A few days ago my son told me how he made a decision at school not based on simple right or wrong but whether or not I would get mad at him. Even more, he said he thought Satan would have made me mad at him.
First I wanted to encourage him not to be afraid of me getting mad at him and had a deeper talk about right and wrong. But I wanted to dig deeper on what he meant by saying Satan would make me mad at him. Amazingly he recalled a conversation we had months ago when he asked me if Satan was real. I think this was around Halloween and he was afraid to go to bed. So I described how Satan wasn't some monster that would come to us in the night to harm us, but instead he gets in our hearts to trick us into making bad decisions. He dropped it then and peacefully went to sleep, so I was surprised to hear this come up now.
Satan is a tricky subject to tackle, especially for a seven year old. Even believing adults struggle with the notion of a fallen angel running around causing us to do bad. On one extreme some will blame everything on Satan, from catching a cold or a series of red lights that makes one late for work to serious sin and addiction. The other extreme considers Satan "an idea" that represents all that is evil. Of course the truth is somewhere in between. But to someone not as devout in their faith, either notion makes Satan sound more like the boogeyman than the real spiritual force he is.
It is with this latter attitude that the media has approached Presidential candidate Rick Santorum's comments from 2008 where he stated that Satan had his "sights on" America. To the infamous Main Stream Media, someone who believes in Satan is as foolish and naive as someone who believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
But according to this MSNBC news piece, a 2007 Gallup poll and a Harris poll in 2009 show that most Americans (7 in 10 and 60%, respectively) believe the devil is real. Yet a 2009 Barna survey of self-identified Christians (versus the broad swath of Americans in the other studies) shows that 59% either agree or somewhat agree with the description of Satan as an idea or symbol of evil versus an actual living being.
While on the surface, it looks like these polls are contradictory, the devil is in the details. In the first two, people we asked simply if they "believed in the Devil" where Barna gets more specific. In that context, Barna found that 92% of those polled believe in some notion of the Devil.
Of course none of this data is relevant in choosing whether Santorum should be the president. Yet it highlights the diversity in the nuances of our faith. There is no broad-brush "Christian" in America that can be painted into a single corner politically no matter how much the media may try.
But I digress. I'm interested in you; what do you believe about Satan? Is he real or symbolic?