Here's a guest blog post from Bob Russo, who sent this essay to me a while back. I recently discovered it in the depths of my email inbox, liked it, and asked Russo if it would be OK to share it on Church of the Churchless.
He said, "sure." Enjoy some thoughts about Satan and Kal. "Kal" is how the so-called Negative Power is viewed by an Eastern religion, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), a branch of Sant Mat.
Growing up within the crystalline and dualistic (heaven and hell; Jesus and Satan) landscape of Catholicism and having the Pope to look to for spiritual direction (as a representative of Christ on earth), it was just one hop, skip, and a jump from that world to Radha Soami (Guru path).
The only difference between the two was that I now had a Perfect Living Master to guide me out of Satan’s (Kal’s) world to Sach Khand (True Land) above.
So what we have in both systems is the unruly hands of some “negative power” whose goal is to lead the spiritual seeker astray.
This concept of a negative power or satanic force goes back thousands of years to Ancient Judaism and probably beyond that. Yet, apparently more strident than any “satanic” temptation is the use of this concept by religious leaders and spiritual groups to ingest fear into the minds of sincere individuals and thus control them.
It’s the same ole problem, reaction, solution scenario that we see played out time and time again under authoritarian religious organizations, which RSSB is certainly one of. They identify YOUR problem and of course, as part of their modus operandi, have the solution.
Consequently, during a recent trip to Shambala bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, I couldn’t help being drawn to a book entitled The Origin of Satan, by Elaine Pagels.
What made this book a must read for me was its historical overview of Satan from Judaism through early Christianity, and, IMO [in my opinion], seeing a blending together of adversarial roles he/she played (or plays) in both religions and with Kal’s role in Sant Mat. I suspect the concept of a negative power or entity found its way to Northern India from the Middle East.
Without going into too much detail, it appears that Satan may have evolved from being part of God’s Grand Hierarchy and his loyal servant, as in Sant Mat (Radha Soami path), to one opposed to God in his/her entirety in early Christianity (the fallen angel set apart from God). In Judaism, Satan’s role was to obstruct human activity, that is, to create chaos, misfortune, conflict, and to test the soul’s loyalty to God (see story of Job).
During my years in Sant Mat, whenever mention was made of the hapless condition of the world, with its wars, hunger, and plagues, it wasn’t long before someone would comment or read something from an RSSB book on not expecting more from Kal’s domain.
In RSSB, Kal is responsible for humankind’s screwups and misfortunes as we see with the Satan of Judaism (since Kal is the ruler of the three lower worlds). And as such, continues to confuse humankind as it helplessly and aimlessly drifts about with no direction in sight (until the Perfect Living Master comes to the rescue).
According to RSSB theology, once an individual gets initiated the situation changes because although Kal rules the world, anything that happens to the Satsangi (followers of the Radha Soami path) is supposedly the amiable work of the Master.
IMO, this whole thing is very confusing, because if an earthquake strikes and both Satsangis and non-Satsangis are injured, then who do we claim is responsible for the earthquake, the Master or Kal?
Now, with the development of Christianity, Satan evolved into an evil entity completely opposed to God as seen in the New Testament where Satan was held responsible for the arrest and execution of Jesus. And, the Jews unfortunately, were labeled as agents of Satan for having played their fateful part in Jesus’ death.
(We can effortlessly glance into history to see the results of this horrific prejudice that has cost the Jewish people countless lives and hardships over the past two millennium). Thus, a major rift grew between this new religious movement called Christianity (which had a lot of Jewish members), and the Jewish people, particularly the Judaic religious ruling class.
Now, as Christianity grew, most people were looking for “rules” and guidance on how to be true Christians. Thus, an “orthodox” branch of Christianity made firm headway among this new religion, and as such, became institutionalized with its various do’s and don’ts, priests, and bishops. This new branch of Christianity (which evolved into the Catholic Church), ultimately labeled any other branch of Christianity and all other religions for that matter, as evil products of Satan.
Certain members of this orthodox branch, such as Tertullian, whom according to Pagels, was a convert from Carthage in Northern Africa around 180 C. E., denounced all those who deviated from the “majority” or orthodox teachings as heretics.
What I found interesting is that the Greek translation for heresy (hairesis) is choice. Therefore, one who makes a choice is a heretic.
Pagels mentions on pg.164 of her book that Tertullian insists that making choices is evil, since choice destroys group unity (which probably means less control and $ for the spiritual elite leaders). She goes on to quote Tertullian as saying “that church leaders must not allow people to ask questions, for it is questions that make people heretics.”
Since Satan was opposed to God, it becomes quite clear that Christians were involved in a sort of spiritual cosmic war between good and evil. They, of course, represented good, while all “unorthodox” Christians and pagans were viewed as agents of Satan.
Pagels writes on pg. 165, “Instead of admitting Christians into debates over the Scriptures, Tertullian says, ‘straight thinking’ (the literal translation of orthodox) Christians must simply claim the Scriptures as their own exclusive property’…but, how do heretics come up with such ingenious and persuasive arguments from Scripture? Their inspiration comes, Tertullian says, ‘from the devil, of course, to whom belong the wiles that distort the truth’”.
How’s that for enforcing mind control? We can also see how “ownership” of the “truth” as “exclusive property” is a prized tool in controlling the masses!
Thus, although more subtle, IMO, the Radha Soami tradition, at least in Beas, has firm distain for any polemic or “revealing” questions that may potentially uproot the reality or spiritual competency of the guru and/or the philosophy he represents (this is quite obvious to me from their response to internet discussions of RS and their letters to David Lane).
And, as a friend mentioned recently, a ”true believer” will never ask the real questions while those that would are probably never going to be there to ask them in the first place.
Here we are in the year 2002, and we can still walk the streets of Dera or stroll along the freshly landscaped gardens of Petaluma or visit the cascading waters of Calvary Baptist College (formerly Murrieta Hot Springs) and what will we find in common among the members of each group?
A firm belief that they, themselves, are the “chosen” ones, the lucky few who have God on their side while the rest of the world wallows in Satan’s nebulous and dingy shadow! For the Fundamentalist Christian, the cosmic war between good and evil is alive and well today while for the satsangi, this dreary epic is faced each day in meditation.
Unfortunately, this dualistic outlook has created a split society or “them and us” mentality that has caused unimaginable pain, suffering, and death to countless individuals and unbearable hardship to innumerable families throughout modern history.
And, this “split” is not limited to externals but has caused considerable mental anguish and cognitive problems to individuals living within a strict right versus wrong world.