The utility of Great Satans 13

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.

13 thoughts on “The utility of Great Satans

  1. JT Aug 20, 2009 8:51 pm

    Let’s take a step back and think about what you’ve just posted here.

    Now pastors who hate Satan share a commonality with “false teachers,” totalitarian Islamists, and the Big Brother Party in Orwell’s 1984?

    That’s about as sophisticated an argument as the old canard, “Hitler was a vegetarian!”

    It’s sad to see you repeatedly defend Satan’s honor, as you simultaneously tear down those doing the Lord’s work.

  2. KeithO Aug 20, 2009 9:45 pm


    Your conclusion “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” is, in my opinion, spot on. I cannot see any other reason for the subtle, and not so subtle digs at church people, steeple people, and nameless other churches if not for this reason alone.

    A client of mine told me years ago that I did not help my own case by criticizing my competitors (as I was prone to do in my younger years). I learned from this client the value of letting my body of work stand alone and speak for itself in my chosen profession. Wise words from a smart man indeed.

    What other reason could there be for the routine digs at other nameless churches other than to make NS look good by comparison?

  3. Albert Aug 20, 2009 10:50 pm


    I don’t see where Satan’s honor is being defended anywhere here. I think the point is that many mega-church pastors get their congregants riled up at “how bad Satan is” in order to promote unity and loyalty within his church. But, as has been discussed on here before, that’s showing Satan a lack of respect, which is important.

    I once saw a shirt that read, “The Devil is a Nerd!” and I remember thinking that the person wearing it doesn’t fear Satan anymore than he fears his high school history teacher.

    Respect for the enemy is essential and by making him seem powerless is wrong and dangerous.

    @ JDuncan,

    This is one of my favorite posts yet.

  4. Albert Aug 21, 2009 9:43 am

    @ Duncan,

    On this post, or all-time?

  5. James Downing Aug 21, 2009 9:48 am

    This is one of the better posts here. Alot to chew on, and really, it makes total sense…even if you remove the idea of disrespecting Satan. The point is, in liue of real substance, a leader can inspire followers if he can create a common enemy. It is clear that some modern preachers have decided to make the established church that enemy.

  6. Matt Aug 21, 2009 1:53 pm

    Another example of this was when the pharisees turned an entire city on Jesus, diverting them from the fact that it was, indeed, themselves who were in sin.

  7. JT Aug 21, 2009 5:44 pm

    Now that you’ve all explained it, I think I get it.

    I guess you’re right. It truly is a terrible thing for Christians to be united against the powers of hell.

    Why didn’t I see this before?

    Duncan, contrary to the praises of the regular crowd, this is possibly the worst post I’ve read on Pajama Pages (although I’m not sure that I’m ready to bump it past that time when you insinuated that Tony Morgan was publicly calling out Perry Noble as a “narcissist”).

    You ask, “Why is it that contrabiblical teachers also tend to be anti-Satan?” But you fail to recognize that Biblical teachers also tend to be anti-Satan. You couldn’t have made a more fallacious argument if you’d tried!

    Allow me to illustrate the absurdity of your logic:

    Duncan, you spend too much time on the internet discussing your ideas. Why is it that devil-worshippers tend to spend a lot of time on the internet discussing their ideas? I think we can find part of the answer by looking at Charles Manson…

    Do I even need to continue with the illustration?

  8. Albert Aug 21, 2009 6:09 pm

    Sure, go ahead. I’d like to hear the rest of the story and how it accurately relates to this situation, please.

  9. JT Aug 21, 2009 9:24 pm


    Read it again. It’s a parallel analogy to Duncan’s: “Why is it that contrabiblical teachers also tend to be anti-Satan? I think we can find part of the answer in Iran.”

    It’s logically fallacious. It’s guilt by association. It’s absurd.

    • James Duncan Aug 21, 2009 9:40 pm

      JT, I was hoping the opening link and all the talk about this being the fourth post in a series might have given you a clue that this is an argument that is best understood in the context of the earlier ones, which I assume you have read. You and I know how many PP readers are sticklers for context.

      In case you haven’t read it, here’s part of what I said in the first post:

      Bad people like to beat up on the Devil. Not only does Peter warn us against slandering Satan, he tells us something about the character of people who tend to do this. In 2 Peter these men are false prophets and teachers. In Jude, they are secret deceivers. Peter is giving us a clue. If you can’t discern anything else wrong with their visions and revelations from God, watch what they say about the Devil. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s what Peter said.

      I am not saying that every pastor who thinks the devil is bad is a false teacher. In fact, I’m not even saying that false teachers make more of a fuss about the devil than they need to. Peter and Jude (read, God) are.

      This post is my speculation about why that connection exists. False teachers disrespect the devil.

      At first, as I said, I thought it was counterintuitive. After thinking about it, now it makes more sense to me.

  10. Albert Aug 21, 2009 11:36 pm

    That’s what I’ve understood the post to mean from the beginning.

    I think this is the defining sentence, “I am not saying that every pastor who thinks the devil is bad is a false teacher.”

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