In Season 2 of Doctor Who, David Tennant and friends come across this friendly fellow you see above. Through dialogue with a possessed member of their crew, they determine that he is none other than the devil himself. The Doctor ruminates on the possibility that there actually could be a Satan figure in real life.
The Doctor: You get representations of the horned Beast right across the universe in myths and legends of a million worlds. Earth, Draconia, Vel Consadine, Daemos… The Kaled god of war, the same image, over and over again. Maybe, that idea came from somewhere. Bleeding through, a thought of every sentient mind…
Ida Scott: Originating from here?
The Doctor: Could be.
Ida Scott: But if this is the original, does that make it real? Does that make it the actual Devil?
The Doctor: Well, if that’s what you want to believe. Maybe that’s what the Devil is, in the end. An idea.
In both the media and popular culture, whenever someone brings up “Satan” or “satanic,” they generally assume one of two portrayals, both of which are represented in this scene in Doctor Who. Either 1) he is the monstrous fire demon the picture shows, or 2) he is just an idea, the word we use for temptations, a kind of scapegoat we can blame in place of ourselves.
Both of these are excellent lies. If the devil (the real one, that is) can get us thinking that all he is is a terrifying looking monster, and his only followers are the kind of people that chop up their parents and listen to horrible music and drink blood at cult meetings, then he’s won a pretty great victory. “Satanic” to most people brings up this image, and so they’re not looking for satanic influences in seemingly more benign circumstances and events. That gives the devil license to roam freely, because he’s invisible. Likewise, the lie that there is no devil, only an idea, a symbolic figure that merely represents evil rather than one that effects it, then he’s also free to wander the earth and whisper to whom he chooses.
So, what does “satanic” really mean? What do Mormons mean when they refer to something that looks perfectly normally and ordinary—say, sitcoms or certain pop songs—as “satanic”?
When we say “satanic,” we mean something is 1) deceptive 2) manipulative or 3) limiting (that is to say, preventive of the soul’s progress).
Satan is a deceiver. The father of lies. He generally doesn’t manifest himself in obvious ways, by sending people under his influence out to just kill or hurt other people at random. That’s obvious evil, and can be stopped with a bullet. Satan is a lot more subtle than that. He is because it makes him a lot harder to track down and defeat.
The devil is a master disguise artist. The devil can be a gentleman, the devil can be beautiful, the devil can quote scripture and “transformeth himself nigh into an angel of light” (2 Nephi 9:9).
He can color a hundred truths with a single lie at the outset. That is perhaps his most effective technique—presenting the philosophies of men but mingled with scripture, and also presenting scripture mingled with the philosophies of men.
Take this story for instance:
Is the overall message good, even faith-promoting? Yes, of course! It’s a news story from a secular source that showcases the use and effectiveness of priesthood power.
But notice something else: Satan got a word in at the beginning that filters and colors the spirituality of the story to any curious non-member reading it. This priesthood blessing—the use of the same power God used to frame the heavens, licensed to be used only by those He authorizes—is equated with sending wishes out into the universe.
Kinda hampers the truth, doesn’t it? As long as you’re well-meaning, you go to heaven. The priesthood blessing is only worthwhile in that it’s someone being really positive about a victim of a car accident.
Now, I understand that the woman quoted does not understand the priesthood, and she shouldn’t be expected to. And she certainly is not satanic herself. She doesn’t mean ill; that’s not the issue. It’s not even the issue that she’s quoted in the article. The issue is that her perspective—influenced subtly, yes, by Satan (notice how ridiculous that sounds? that’s by satanic design)—is quoted first. And that quotation frames the rest of the story of this noble priesthood holder as just a well-meaning bystander who might as well have just thought positive things in the victim’s direction.
And so Satan gets in his lie before the believers get a chance to testify. The truth is therefore diluted, and the missionary effect of the article is diminished. Satan has achieved his goal.
When we finally see Satan face to face, the scriptures tell us we’re going to be shocked at how normal, how pathetic he looks: “Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms? And made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof, and opened not the house of his prisoners?” (2 Nephi 24:16-17).
He could be short. He could have curly hair. His features could be soft, and his fingers stubby. Whatever he is, he’s going to be a disappointment if we expect to see Rob Zombie or the villain of Blizzard’s “Diablo.”
Ultimately the deceit is so great on so many levels with so many people that a moral and intellectual chaos results. Kinda like the one we’re in now—where moral relativism and the sexual revolution have destroyed any common values and orthodoxy that once guided our society as a whole. One can do as one pleases.
Including the devil. In times of chaos, he can step in and take control by appealing, Trump-like, to people’s worst natures, our animal instincts, the core desires that we are most ashamed of, which he tells us to instead embrace. That leads to such things as the current campus rape epidemic, but the discord is so great that no one even thinks to solve the problem with chastity. No, we want to be saved in our sins, not from them. Because now that we’re all down here in our natural man, we really don’t want to have to leave. We don’t want to have to change. So we fix our sights on targets other than the true culprit.
Look what the Joker did to Harvey Dent. In the chaos of his soul, Harvey didn’t even notice there was a devil manipulating him in that hospital, feeding him ideas. That’s the devil at his finest. When even the grotesque doesn’t seem evil anymore.
(This is why I’m upset about the new Joker’s portrayal in the Suicide Squad trailer: he’s just a sicko who likes to torture. The real devil doesn’t just want to cause pain. He’d be perfectly happy if you felt nothing at all, as long as you didn’t notice he was ultimately leading you into hell to join him in his misery. Physical pain is not the same thing as eternal pain, moral pain, the pain and death of the soul. Heath Ledger’s Joker understood that.)
Everyone remembers the above moment in The Dark Knight: “Hiiiiii.”
Because we laughed! It’s ugly, horrifying, even traditionally satanic with its imagery—but it’s also somehow hilarious. And that makes him win, because we are laughing at reality being upended, at right being wrong and wrong being right.
Laughter disguises evil extremely effectively. Look at modern comedy. Arrested Development is hilarious! The cleverest and most wonderful comedy I’ve ever seen. It also shatters and mocks the law of chastity over and over again until you’re completely desensitized and numb to sexually explicit references and jokes. Sex is thrown from the pedestal into the gutter. And make no mistake: television leads the way. When we watch it, even if we’re not actively thinking “This is normal,” that’s slowly the perception we get. What they do on TV is what everyone is doing, what everyone is thinking, the way everyone else behaves. So why shouldn’t I do what they do? Why shouldn’t my values be the same as Sam Malone’s?
With one lie he’ll gradually introduce another lie, then a few more, until he has total control over our perception of truth. This can be intellectual, like with books and arguments and philosophies (Conversations with God might as well be called Conversations with a Being that Transformeth Himself Nigh Unto an Angel of Light, for all the half-truths in there that make Satan’s lies seem reasonable); or it can be purely physiological, like with addictions. Especially with addictions, I should add. Because controlling us, manipulating us, depriving us of our agency—the attribute that makes us most like God—is his entire goal. And addictions do that very thing: prevent us from making choices.
Addiction starts with a little dabbling, a little interest. But indulgences feel good. They become more and more frequent, we become more and more dependent, until the soft cord of flaxen around your neck becomes a chain. Any influence that starts or leads us along this path is literally “satanic” for that reason. It takes away our most godlike characteristic and prevents us from attaining more godlike characteristics.
Pornography is probably the most satanic thing there is on this earth. It deceives by lying about what sex actually is and is like and what we can expect from a sexual partner; manipulates by addicting the viewer to its poisonous nectar; it limits by preventing us from seeing other human beings as children of God, as potential gods and goddesses themselves, as souls rather than mere bodies, and destroys our most important relationships. It crushes God’s plan for us—and that is Satan’s ultimate goal. He wants to keep us from progressing, keep us as spiritual infants.
Why? Why all this? Who is he, really? What motivates him to do these things in these ways?
Let’s just take a brief look at his back story.
In the grand councils of heaven, when plans for God’s children were being made, Lucifer sought the position of savior. He introduced a plan that would give him the glory, and in particular him the very honor of God—which I interpret as being what makes the elements obey Him. In other words, Lucifer wanted to become God. Of course, in desiring such a thing, Lucifer disqualified himself from the running. Because in his mind, being God was the same thing as ruling, as having control over God’s children. In his plan, he would ensure they all received celestial glory, in essence depriving them of agency (another internally contradictory thing; one cannot achieve the status of a god without choosing it for oneself). Christ volunteered to be the Savior not because He wanted to reign over His brothers and sisters, but because He loved them, and the glory would go back to the Father. In wanting power over souls so transparently, Lucifer proved himself unworthy of godlike power before the test even got underway, and he was disallowed from even receiving a body—the point of which was to begin the journey to become like Heavenly Father. And so Lucifer was essentially the first to have his growth permanently stunted.
So why should Lucifer, now Satan, care to watch the rest of God’s children grow, and progress into the very heights he wanted to ascend himself, while he is kept below in misery? He doesn’t. He wants us to remain as limited as he is. And if he can get control over us in any way, he gets a taste of that “godlike” power he always wanted.
He is not God. But he is the god we let him be.
Don’t give it to him. Do not let him be your god.
Let him be the god that never was.