Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ain't Looking for the Devil No More

"The Devil came down to Virginia,
he was looking for a soul to believe in him..."

Or something like that. I'm down to one degree of separation between me and Charlie Daniels - it gives me liberal misquoting privileges.

Since my post on evil I have attended two Black Baptist services, an Evangelical service, and received a personal invitation to a Jehovah's Witnesses event that mysteriously disappeared from the dining room table this morning. My husband knows I will go if I can only find the durn invite.

So how does this happen? How does an over-educated, liberally religious, politically progressive, feminist end up in three of the most patriarchal, devil-believing, biblically literal religious traditions to be found in a Bible belt capital?
As the Catholic sorority sister said when arrested with a new friend behind the lesbian bar, "I dunno. I was just curious." (Not a metaphor. She really did and 10 years later when she told me the story, she didn't regret it one bit. But that is for another post.)

So I am religiously curious. As I explained to my sci fi book club best buddy, "Houses of worship are to me what I imagine the VFW is to a generation of veterans. It doesn't matter that we didn't serve in the same campaign - it is the same struggle, the same hope. For that reason, I can find something valuable in every house of worship."

The other side of this coin is that now that we are an interracial family, we have started going to interracial services. The devil appears to be a more acceptable subject in African American Southern religious culture.

At the evangelical service my third grader was alarmed by the music which was popular music re-lyricized to evangelical themes. This was pretty comical at times.

Ok. All times. My biased opinion, of course. My biased opinion shaped by two years of publicly singing popular songs that had been reworked to reflect your unrealized but irresistible urge to eat expensive but fresh slabs of fudge that I was slinging around for minimum wage.

As the lovely and talented soloist crooned about the devil pointing a gun to your head to the tune of a popular Bob Seger song from the eighties that normally recalls a nubile Tom Cruise in his undies... my son leaned in to tell me, "There's no such thing as the devil."

"So, does this mean you are not concerned about his gun?" I whispered back.

"Exactly. I can take him out with kungfu." Mine is a theologically complicated 8 year old.

"Shhh... I can't concentrate on the swing dancing," I reply. Oh, how I wish I were kidding.

Me and mine do not believe in the devil. But he sure is a useful metaphor. In recent worship services the devil was not only busying himself with murder and general misanthropic mayhem, he was making us cowardly. He was keeping us from using our god-given gifts (non-capitalization mine, naturally). He was undermining our credibility, keeping us from showing authentic love, and was masterminding the nasty emails from detractors to one of the pastors.

I may not believe in the devil but I know that it is complicated to talk about the bad, crummy, slack, irresponsible, selfishly horny, in poor taste, and evil acts of humanity. Not believing in the devil doesn't make the reality of evil any more palatable. And not believing in the devil does not make the subsequent messages of love my family has heard in the past week any less moving.

Those of us who want to talk about nurture, the forces of culture, an ethos of violence, and the like can take a page from the devil believers. We need to be more articulate about where goodness comes from. And love. Kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity of spirit, forgiveness, compassion, good taste and manners, and a whopping dose of humility... let's talk about these things. Misery does not need the devil to be real but it does need a consistent regimen of love therapy.

I will be examining this more for a sermon in a week at the Williamsburg UUs should you want to follow this in person. Your comments are welcome, as always.

1 comment:

Blue Lass said...

I didn't used to believe in the devil. Now I do. It happens. Wait 'til you're 50.