A while back we were discussing the wisdom of attacking Satan, and after three posts I thought I had dealt with the issue. Not quite. Consider this the fourth in that series.
One of the points I made in the first post was that a defining characteristic of false teachers is that they disrespect Satan and his horde of celestial beings. At the time, I referred to the idea as counterintuitive, which got me thinking. Why is it that contrabiblical teachers also tend to be anti-Satan?
I think we can find part of the answer in Iran. If you have the courage and bad fortune to attend a state-supported public rally there or in several other Muslim countries, you’re very likely to hear the leaders exhorting the crowd in chants of “Death to America” or “Death to the Great Satan” (same thing). For a while, George W. Bush was the face of the Great Satan, and Barack Obama came to office hoping to change the satanic perception of America. Some may have been surprised when two weeks before his inauguration, Obama had become the newest incarnation of the ever-threatening Great Satan. As Mark Steyn observed, “Meet the new Great Satan, the same as the Old…”
Here was a diplomacy-loving, Muslim-raised new leader who had promised to remake our relationship with the Muslim world. Why, then, was Obama Satanized?
It’s simply because the leaders of countries like Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and North Korea need an all-powerful enemy to blame for the basketcases that they’ve turned their countries into. Iran, one of the world’s most important suppliers of oil, would be crippled if we cut off petroleum imports, such is the country’s economic disrepair. To prevent the public from turning on the mullahs and “elected” leaders for causing the problems that they live with every day, it’s more convenient to blame the Great Satan. If it were ever known that the United States was not a threat and was, very often, a source of important humanitarian aid, leaders would lose the ability to rally public anger against the imaginary foreign devil.
Here’s the key point: enemies create unity and passion that is independent of a leader.
George Orwell understood the point as well, and illustrated it in 1984 with his description of the Two Minutes Hate.
As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed on to the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. Goldstein was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, had been condemned to death and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared.
The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even – so it was occasionally rumoured – in some hiding-place in Oceania itself…
In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen…
The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic…
At those moments his secret loathing of Big Brother changed into adoration.
And that’s the key. If I can get you to hate an enemy I rage against, perhaps I can get you to love me without having to offer you any good reason to do so. That’s why false teachers need a Great Satan.
If you can focus my attention on fighting an enemy who doesn’t need to be fought, you can distract me from worrying about the veracity of your teaching.
If you can make me join you in facing down what appears to be a common enemy, I might not ever wonder if you might also be my enemy.
And if you make a habit of denouncing every other church in town, I might conclude that yours is the only source of truth and salvation.