Author, Lynn K. Russell
The Devil found me when I was a child of nine. As a child one day I was in the kitchen listening to the radio that was perpetually on. The sounds of Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, and Frank Sinatra filled the room and offer a different world than today. As Bing Crosby finished his croon a man came on to talk about a great preacher who was coming to our city from far away. Although my family wasn’t religious my mother didn’t object when I asked if I could go to hear him.
Mother was an atheist yet when we were little she sporadically packed all four of us off to the nearest church for Sunday school. Later I was never sure if she sent us as a way to have a little peace and quiet on a Sunday morning. My sister and I walked hand in hand to whichever church we were aimed toward. We were dressed in our best clothes and shiny Easter shoes while my two brothers reluctantly straggled along behind in their breeches and long argyle socks.
We were one of those families who made moving a hobby. I’ve lost count of how many times we packed up from one place to find another that was not much better and sometime worse. Indeed it was sometimes necessary to bundle up in the early morning and scurry out in the cold Canadian winter to use an outhouse. Mom cooked our meals on a wood burning stove, and the heating for our home consisted of a potbelly stove in the middle of the living room.
Woven within those moves, during our younger years we attended the Baptist, United, or Presbyterian churches; then again there was also the Salvation Army and Anglican. As a teenager I asked Mom why, as an atheist, she sent us to church at all. She explained that she wanted us to make up our own minds on religion and exposing us to various churches would help us to think about it. These excursions didn’t last too many years and by the time I was nine there were no more churches.
When the night came for the great important preacher I shyly slipped almost unnoticed into a back pew with anticipation of what we were going to hear. The preacher turned out to be of the fire and brimstone variety and by the end of his sermon my heart was pounding, I couldn’t swallow and I could barely think clearly. I was convinced that I was going to hell. Up until that point I had no knowledge of the Devil or that I was heading to eternal damnation for my sins. When the preacher called for people to come up to the front and be saved I overcame my shyness and joined the line.
That night when I got home, although I’d been saved, I still had no doubt that the Devil was going to get me because I was a sinner. After all I argued with my mom about doing my chores and I wasn’t very good at school.
“What’s wrong with you”, Mom asked the next day as I mooned around the house staring at the floor. When I explained about being a sinner and that the Devil was going to get me, my mother was furious. She quickly let me know that nothing of the sort was going to happen so I could just forget about what that silly man had said. Still, I wasn’t able to put it into perspective until I became an adult and could understand better. That was when a curiosity arose in me around the concept of sin, evil and demons. I became interested in how the fear these things produced were being used to control people. Over the years I continued to hear these same messages given by various preachers and became frustrated because I saw the lie.
What follows is my research to take a clear look at evil, sin, and the Devil.
It seems the concept of evil is so basic that it belongs right up there with survival and the continuation of the species. Throughout history evil has been feared, personified and revered to a point that, for some, it has become a solid entity. Its iron grasp has established such power and control in the world that few stop to question its menacing authority. For some, the mere thought of evil conjures up pictures of diabolical demons and the horrors of agony. The Devil and Hell have grown strong legs that many religious groups stand upon.
When it came to understanding I reached into the pool of knowledge available and came away with a multitude of questions. Is evil the actions of people possessed by devilish forces? Do intentionally hurtful actions with little or no regard for others fit into the realm of evil? Are people with a biological predisposition to homosexuality evildoers? What about different religious groups whose philosophies don’t agree; does one or the other they fit into the diabolical mould?
What about sin? Is there a line between evil and sin? The origin of the word ‘sin’ was Hebrew for “missing the mark.” Obviously that interpretation has grown over the centuries. So, is sin breaking the laws of the Ten Commandments or violating the doctrines a particular religion has adopted? When does sin become evil?
OK, I get the part about intentional harm without considering others; but the part about transgressions of theological principles brings it overlapping shoulder to shoulder with the argument, whose principles? Where does morality fit in? I could look at a holy book, but which holy book do I use?
As I drowned in an ocean of questions I reached out and grabbed for a lifeboat. But which was the right lifeboat?
In the effort to clarify most of the world agrees that those who rape, kill, torture, and destroy other people’s lives fit into the category of evil. But what of those taught from the moment they leave the womb that certain people deserve their wrath because they don’t fit into the mold? Which is evil, the ones doing the condemning or the one not following the rules? What of the Devil? Are there actually satanic forces pushing people to do things beyond their control?
Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 341 BCE to 270 BCE, asked a question that had the same effect as, “Which came first the chicken and the egg? His question was, “If an all-powerful and perfect god exists, then evil does not. However, evil does exist; therefore, an all-powerful and perfect god does not exist.” Today this same question has evolved to, “If God is all-loving, all-powerful, and everywhere then how is it that evil exists in the world? Worse still, if God is the creator of all we know, then He has also created evil.
These thoughts have dragged with them never-ending discussions that stretch back centuries. Some philosophers when considering the question of evil have concluded, like Epicurus, that God doesn’t exist. Others have decided no human can ever understand God. Some say free will can never exist without evil. And then there are those who say that God had nothing to do with evil and the subject is a branch of moral philosophy, not religion.
In the process of my excavations I came to realize there is no beginning; no clear line took me to an obvious beginning of evil. I first went to the jungles of Africa and our direct ancestors, the chimpanzees. They have a code of ethics and know right from wrong. An example of this is that they will steal from another when the other’s back is turned. They are well aware the thing they stole belongs to the one they have taken it from. Chimps will also attack one of their own when a code of ethics is transgressed. Sometimes, when one chimp is being attacked by another, it isn’t unusual for one outside of the fight to help end the beating.
Chimps may never write a sonnet, but they do have very basic ways of communicating. Each chimp has his or her own distinct call that others in their group recognize. They also use a variety of sounds and gestures to communicate in basic sign language. I speculate that the early cave dwellers weren’t much more advanced than this. In my mind, after locating a large beast ripe for the kill, a caveman rushes back to the group and excitedly grunts, points and waves his weapon. In my imagination the others would know immediately what he meant. Today we know language is an essential ingredient of intellectual advancement and intelligence is essential in order to recognize evil.
Chimpanzees show caring for one other which in turn demonstrates the presence of basic morals. Grooming can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours and can include a number of individuals. Chimps also love to cuddle and grandma chimps willingly care for their grandchildren.
The way chimps react to death is astonishingly similar to humans. The Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park in Stirling, UK, captured a rare video of the death of an old female chimp and the reaction of the other chimps around her. The chimps closest to the old one gather around to pat and stroke her until it became clear that she was dead. The dying chimp’s baby tried to wake her and became quite frustrated when she wasn’t able to revive her mother. Eventually, they left the body alone and then became listless and subdued. They didn’t eat or sleep for a few days and avoided the place where the old chimp had died even after the body had been removed. When death is accidental it brings about frenzied activity with lots of excitement and screaming.
These reactions to death indicate a surprising level of self-awareness. When a baby dies, the mother often carries it around with her for two or three days. Gradually she becomes careless with the body by dragging it along the ground by a leg or an arm and then eventually she lets it drop and leaves the body behind.
Researchers are making astonishing advances and discoveries in animal abilities. It seems that even before our ancestors traded the trees for two legs, there was already a solid grounding for morals. Dr. Marc Bekoff is a professor at the University of Colorado in ethology and is well known for his animal studies. He tells us that all mammals are hard wired with a sense of morals that isn’t all that different from humans. Tests done on various creatures from mice to wolves proved that morals are present with every mammal he tested. Dolphins went farther and displayed empathy for other species while chimps attacked another chimp if it stepped outside of their moral code.
Origins of Evil
Finding non-partisan information on evil’s beginnings was like slogging up a muddy hill in snowshoes. The information I found was either based on a specific religious perspective or the data didn’t go back far enough. I was finally able to take the snowshoes off when I found a five part video series called “The History of the Devil”, presented by Lost Worlds. This film traces the concept of the Devil back to Mesopotamia. This presentation offered a list of scholarly speakers: Rt. Rev. Tom Wright; Rev. Lionel Fanthorpe; Dr. Helen Bond; Dr. Nicolas Baker-Brian; and Rt. Rev. Richard Holloway and it provided an in-depth overview of the origins and evolution of the Devil.
Around 3,500 ago Mesopotamia was a huge country that wrapped itself around the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea like an enormous blanket. Over time it changed its shape and became smaller as it got divided into smaller nations. At the time the people believed in many gods who served different purposes that affected their lives. These gods were often mischievous and their misbehaviour was thought to have a direct effect on the people of Earth. It’s from these beliefs that intricately woven tales produced the marvellously rich stories of mythology. The Jews, just a short step away, had already established their one God.
That was when a man named Zoroaster stepped into prominence with a new concept. He said there weren’t many gods, there were just two. One was a good god he named Ahura Mazda and the other, Azachrinan, lied. It’s important to underline in red marker pen that Zoroaster didn’t see the lying god as evil; he was simply a reality. According to Zoroaster’s theory, humans were caught in a tug-of-war when confronted by these two gods and it was up to them which one they chose to follow.
Somewhere between the years 70-500 C.E. Zoroaster’s thinking had evolved. The Jews accepted the good and lying aspects, but could not agree that it came from their one God. Therefore this concept was changed and now it was humans that had two sides of their personality; a good urge, called yester tov, and a bad urge called yester ha-ra. Both of these urges were necessary, however, because the bad urge provided people with the energy needed to get things done. On the other hand if these bad urges weren’t channeled properly then yetser ha-ra could become a source of evil. It’s interesting that at this point there’s still no concept of an evil entity we have come to know as the Devil
There are many people who embrace the idea of a creature of evil. To those people I offer my condolences because, contrary to popular belief, there was no Devil in the Garden of Eden. There never was. Genesis talks about a serpent as a temptress, and maybe even a tease, but there is no mention of evil or a malevolent entity. And here’s a real shocker—there isn’t one place in the Bible, old or new, where an evil entity is mentioned or created. Satan does make a magical first appearance from out of nowhere in the book of Job, but there he isn’t portrayed as evil. In the early Hebrew language the word “Satan” simply means “the accuser”.
There is a fascinating passage in the King James Version of the Bible, Chapter of Job, where Satan is first introduced; “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. And the LORD said to Satan, “Whence comest thou?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” (Job 1:6-7)”
My initial reaction after reading this was; wouldn’t God know Satan if He created him? Yet, it appears from this statement that they had never met. Satan’s answer is equally fascinating. Satan seems to originate from the Earth and being amongst the people there.
It’s well known that the Jews believed God punished them when they did something that displeased Him. Given the terrible history of the Jews, It must have been traumatic to think that one continually displeased God and had to constantly be punished. It makes sense then that the concept of Satan (the accuser) helped to absolve some of the blame. If there was an entity stirring the pot and making people do things they shouldn’t, then they didn’t have to look at themselves too closely.
We get a little closer to the evolution of evil when we learn what the Greeks did with Zoroaster’s two gods. They simply incorporated the negative one into their existing god, Hades. He was the god of the underworld and was unwelcome, scary and fit perfectly into a lying god. This shifting of things and allowed them to be able to maintain their numerous gods.
According to one story the gods of Mount Olympus didn’t like the god we now know as Hades because he wasn’t nice and none of the other gods wanted to be around him. Greek Mythology explains that eventually Zeus and Hades battled to be the leader of the gods. When Zeus won he sent his opponent to a place also called Hades, meaning “the unseen”. An interesting aside to this story, the Bible states that God battled with Lucifer to get him out of Heaven. The only difference is that Lucifer got to take a host of fallen angels with him.
When we look deeper at the name, Lucifer, it was the nickname of a king in Babylon who had held the Jews captive. The name means shining star or son of the dawn. In a later translation of the Hebrew Bible we learn that this king thought of himself as mighty, yet he was brought down. The verse of the bible referring to God’s battle with Lucifer was actually referring to the death of this cruel king.
The concept of hell comes from the Hebrews. Like most modern cities today, there was a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. As the garbage piled up the odours coming from the dump could get revolting and rats became a problem. When the smell and vermin got too disgusting, they would burn the putrid pile. Burning of the trash was not the only activity that went on at the dump. They doubled up on the job by emptying their jails and burned the criminals alive at the same time.
It makes sense that Hell and the burning of souls became married into one horrendous concept. Now, the fire and brimstone became combined with Hades and Lucifer and took on an underworld dimension. Over time other images and names were joined in as various cultures attributed their ideas of an evil being.
Although bad things happened throughout history it was what humans thought that brought the idea of sin. The word ‘sin’ originally meant, ‘to miss the point’ or ‘to err’ and wasn’t mashed up with ‘evil’ as it is today. Evil originated signified bad, cruel, unskilled or defective. It could also be used for harm, crime, misfortune and disease. Thus sin is nothing more than a mistake, something we all do on a daily basis and is not evil.
Paul’s Biblical letters took sin to a deeper meaning than merely missing the point. Paul taught that Jesus gave his life for our sins and St. Augustine built upon these thoughts and stated that Original Sin came to us through the actions of Adam and Eve. He also emphasised that it was only through baptism and the belief in Jesus that people could be saved. St. Augustine also viewed sex as a carnal sin. I don’t know what this guy’ problem was but the Roman Catholic Church sure agreed.
The story of the Garden of Eden has had such a profound effect on the world that I’d like to take a moment to examine it more closely. Today this story is generally accepted as a myth told before we understood evolution. This story represents the pre-human creatures that lived in the ‘garden’, which I interpret as a place within nature, or belonging to nature. These animals lived multiplied and died without a thought beyond their next meal, survival and the production and caring for their young. They didn’t really care about where they came from, or the existence of good and sin, or the manufacture of things to make their life easier.
Animals don’t know shame or guilt unless humans teach these concept to them and then the shame and guilt is actually a fear of punishment. When a well-fed cat kills a bird, it doesn’t feel shame or wrongness about its actions, nor has it committed murder because there is no such word in its consciousness. And when a dog bites or fornicates on the front lawn, it doesn’t hang its head and feel bad. Animals simply go about doing what they do with no thought beyond what is happening in a timeless now.
That’s the way it was until our ancestors segregated themselves from nature by having independent thought. At that exact instant, perhaps a flash from above filled the skies; these creatures that had once been a part of nature no longer belonged. Indeed, Genesis says that they ate of the tree of “knowledge of good and evil” and if that isn’t an analogy, I don’t know what is.
By having an autonomous thought, these beings instantly and automatically ousted themselves from the Garden of Eden. They no longer belonged as an untamed beast of the wild. At that exact moment the first step was taken toward becoming a new species—humans.
Simultaneously two other extremely important events happened. Coupled with independent thought came the introduction of free will. Once hominids had independent thought and free will, they took control of their world and chose beyond instinct. The other thing that poked its head into existence at the moment of independent thought was the first step toward the development of the ego. Whether that ego is good or bad the fact remains that humans are the only animal who can claim an ego. And for the purposes of this article, it’s that same free will and ego that has led humans to sin.
The development of language coupled with living in groups also played a leading role in the development of our understanding of sin. Once early humans developed far enough that they were communicating and not simply reacting to their world then expectations, a society, and the beginnings of civilizations were established.
Language gave our ancestors a common understanding of the world. They gained control over their lives by labelling the things around them and expand their understanding. These attempts at understanding eventually brought the mythological stories that became the stuff of the gods.
As societies were formed systems of living developed that included sets of rules and laws and so did the judgment of what was beneficial or corrupt; the very beginnings of the awareness of sin was introduced into human thinking. Thought and freewill, language and the ego along with tribal living all contributed to the development of sin in the human world.
God had no part in the creation of evil and certainly not the Devil. The concept of evil evolved as human development progressed. It’s simply an aspect of free expression of our choices. Sometimes humans choose negative behaviors over positive ones.
It’s interesting to learn that at one point in our evolution the realization of evil did not even exist. As humans’ cognitive abilities developed they were able to comprehend right from wrong at a deeper level. Does that mean serious bad things didn’t exist before its identification? Of course they did and the only differences were in how they were perceived. Ten thousand years ago the concept of evil was married with the concept of God because at that time people just didn’t understand.
Now we need to take back our power through the choices we make. Each time we give away our responsibility, we also give away our freedom because they are as linked as air and breathing.
History of the Devil, Part 1
From video: History of the Devil; part 1 by Lost Words: Rt. Rev Tom Wright; Lionel Fanthorpe; Dr. Helen ; Bond; Dr. Nicolas Baker-Brian; Dr. Richard Holloway
Jane Goodall Institute of Canada
Dr. C. W. Graves Levels of Existence: an Open System Theory of Values
Dr. C. W. Graves: Article in The Futurist in 1974 titled Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap [“Briefly what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emerging, oscillating, spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavioral systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change.”]
The Book of Life, 1993 by Stephen Jay Gould, chapter by Peter Andrews and Christopher Stringer, Publisher: Viking
The First Humans, Human Origins and History to 10,000 BC ; Section; What is Humankind? Olduvai Gorge; the cradle of humanity: Roland Fletcher
Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History, by Nicholas J. Postgate, first published in 1992 by Routledge, a subsidiary of Taylor and Francis Group. Additional printing in 1995, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2003, and twice in 2004.