When I wrote an article for Catholic World Report in 2016 entitled “The Battle Against The Devil Is Still Being Fought Today”, describing the devil’s tactics as identified in Scripture, commentary, and literature. I neglected to identify Satan’s commandments, or false “truths”, framed in such seductive ways. Whether we realize it or not, we are unremittingly subjected to these commandments every time we open the door and walk (or run or march or drive) into the world, turn on the TV, connect to the Internet, read a newspaper and many works of popular scholarship or fiction, whether we are Christians or Buddhists or atheists, people in the pews or Cardinals, old men or young women, in the academy or the marketplace. Everyone. The devil has seen to that. We are all one and the same to Satan, souls to be vanquished and consumed. We are swimming in these perilous waters, and even the most hydrophobic aren’t immune from its influence.
God has given us the means to resist: Scripture, the saints, the sacraments, good teachers. Still, human freedom is fraught with both opportunity and peril.
One of the very best at giving us a picture of Satan and his tactics is J.R.R. Tolkien, a modern prophet. Because he composed stories, we can easily overlook the spiritual wisdom embedded in his works. In “The Silmarillion”, a hard to read but extremely edifying, book, Tolkien depicts how the devil connives, in the person of Melkor (his Lucifer), working to sunder us from God and other people by using the very gifts God gives us.
Then Melkor lusted for the Silmarils (made by the mighty elf prince Faenor), and the very memory of their radiance was a gnawing fire in his heart. From that time forth, inflamed by this desire, he sought ever more eagerly how he should destroy Faenor and end the friendship of the Valar (Tolkien’s angels) and the Elves, but he dissembled his purposes with cunning, and nothing of his malice could yet be seen in the semblance he wore. Long was he at work, and slow at first was his labour. But he that sows lies in the end shall not lack of a harvest, and soon he may rest from toil indeed while others reap and sow in his stead…When he saw that many leaned towards him, Melkor would often walk among them, and amid his fair words others were woven, so subtly that many who heard them believed in recollection that they arose from their own thought. Visions he would conjure in their hearts of the mighty realms that they could have ruled at their own will, in power and freedom in the East…Fiercest burned the new desire for freedom in the eager heart of Faenor; and Melkor laughed in his secrecy, for to that mark his lies had been addressed, hating Faenor about all, and lusting ever for the Silmarils.
I believe man is better fortified when alerted to threats, when they’re explicitly stated. Some shut these threats out, some smile and proceed with the program at hand, some find transitory pleasure in going along with what this dark spirit proclaims, and some are roused to resentment and rebellion against who they are and are called to be, as were Faenor and his allies.
Unlike God’s Commandments, which are unchanging and necessary for man’s well being in every time and place, Satan’s commandments are adapted to changing cultures, so as to most effectively entice, discourage, and destroy. The devil’s commandments for our age, as I read them in this new year. Beware, they are troubling and terrible.
1) God is not a person or being, in any sense of these words.
2) Prayer may be psychologically beneficial, but it doesn’t change the physical world, the real world. So, it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as it gives you peace of mind.
3) Death really is final, except for the conservation of mass and energy, the “survival” of molecules, so squeeze as much pleasure and entertainment from life as you can.
4) Distraction is to be highly prized, distraction from the moment and from the day.
5) There are way too many people in the world.
6) What’s moral and what’s good are defined by time and place.
7) Man is a destroyer, and he’s destroying the world.
8) Gender and sex mean what we define them to mean.
9) To be beautiful and strong in body, mind, art, and subtlety, and to impress others with our beauty, is a very high pursuit.
10) Nonproductive, damaged people are social and environmental burdens.
There it is, Satan’s roadmap to … well, wherever. Try to go through a day without being subjected to these commandments. Even when not said out loud or explicitly written, isn’t this the message the world gives us?
These are the commandments of someone who desires slaves, not someone who desires son and daughters, and wants to make heroes out of them.
We must resist to the end. We must fight to the end. We must trust to the end.