Recently ABC's "Nightline" featured a face-off on the question, "Does Satan Exist?" Watching the recorded show last night, my wife and I were amazed that this is a subject for debate in the 21st century.
It's an example of how many religious people haven't progressed from exceedingly primitive beliefs. Astoundingly, more Americans believe in the devil (59%) than in the theory of evolution (47%).
Which also describes the mindset of Pastor Mark Driscoll and former prostitute Annie Lobert (founder of "Hookers for Jesus"), who handled the arguments in favor of Satan's existence.
Opposing them, and getting frequent cheers from me, were Deepak Chopra and Bishop Carlton Pearson.
When I condemned myself to hell for a free DVD I talked about Pearson in a blog post, since he had a revelation from God that hell is a place in life, not after death. That made me feel better about selling my soul for a DVD.
He's still making good sense. In the debate Pearson correctly pointed out that the Bible was written by men, not by God, so it can't be taken literally. (Clips of the Nightline faceoff can be viewed here.)
Most interesting to me was a theme that keeps coming up on the Church of the Churchless: the difference between subjective and objective experience.
If something is evident only to me, it's subjective. If I can show that thing, or demonstrate that it exists, to other people, then it's objective. (Objectivity and subjectivity have other facets, of course, but my definition is good enough for a blog post.)
Lobert said that she's convinced Satan exists because she saw him in the eyes of her prostitution clients. I wish Chopra or Pearson had asked her if she was able to get any of these guys to go to an optometrist for a checkup.
If an eye doctor looked in their eyes and also saw Satan, that'd be pretty convincing -- especially if a camera could photograph the devil sitting on the retina.
Chopra said that Satan is in peoples' minds, not anywhere outside. Likely Lobert's emerging guilt and shame about the profession she was practicing caused her to project those feelings onto her clients.
Another instructive moment came when a female audience member chided Chopra for thinking that electromagnetism, gravity, and other scientific facts were more real than her personal experience of God.
Chopra could have come up with a better response, but he did fairly well. He said that he didn't deny her experience. Yet he felt his approach was more consistent with the laws of nature.
Thus he was pointing to the difference between a subjective experience, the truth of which can't be questioned by other people, and an assertion about shared experiences in objective reality, which damn well can be questioned for its truthfulness.
The woman proclaimed (pointing around the audience):
I'm saying that Jesus is your savior, and his savior, and their savior. I'm saying Jesus is true for everyone, and if you don't believe in him, you don't get to be with him.
I liked Chopra's response.
In that case, I feel really sorry for you. I want you to be saved.
Saved from fundamentalism, closed-mindedness, fanciful beliefs, misguided thought processes, being trapped in a constricted world view.
But it isn't only Christians who need to be saved. We all do, to some degree. It's easy to mistake personal experiences for universal ones, and demand that others embrace our subjectivity as their own.
We've got no right to do that. The day I started this blog I had to come up with a tagline to put under the name at the top of the web page.
"Preaching the gospel of spiritual independence" came quickly to mind. In over four years I haven't been impelled to back away from those words.
Watching fundamentalists fumble with the question, Does Satan Exist?, sure didn't change my mind.