When I was in my mid-twenties, it seemed that small saddle-stapled religious pamphlets were everywhere. Someone would ring the doorbell, smile and hand me a pamphlet explaining that Jesus was Lord. Someone else would accost me in the street and press into my hand a little booklet warning me that I would go to hell unless I believed. And in the bus station in Athens I found an entire rack of them, often complete with horned devil and pitchfork on the cover.
I longed to have something to retaliate with. So I made plans to create my own pamphlets to give in kind. I made lots of notes, and had titles planned out like: Is God Real? , Christian Vanity , Bad News for Modern Man , Is God Any Good? , The Faithlessness of Faith , and Make-Believe God.
But my favorite had the title, The Devil’s Christianity. I imagined it with a red and black devil lurking on the cover, much like many of their booklets. Only this one would put Christianity on the run—and do so using nothing but God and Genesis.
And I more or less completed it, though I never managed to turn it into a pamphlet. This was partly because I found myself exposed to pamphlet-bearing Christian far less frequently after moving to Atlanta.
But here is the text. And yes, it does put Christians on the run!
The Devil’s Christianity
A large sum of money was delivered in our city the other day—something like half a million dollars. The authorities took every precaution to protect it while delivery was made. Yet somewhere in route to the bank, the shipment was stolen.
It turned out that the thief had disguised himself as one of the guards—in fact the very man placed in the rear of the armored truck to protect the treasure had stolen it.
The devil is craftier than any crook. We need only recall the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. The devil did not beguile the first couple with promises of riches or fame. What he offered was simply the opportunity to have the kind of wisdom God has, knowing both good and evil. You see, Adam and Eve were not content to be as God made them: they wanted to be more like God, to have the knowledge of gods. With this vanity the devil beguiled them.
Now, you are probably thinking to yourself, “Had I been in Eden and the devil appeared before me, I would not have been fooled. I’d have observed the red horns protruding out of the head, the sharp ears, the pitchfork, the sneer on the face, and I would have been on guard immediately.”
But you forget, the devil is crafty. Had he chosen to appear before the original humans with horns, pitchfork, sneer and all, he would have fooled no one. Instead he came as one of God’s humble creatures, a snake. Remember that this was before serpent and devil were identified in anyone’s mind; that association came later. To Adam and Eve, the serpent was just another one of God’s myriad creations.
There is also an early Church tradition that the devil appeared before our first parents in the image of an angel. If so, he could have had no better disguise.
The thief dresses in policeman’s clothing; the devil in an angel’s garb. After all, the devil is the world’s first thief—and its last. What he steals from us is our honesty, our integrity of thought. He likes to push us into false presumptions about ourselves and the world, and about what God means us to be. Any trick that will succeed is fair game to the devil. He will as soon appear in the guise of an angel preaching God’s word as in the guise of a big paycheck, and he comes often as both.
We saw earlier that the devil tricked Adam and Eve by preying on their desire to be like gods. When they ate from the forbidden tree of knowledge, our first parents lusted after the wisdom of the ages. Later, had not the Lord guarded it with a flaming sword, they would have lusted after the tree of eternal life as well. These two lusts constitute our human weakness, and it is essential that we not forget it.
Why? Because they are the same temptations which, as Christians, we grasp after today. We must not mistake ourselves. The devil is nothing less than the common voice inside us which insists that we are like gods, that we shall ascend to heaven, that we shall never die.
The devil whispers his beguiling music into our ears, that there is a way for us to escape this earth God placed us on, a way to move to heaven and live like eternal beings, like gods. It is precisely as Christians and through Christianity that the devil beguiles us. We are going to rise to heaven and dwell there eternally at God’s right hand, he whispers. We are going to be—take that back, already are—of the same eternal stuff that God is.
And don’t we want it—to be like God and live forever? Isn’t that so much more pleasant than the truth of our mortality?
Truth is hard to face. Yet face it we must. For having fallen for the belief that our final nature is eternal soul rather than mortal body, we have tumbled head over heals into that age-old error of Adam and Eve’s. Like them we have fallen for the devil’s whispering lies: the enticing presumption that we “can be as gods.”
We would do well at this point to observe that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not found in the Old Testament. Yet it was a doctrine wide-spread throughout the ancient world. We find it among the Greeks and the Romans, but we do not find it among the chosen people, the ancient Jews. If the Old Testament is indeed the word of God, then the notion that we are immortal must come from the devil. And the New Testament, which is wrapped around that blasphemy of immortality like a snake, is the devil’s wicked deceit.
Because, in fact, in wanting to “be as gods” what we are really wishing for is to not be what God intended for us. God, after all, formed us of clay, and dictated that we should die.
But we rebel. We want something better than this confinement to earthly life, this entrapment in bodies. Well, if there’s a lie to be sold, it will never want for someone to sell it. Along comes the devil, whispering that we can have something better, if only we listen to him.
“Devour this apple from the tree of eternal life, and be as gods. Have faith in me, for I am the path to eternal salvation.”
Thus the devil dressed as an angel beguiles us.
We stand in the shoes of Eve and Adam. The sweet-talking angel has just handed us his polished apple, and calls it the key to heaven.
So he claims. But what are we to believe?
Truly we desire to be supernatural. We are so sick of earth, which we’ve polluted, and of our limited bodies, all this hurt and disease and injustice (most of which we have inflicted on each other). Naturally we envy God’s existence, and not just His lifestyle, His home. Who doesn’t yearn for a heaven?
Isn’t it the easiest thing in the world to ignore the obvious facts of our existence, and hope for better? Let the devil sell us our dreams.
The devil says it is only what God wants for us, and who are we to deny what it pleases us to hear?
Yet the fact is, and Genesis confirms it, God formed us from clay. He created us as animals, not as angels. Intelligent animals, without question, but animals nonetheless. We are inescapably tied to our bodies, of this we cannot doubt; more than this we cannot know.
If God has plans for us beyond this life, we simply cannot know. What Christianity arrogantly calls the Word of God may as easily be the word of the devil, and in a world where we truly cannot know, even to speculate is to push our opinions on God.
We simply cannot know.
What we can know, however, is very clear, We are bodies, and it seems obvious that since we are, it is bodies that we were intended to be. We have feelings, we have thoughts, we have pain, we have joy, we live, we die, all by the dictates of this physical planet. These limits, this mortality, is God-given.