Can Rational People Believe in the Devil?

A column by Tom Krattenmaker caught my eye in today's USA Today (Nov. 25, 2013). The column is called, "What's with all the talk of the devil?" He brings up the recent comments made by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the popularity of C.S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters.

After Scalia admitted to a journalist that he believes in the devil, he said, "You're looking at me as though I'm weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the devil?"

Belief in the devil (or Satan) has been scoffed at by many in Western academic circles. Enlightenment rationality simply doesn't allow for such a being. It was Rudolf Bultmann, a notable 20th century German theologian, who famously said, "It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles" [1].

That is indeed the spirit of the age.

But Peter Berger, a prominent sociologist from Boston University has critiqued Bultmann and the modern worldview that screens out (demythologizes) the invisible realm. Commenting about the methods of Bultmann and his ilk, Berger says, "the New Testament writers are seen as afflicted with a false consciousness rooted in their time, but the contemporary analyst takes the consciousness of his time as an unmixed intellectual blessing. The electricity and radio-users are placed intellectually above the Apostle Paul" [2].

And more importantly, it seems Bultmann's prediction was wrong. Krattenmaker reports that a YouGov survey released in September found 57% of Americans believe the devil exists. Of course, what one means by "the devil" is of critical importance for what these results actually mean. Krattenmaker points out that, "In the Christian vernacular, 'person' can mean an unembodied being that interacts with people and plays a role in the cosmic scheme. In a more liberal theological vein, it could be thought of as a force or pattern" [3].

Regardless of how one imagines the devil to exist and operate, these findings are enough to show that somehow people can use electric light and still believe in spirits and miracles today. Yes, rational people can believe in the devil.

What do you think?

[1] Rudolf Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology, and Other Basic Writings, ed. and trans. Schubert M. Ogden (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 4.
[2] Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (New York: Doubleday, 1969), 51.
[3] Tom Krattenmaker, "What's with all the talk of the devil?" in USA Today, section 8a (11/25/13).

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