The Devil: Rethinking Old Red Legs
By: J. Marlando
When I was a little boy the Devil was ever as real to me as God; I feared the fires of hell where sinners were sent and had great visions of the peace and joy that heaven promised. I tried being “the best little boy” there was—at least most of the time—because I simply believed what I was told: God was watching and knew when I sinned and even when I had naughty thoughts.
As a Catholic, I used to pride myself on going to confessions and saying, “Bless me father for I have sinned… I have no sins to confess.” The priest would say something like, now, now, surely you had bad thoughts or you said a swear word…something?
I truly worked on my “goodness” when I was a young child. I lived in awareness of good and evil since my goal was to please God who was watching my every move. And then I was made privy to a new conception—fearing God! Something about “fearing God” struck me as a paradox that took me away from my belief in God’s love. As a result, at around age nine, I gave up my religious calling and became a normal kid, doing normal things like not going to church and taking the money I was given for collection and buying donuts and soda pop with it instead. And, at that time it was supposed to be a “mortal” sin to miss mass. I’m not sure what it is today because I’ve been missing mass for decades.
While I didn’t realize it back then I had become a kind of philosopher in bib-overalls and high top shoes. That is, I gave lots of thought—at least for a kid—to God and religion, I was seeking something although I didn’t have an idea what. My grandmother, however, was somewhat of a pantheist and so if anything or anyone ever gave me the “experience” of God's love it was that wonderful, old, hill woman who used to say: Take God out of the trees and the trees would wilt, take God out of the sky and all the stars would fall, take God out of the sun and all the light would go away. She taught me to love things like the flowers in her yard and even the water that ran in Fountain Creek. Take God out of the Creek, she would say, and that old creek would dry right up.
As a quick aside, I remember much later in life asking the physicist Fred Alan Wolf what love is. And the answer he gave was both simple and profound. He said, “Love is the glue of the Universe.” His view and my grandmothers were closely related and I found that extremely interesting.
Anyway, by the time I was fourteen, rock ‘n’ roll, pretty girls and the desire for a car took precedence in my life with religion drifting out of my reality almost altogether. Hey, I was “cool” then and only a little bit Catholic. Then, somewhere along my path, somebody—some significant other in my life—told me that I best beware as “the devil would soon enough have me in his grip.” While I took the comment seriously, it sounded a little farfetched to me. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe in a devil and I remember talking to a friend of mine about this. I guess he was around sixteen at the time and a good Protestant boy. He said, “The greatest trick of the Devil is to convince people that he doesn’t exist.” He seemed pretty convinced that Satan was real and, over the years, I’ve met a great number of others that do too.
Anyway, this is a touch of my childhood background that hopefully gives you an idea why I would be inspired to write an article attempting to track down Old Red Legs® himself.
In The Beginning
Satan, as an evil entity, is most basically a Christian character but not exclusively. The belief in evil spirits goes back to the origins of Judaism and beyond.
The creation of demons take us back to old civilization of Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, the cradle land of Sumerians said to be the first civilization. Indeed, a text written around 2100 B.C., tells us about a devil-like fellow named Huwawa described as guarding the cedar forest and saying that “His roaring is the flood-storm, his mouth is fire; his breath is death.” Sounds like the morning after, doesn’t it…nevertheless, Huwawa might well be the first described “devil” in our history. In the end of this ancient tale he is killed and the people are freed from evil but another monster soon enough emerges returning evil to the land.
Probably the Christian devil can be traced back to ancient Egypt and the evil god, Seth who is sometimes portrayed as being red. Seth is a wicked god, quite opposite of the sun god RA who is the good, productive god.
What I find most interesting about this is that during times were good, crops doing well and the Nile was not flooding the Egyptians prayed to RA…but when a drought or some other negative circumstance arose, they’d prayed to Seth. An interesting dichotomy to say the least!
In the land of Canaan, where the Israelis entered after exiting Babylon, there was a strong religiosity amidst the people. In their mythology, Ba’al was the good god, symbolizing fertility. His enemy was Mot, lord of death and sterility—obvious opposites. (Ba’al incidentally, was said to be the son of the Canaanites' supreme god, El).
Anyway, this duality is found in just about every ancient culture. The Chinese have their Yin/Yang opposites of symbolizing the active and passive while the Japanese have their Sun goddess Amaterasu Omnikami in conflict with her brother—the sun goddess having positive/constructive aspects and the other not. In the old Babylonian culture there is the female monster and her husband Apsi representing chaos and the abyss, the male and female aspects of the Universe. There major god, Marduk destroys them both in a great battle but creating the heavens and earth from the female’s body.
In Africa the sky god is given many names but the creation story is similar to the other creation stories only in this case, the sky god hands over the earth to his son to maintain. His son, however, brings death and other evils into the world.
The devil AKA Satan and/or Lucifer, as we moderns think of him, first appears in the Bible’s story of Job. I am going to dwell on that story a little later as it gives us a key to the ancient nature of the one God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For now, however, we’ll turn to Isaiah (45:5-7) to explore a God most of us have never conceived of before. In Isaiah, he tells us this about himself:
I am Yahweh, and there is none else,
There is no God beside me:
I girded thee, though thou has not known me;
That they may know from the rising of the sun,
and from the west,
that there is none beside me.
I am Yahweh, and there is none else,
I form the light, and create darkness;
I make peace, and create evil:
I Yahweh do all these things.
There is a revised version that changes the “peace and evil line” to “Weal” and Woe” but originally the Israeli deity was seen as the creator of both good and evil. Something to contemplate!
Contemplating Old Red Legs
As I think about the Devil as the ultimate evil doer, the one who brings pain and suffering to people as the tempter and the father of lies, I am more and more convinced that the devil, by any other name, is a creation of civilization.
I once thought the devil was in the mind going back into prehistory, even beyond Cro-Magnon, but not anymore. In fact, the indigenous, it seems, do not have the need to establish duelality in nature as we so-called “civilized” do. Tribes in America, for example, were tremendously respectful to this natural monument called, the Devil’s Tower. This was not and never has been a Native American name because the Native Americans did NOT have a devil in their tribal cultures with one exception—some tribes told an ancient story about a devil-like character by the name of Hah-gweh-da-et-gah. But even this tale of good and evil, was interpreted by early Christian missionaries so we cannot be sure the Indian folktale was retold accurately.
In any case, the absence of a devil is also true of the Australian aborigine culture: While they believe that there is a sacred place of a beautiful, landscape of boulders, called Devils Marbles and that to damage those boulders can have life threatening consequences, they did not name them. They consider the “marbles” to be the eggs of the rainbow serpent. The rainbow serpent, is an image given in the traditional “dreamtime” stories telling how the gigantic serpents inhabit the deepest waterholes. Indeed, as opposed to a devil, the rainbow’s serpent has a mythology that connects to land, water, life, social relationships and…fertility. Not the evils of pain, suffering and death delivered by an evil demon.
As a quick aside, as greater hostility grew against paganism, Nature was actually turned into something sinister. For example in Teutonic beliefs the gods were giants who lived in huge earthly things like large boulders found in Germany or, as mentioned, in Australia. As a result, Christianity took advantage of this and began naming the sacred places of the pagans after the devil: Devil’s dykes, Devil Bridges, Devil Gorges and yes Devils Marbles and Devil’s Towers. The idea was to say, anyone not Christian was, indeed, of the devil.
The point here, however, is that while indigenous people realize fully that there is opposition in the world and both good and evil exist, they do not have an evil personage that is the primal cause of that evil or the concept of a devil. This is part of the reason that I am so convinced that Old Red Legs® did not arise before civilization arose giving the world the invention of sin and salvation.
From the very earliest civilizations the old God/kings, claiming to be in direct communication with their supreme god used the fear factor to control the general population. The ruler or high priests would say that those people who were obedient and followed the rules would be greatly rewarded by the Supreme deity, but for those who did not toe-the-line their punishment would be everlasting agony. Since superstition flourished and ignorance abounded amidst the people, this blackmailing strategy worked and…it has kept working for millenniums, even into our times.
When I was a young kid, I believed that if I sinned and didn’t mind the authority in my life, burning hell would be my fate. That was scarier than stealing cherries off our neighbor’s tree which was something the devil must have made me do!
SIN and SATAN
The concept of original sin wasn’t given us until the 4th century A.D. by the Roman Church’s intellectual Augustine. In fact, genesis had never been interpreted as being the story of how lust entered the world until Augustine decided that’s what the story was about.
Most basically to sin means to break God’s laws. And every religion has a list of them through their dogmas and doctrines. Thus, breaking free from the church or temple’s dogmas and doctrines is considered sinful in God’s eyes…according to the church’s representative. Remember I was raised to believe that missing mass was a mortal sin…some religions make drinking alcohol or even coffee a sin…some say women wearing makeup is sinful and the list of absurdities continue on and on and on. Just like in ancient times every religion claims to be representatives of God on earth. And, indeed demagoguery is still ruling church and state just as demagoguery did 10,000 to 15,000 years ago or, in other words, since the advent of civilization.
The actual meaning of the word “sin” is “to miss the mark,” and old English archery term but “missing the mark” to Mathew is simply being imperfect. We are told that God would not overlook the smallest infraction of his law—anger is as bad as murder and lust is as bad as adultery; we were accountable for even our thoughts. These days we know of course that the church was not only guilty of pseudepigraphical offerings in the gospels but adding church doctrines and other beliefs falsely attributed to Jesus. (These “forgeries” were so apparent to our 3rd president, Thomas Jefferson that he bothered to separate what he determined the ethical teaching of Jesus).
Satan in Genesis is introduced in the story of Job. It begins with God and Satan making a wager of sorts. Satan is telling God that humanity is “good” only because goodness is rewarded. He insists that if there was no reward and instead suffering this would change. In fact, Satan challenges God with a wager—he says this to God, even Job, “Your most loyal and faithful servant would, under the circumstances of suffering, soon enough curse you to your face.”
God decides to put Satan’s belief to a test:
All kinds of bad things suddenly begin happening to Job—someone steels his cattle, his servants are murdered, his sheep is destroyed by fire, a storm wrecks his house and kills his children Yet, Job stays faithful. Although God wins the “wager,” we now know that when bad stuff occurs in our lives the Devil is behind it and is testing our faith. As one church-goer once told me, there must be opposition in all things.
This stays true to the original aspects of Israel’s All Powerful God, however. That is, the evil in the world is an extension of God’s omnipotence even though it is Satan that delivers it. In this sense, Satan becomes a “soldier” of God working from the shadows bringing pain and death to people. After all, if Satan was given the power and authority as God has, the entire religious scenario would have to change.
Satan (The devil) becomes the perfect tool for religions to keep their followers in line and obeying their rules. In fact, the Satan of the “old” Biblical days gets changed by the time Christianity emerges as Rome’s official religion; by then, the Devil is no longer God’s servant but a demonic character that defies God’s law and tempts us mortals to do the same. From this concept of Satan being an outcast of Heaven, new mythologies were born including great wars in heaven between good and evil. Thus, some old, so-called Pagan mythology is mixed with Church doctrine to give the followers greater reason to fear the Devil, as an evil agent, and obey God’s rules.
Anyway, when we mortals are tempted by Old Red Legs® and submit to his wicked will, we become sinners and at risk for being sent to eternal damnation. The problem with this particular scenario, however, is that different religions have different definitions of what sinning means. Sexual conduct is of course the most common way of sinning from the religious-socio point of view. In fact, it can be said that religion has made sex and sin synonymous. The crazy Puritans, for example, put married couples in stocks if they were caught having (or determined to have had) sex on a Sunday. During the Victorian days, perverted sex for women was enjoying it. And so, since at least the unfolding of Christianity into an organized religion, guilt and shame have been major tools of the church to control private life.
With the above said, I feel compelled to add that the only “sexual sinning” there is or, for that matter, any other kind of sinning, is when a person or group of people coerce and/or harm another person or group of people. Stealing is included in this because the thief not only takes material stuff that doesn’t belong to him but in the doing steals the victim’s freedom as well. The theft of someone’s freedom is perhaps the most vicious sin or evil-doing of all. Food for thought!
And speaking of “food for thought” while we are on the topic of sex and sin being synonymous as concluded by Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis, there is a bit of information overlooked by even a lot of historians. Long before joining the ranks of Catholicism, Augustine was a Manichaean for nine years. The Manichaeans were a fanatic religious cult which taught that *“the flesh was inherently evil, and by the Severian argument that woman as a whole and men from the waist down were creations of the devil.” When Augustine joined the church, he brought these concepts with him. Is it any wonder he contrives to have Adam and Eve experiencing lust after disobeying God and more, blaming Eve for bringing sin, suffering and death into the world?
Recall it is after the story of Adam and Eve that the devil makes his first appearance, the contriving of why God would permit bad stuff to happen.
I am fully convinced that Satan is an invention of Civilization. Indeed, the story of Job is a metaphor telling us that no matter what suffering we endure, to keep faith that God remains the almighty source of joy. The devil, however, becomes a tool to justify the pain and agony that we all tend to experience from time to time.
Eagle Man, a Native American, tells, us, “I cannot conceive anything that is ‘bad’ in Nature. Is Death Bad? I think that this world would be pretty crowded is there were no death. There would not be much room and the Generations unborn would be cheated out of their space…is pain bad? When you sprain or break a limb the pain is there to keep you from using it and it can become healed…Is God all forgiving? Whether or not God is all forgiving is beyond my comprehension. It would be comforting to think so.”
This belief demonstrates the difference between the attitudes of civilized religion and spirituality. The true spiritualistic worldview is love of Nature and finding the spirit of God, by any other name, in the whole of nature; not only in the beautiful swan but in the ugly spider that spins it web along one’s way; not only in the light of day but also in the darkness of night. When one sees the working of God in all things then there is not necessity to create a duelality of good and evil. This does not mean that there is no such thing as evil, only that evil exists in the same circle or loop as good and as pain and pleasure do—life simply works as it works.
When we study evil, however, we end up with an unexpected conclusion. Nearly all the evil in the world, all the unhappiness, the hunger, the illness and whatever else is tormenting people even as I write these words—are mostly not products of Nature but of so-called civilized man and his so-called civilization. In fact, I contend that the devil was primarily invented to be the scapegoat for our kind’s greed, treachery, gluttony, selfishness and overall callousness toward others.
There is indeed, a “devil-ness” that weaves through every system on the planet. Nazism is the ultimate symbolism of this in modern times but since the walls of the very first city/state of ancient times were built, we humans have lived in an “us” and “them” world, which is the obvious downfall of civilization itself.
Today there are 1.9 billion children around the globe suffering stark poverty. 640 million without adequate shelter….400 million with no access to safe water….270 million with no access to health services…this is not the work of some demon or devil except that which is found in the human heart. We have children going to bed every night, even in America, who are hungry and neglected. This is not because of Nature’s droughts, floods or storms but because of human systems of governing and the militaries they give rise to. For those who have empathy the typical question is how can God let this happen when the real question should be how can human beings permit this to happen and in many instances, how can human beings cause this to happen?
Our world has an abundance of food and other resources and yet people die every day that could have been healed or saved…In very ancient times as in the present, there has been a natural disparity between people as, I suppose there will always be…but, when those in charge support nepotism over humanism and all governments, tyrannical and otherwise do, we end up being a species where evil is justified by the bottom lines of power and wealth. And yes, there are individuals who do evil things as well. Like systems, I do not believe they are possessed by some demon, but just like systems, they have merely become possessed with themselves.
While we are indoctrinated to think of the devil and so what is good and what is evil, we should instead dwell on what is cruel and what is kind. If we were only to do this much, just about all the evil in the world would simply disappear. Kindness, after all, is the obvious key to creating a happier, peaceful, more secure and loving world.
References and Suggested Reading
Carmichael, Joel * The Birth of Christianity *Barnes & Noble
McGaa, Ed (Eagle Man) Native Wisdom *Council Oak Books
Mercatante, Anthony, S. * Good and Evil *Barnes & Noble
Stanford, Peter * The Devil *Heray Holt
Tannahill, Reay * Sex In History * Stein and Day
*Quote from Reay Tannahill