The Devil You Don't Know
Published Oct 1, 2006 12:00 AM
"The history of the Devil is all screwed up," says UCLA Professor Emeritus of English Henry Ansgar Kelly, who's hunted the Prince of Darkness for four decades — first while studying to be a Jesuit priest, later via several seminal books on Old Nick. The latest is Satan: A Biography, from Cambridge University Press.
Q. How did you discover your passion for Satan?
A. The beautiful young wife of a philosophy professor was teaching a course I was taking on American literature at Saint Louis University, and we were reading about the Salem witch trials. Looking into that, I got cheesed off by all the superstitious beliefs.
Q. You've examined the Devil in other books. What's the theme of your latest effort?
A. The [Satan] character that appears in Job and Zachariah is just one of the angels of God. He's working for God — he's a heavy, the bad cop. But in the New Testament, things have changed, according to most scholars. They think that there's this idea of a fallen rebellious angel, Lucifer. My book's main thesis is that that idea didn't occur until later; it was a scenario invented by the early Fathers of the Church.
Q. How does that misinterpretation affect Christianity?
A. When the Fathers made Satan into an enemy of God, they transformed the Christian religion into a dualistic religion, a struggle between good and evil. And by making Satan the personification of the Prince of Evil, out to destroy mankind, they came up with the doctrine of Original Sin with the idea of inherited guilt. And that God — for some strange reason — delivered the whole human race over to the Devil. Why would he do this, one wonders?
Q. So there is no Original Sin?
A. Jesus never talks about Original Sin. He talks about the sinfulness of the world, which is pretty evident. But the Fathers came up with the whole business that people are damned to begin with unless they get baptized. The Church is pushing itself into a corner now by saying that every fertilized egg has an immortal soul tainted with Original Sin, and all these miscarried embryos and fetuses, they're not going to get to Heaven, the most they can get to is Limbo. And once they get rid of Limbo…