of darkness, the “great accuser” or “adversary” who induces human beings to acts of evil. In sequence, the confrontation between God and Satan takes place. In late Jewish texts, from the second century BC, especially in the book of Honoch, the saga of the revolt of angels led by Satan, now called Lucifer, against God is elaborated. It narrates the fall of Lucifer and about a third of the angels who joined and ended up expelled from heaven.

The question then arises: where to put them if they were expelled? There he used the category of hell: burning fire and all the horrors, well described by Dante Alighieri in the second part of his Divine Comedy dedicated to hell.

In the First Testament (the Old) there is almost no mention of the devil (cf. Chron 21,1:24,1; Samuel 8,12:13,42). In the Second Testament (New) it appears in some accounts “…they will be thrown into the furnace of fire; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 50;13,27-16; Lk 23) or in the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Lk 24, XNUMX-XNUMX) or in the Apocalypse (16, 10-11).

This understanding was assumed by ancient theologians, especially by Saint Augustine. He influenced the entire tradition of the Churches, the doctrine of the Popes and has reached the present day.

The category of hell and eternal damnation was decisive in the conversion of native peoples in Latin America and other mission places, producing fear and panic. His ancestors, it was said, because they were not Christians, are in hell. And it was argued that if they didn't convert and didn't allow themselves to be baptized, they would meet the same fate. This is in all the catechisms that were elaborated shortly after the conquest with which it was intended to convert Aztecs, Incas, more and others. It was fear that once led and still leads to the conversion of multitudes, as the great French historian Jean Delumeau has shown.

It is by appealing to the Devil, to Satan, that today, in times of social anger and hatred, an attempt is made to disqualify the opponent, often made an enemy to be demoralized and, eventually, liquidated.

Here we must overcome all the fundamentalism of the biblical text. It is not enough to quote texts about hell, even in the mouth of Jesus. We must know how to interpret them so as not to fall into contradiction with the concept of God and even destroy the good news of Jesus, of the Father full of mercy, like the father of the prodigal son who welcomes the lost son (Lc 15,11-23) .

In the first place, human beings seek a reason for the evil in the world. He has great difficulty taking on his own responsibility. Then transfer it to the Demon or demons.

Secondly, the meaning of demons and the hell of horrors represent a pedagogy of fear to, through fear, make people seek the path of good. Demon and hell, therefore, are human creations, a kind of sinister pedagogy, as mothers still do to children: "If you don't behave right, at night, the big bad wolf comes to bite your foot". The human being can be the Satan of the earth and society. He can create “hell” for others through hatred, oppression and death mechanisms, as is unfortunately happening in our society.

Thirdly, Satan or the Devil is a creature of God. To say that he is a creature of God means that, at every moment, God is creating and recreating this creature, even in the fires of hell. Otherwise, it would go back to nothing. Can God who is infinite love and goodness propose to this? Well does the book of Wisdom say: “Yes, you love all beings and hate nothing that you have made; if you hated something you would not have created it; and how could anything survive if you did not want it... you spare everyone because they belong to you, O sovereign lover of life” (Wis 11, 24-26). Pope Francis said it clearly: “there is no such thing as eternal condemnation; she is only for this world.”

Fourthly, the great message of Jesus is the infinite mercy of God-Abba (dear daddy) who loves everyone, even the “ungrateful and wicked” (Lk 6,35:103). The assertion of eternal punishment in hell directly destroys the good news of Jesus. A punishing God is incompatible with the historical Jesus who announced God's infinite love for everyone, including sinners. Psalm 103,8 had already intuited this: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in mercy. He's not always accusing or holding a grudge forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins…as a father has compassion on his sons and daughters, so the Lord will have compassion on those who love him, for he knows our nature and remembers that we are dust… The mercy of the Lord is forever and ever. ” (17-XNUMX). God can never lose any creature, however wicked. If he lost her, even just one, he would have failed in his love. Well, that can't happen.

Well said Pope Francis who tirelessly preaches mercy: "Mercy will always be greater than any sin and no one will be able to put limits to the love of the God who forgives" (misericordiae vultus.

This does not mean that one will enter heaven anyway. All will pass through God's judgment and clinic, to purify themselves there, recognize their sins, learn to love and finally enter the Kingdom of the Trinity. It is purgatory that is not the anteroom of hell, but the anteroom of heaven. Those who are purifying themselves there already participate in the world of the redeemed.

Hell and the demons and the main one, Satan, are our projections of the evil that exists in history or that we ourselves produce and for which we don't want to be responsible and we project them onto these sinister figures.

Finally, we have to free ourselves from such projections, in order to live the joy of Jesus Christ's message of universal salvation. This delegitimizes all satanization in any situation, especially in politics and in Pentecostal churches that use the figure of the devil and hell in a totally exorbitant way. Rather frightens the faithful than comforts them with the love and infinite mercy of God.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian and philosopher. Author, among other books, of Life beyond death (Vozes).

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