There are certain kinds of Christians who love to invoke Satan as the reason why they fail and struggle in life. By now, this shifting of blame amounts to a bedrock folk belief and a central pillar of Low Christianity. Today, let’s see how Christians reach for Satan as an excuse for their failures—and how they use fighting him as a cheap substitute for solving their very real problems.
So yes: Today, we ask—in the time-honored Saturday Night Live fashion:
Could it be…. SATAN?
(This post first went live on Patreon on 4/11/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too, and should be available by the time you read this!)
Obviously, all of this lady’s problems are the fault of Satan
This topic came up while I was checking out the Facebook posts of a certain evangelical speaker, Jill Noyes Rodrigues. She’s a basic fundagelical who really wants to make it big as a public speaker and influencer, except she’s a woman in the ultraconservative end of misogyny-as-the-bonus-plan fundagelicalism. She loves that courtship and male headship bullshit, or at least acts like she does.
In my personal opinion, Jill is not only a complete grifter and a hypocrite, but an abusive, super-controlling parent to entirely more children than she can possibly raise by herself. Any one of those poor kids would fit right in on the subreddit Raised by Narcissists.
Well, ol’ Jill just organized herself a big ol’ fancy women’s retreat—with herself as the main speaker, natch. Right as it ended, she wrote a Facebook post that told her followers what a super-important person she is—and what a super-important shindig this gathering was—by declaring that Satan himself was attacking her:
The Sparrow Ladies Retreat went GREAT! ❤️ I can tell God was moving and working in all of our hearts for His glory! Why can I tell? The devil has fought me SO hard! Please pray for me. 😢 I don’t often come on FB and ask for prayer, but I could definitely use it. 💔
-Lost a baby 3 weeks before the retreat.
-All our vehicles were broken down during the retreat.
-My computer (which I did all the retreat work on) crashed.
-Storm came during Mrs. Jeannine Williams’ devotional and all the power went out. (Thank God the hotel generator power did kick on after a couple minutes).
-We got home (with lots of unloading to do) and our power was (and still is) out.
-Relationship wounds that are cutting and painful.
BTW, don’t worry about spending an ounce of pity on her. Jill’s an awful person. From how she and others have described the miscarriage situation in particular, it’s really suspicious. I don’t want to be insensitive, but it really sounds like she just super-wanted to be pregnant at the same time as her recently-married older daughters. You know, like Michelle Duggar was a couple of times? I suspect she jumped the gun, but the Fates didn’t cooperate.
And those “relationship wounds” are likely just her lashing out at one or more of her adult kids refusing to do something narc-mommy wanted (like wait to open social media accounts as adults until they’re at least “courting” someone; in one recent post, she praises a son who obeyed, while slinging subtle shade at a couple other kids who defied her).
So far, she’s a standard-issue toxic Christian and authoritarian fundagelical.
But then, I began to think about all the ways that Christians blame Satan for their problems.
Blaming Satan for everything
In her post, Jill acts like she is 100% convinced that all these terrible, awful, devastating, no-good situations happened to her because Satan himself is fighting with her over her women’s retreat.
Yes. Satan himself, the Great Adversary, Lord of the Pit, Prince of Hell, First Among Angels, Tempter of Humans, etc. etc., is the cause of all of her current problems. The once-favored Lightbringer who led an angelic rebellion against Yahweh himself is very super-upset over an evangelical church in Ohio hosting a women’s retreat for a couple hundred browbeaten fundagelical gals.
In fact, Satan is so upset that he’s pulled out the stops to make Jill’s life worse!
However, Jill’s hardly alone in thinking this way. When we look at the folk-magic underpinnings of Low Christianity, that less-formal, less-educated, more-emotional end of the religion, we find almost everyone there acting like they’re such big dangers to Satan’s well-laid plans that he has to spend a lot of time attacking them in every way he can. To hear some of these Christians talk, Satan’s assigned entire committees of demons to keep tabs on them so he can figure out how to stop them from praying, going to church, reading their Bibles, or following their group’s rules.
That’s how dangerous they are. The moment they get out of bed in the morning, Satan hears their feet hit the floor and goes Oh, crap, they’re up.
(You can even get that tiresome bit of self-aggrandizement on a T-shirt from what seem like thousands of vendors.)
What an attack from Satan looks like
In Low Christianity, we find a wealth of resources to tell us exactly what an attack from Satan even looks like:
It looks like any situation or happening that the judging Christian doesn’t like.
That’s it. An attack from Satan can look like:
- Car trouble
- Friends falling out with you
- Addictions and dependencies on off-limits things
- Rumors getting spread about you (true or not, but the Christian will always insist they’re not)
- Having trouble getting something you need, like a job or a coveted spot on a committee
- Bank fees or other expenses you weren’t expecting at all
- Natural disasters of any kind
- Someone starting an argument with you
- Your children backtalking or doing poorly in school
- Crimes committed against you or your property
- Getting fired from your job (with cause or without, though it’ll always be presented as unfairly done)
- Getting pushback about your religious grandstanding and bloviating
- Encountering literally anything that might spark doubt in your beliefs
Now, you might be thinking right now that literally anything can be re-imagined as an attack from Satan. The real problem is figuring out what might actually just be bad luck or poor planning, right?
Well, yes. That’s actually the point of the whole belief.
Imagining all negative experiences as real live honest-to-goodness attacks from Satan is a feature, not a bug of Low Christianity.
How Satanic attacks work in reality: The night Pastor Daniel died
Not long ago, I mentioned that my first pastor’s newly-hired junior pastor had died of cancer. The night that poor man passed away, my Evil Ex Biff tried to invade his deathbed vigil to anoint him with oil and pray for his magic healing from Jesus—only for the junior pastor’s family to order him out of the room.
Obviously, Biff was very upset about being ordered to leave. Afterward, he stomped around the hospital parking lot waiting for the senior pastor to leave. And then, he had it out with the pastor. The fight did not end well at all, at least for Biff.
Here’s the thing, though:
Nobody ever told me that Biff and the senior pastor had argued—not even the church gossip who told me much later that he’d visited the hospital in the first place. The senior pastor sure hadn’t said anything, at least that I ever heard. As far as I can tell, he only began telling the story many years later, when it was unlikely that anyone would remember any of the specific people involved.
But I sure remembered.
No, I figured out what happened that night many years later, when I chanced upon a sermon on one of those silly sermon-clearinghouse sites. In that sermon, a pastor described my senior pastor encountering Satan in the parking lot after the junior pastor had passed away. They even had a big argument too! And Satan said things to him like “How do you know this healing stuff is even real? What if none of this stuff is even true?” Oh, that wily demon almost got the senior pastor to doubt his faith!
But eventually, the senior pastor prevailed and sent Satan on his way! Hooray Team Jesus! He won his fight with Satan!
Now, the pastor who contributed that sermon didn’t even know what he was talking about, but I did. I knew immediately. Not only did he use my pastor’s name, but the things my old senior pastor quoted from “Satan” sounded exactly like Biff having a blustery, narcissistic tizzy fit. And waiting to fight with the pastor in the parking lot was something Biff would absolutely have done.
Why Satan attacks Christians in the first place
In Low Christianity, Satan exists as a universal boogeyman. Their omnimax god somehow can’t just snap his metaphorical fingers and be instantly rid of such a devastatingly destructive agent. In fact, in the Book of Job Satan clearly enjoys visiting privileges with the high court of Yahweh himself! So Satan is simply a risk that nobody can possibly be fully safe from. No Christian can possibly afford to be complacent about the risks he poses to their lives, safety, security, or faith.
Don Stewart at Blue Letter Bible has a whole listicle of times when Satan is more likely to attack Christians:
- At the beginning of a new Christian endeavor
- After a very emotional Christian experience
- Any time Christians are “physically vulnerable,” like if they’re hungry, tired, or upset—or alone
- If Christians feel safe around someone, in a particular place, or with a group they trust
At the end of his listicle, Stewart warns his readers that Satan always returns to attack again. So once the first battle is ended—meaning the unfortunate situation is now resolved—Christians should brace for something else to happen.
And here, the voice of Schmendrick the Magician drifts through my mind from the pages of The Last Unicorn: “The most professional curse ever snarled or croaked or thundered can have no effect on a pure heart.” Indeed, when I was a young Christian myself, it shocked me to see Christian peers who were deathly afraid of demons. I can’t even remember being afraid like that. But that’d be wrecking Christians’ fun, wouldn’t it?
It would wreck that fun entirely, yes. You see, Satan fulfills a very important role in the cult of cheap substitutes that undergirds Low Christianity. He is the force that makes Christians break their own rules and doubt their own beliefs. They would obey without fail and go to their graves as fervent believers, otherwise. But thanks to Satan, gosh darn it all to heck, many Christians lose their salvation.
That’s Satan’s entire goal. It’s what he wants to see happen.
What Satan gets out of all this troublemaking
It’s baffling to outsiders to this belief system. It makes no sense at all. They wonder what on earth Satan gets out of all this effort. And Christians have never offered any explanations that make sense. I mean, if you read the Bible, you see that Jesus defeats Satan in the end and throws him into a pit. There, Satan will totally dwell for a thousand years before being released briefly to foment a final war with Jesus’ saints. Once Jesus wins that one too, Satan finally gets consigned forever to a “lake of fire.”
So Satan is apparently going to all this effort for absolutely nothing, unless the Bible is simply making guesses at a potential future and not predictions about one that is absolutely going to happen. (Or, one impishly wonders, just turning recent terrible events in Jerusalem into an apocalyptic fantasy.)
One South Carolina church has quite a compelling theory, though. They think that Satan’s goal is to reduce the number of Christians going to Heaven. But we never learn how Satan benefits from reducing that number. You’d think they’d come up with labor workforce arguments or taxes or something, but nope.
A writer for Christianity.com, Jen Thorn, has another. See, Satan hates Christians because they’ve escaped Hell, “oppose his kingdom and government,” and “hate sin.” Ugh, stupid Christians keep praying and living holy lives, and it makes Satan so mad! Of course, you’d really think a super-powerful angel wouldn’t really care if a few humans don’t like him, but projection is the very heart of Low Christianity.
Most Christians, like motivational speaker Barb Raveling, don’t even bother to try to explain Satan’s motivations.
Nor do they need to explain.
Look, Satan just attacks, okay? It’s what he does! He attacks!
These imaginary attacks are a cheap, easy substitute for achieving real importance in life
Many times, we’ve discussed how all too many Christian groups hand power to people who really shouldn’t be trusted with any of it. The leaders in these groups tend to be deeply authoritarian people, which means that the last thing they want is principled lieutenants who actually give a damn about their group’s stated ideals and rules. No, they want cronies who will cover for their hypocrisy and obey their whims without any backtalk or questions. So they hand power to sycophants who can be trusted not to step out of line, even if their superior officers do terrible things.
In such groups, gaining power simply requires many shows of loyalty and obedience, as well as the ability to stay afloat in deeply dysfunctional social groups.
Currying favor with these Christian groups becomes, then, a substitute for the hard work involved in gaining power with more reputable and well-designed systems.
Christianity contains a lot of cheap substitutes like that.
And imaginary attacks from imaginary boogeymen represent a substitution as well. Instead of becoming respected and noteworthy in the real world, Christians can claim that Satan is so scared of them and their TRUE CHRISTIAN™ fervor that he spends all his free time making their lives hard! Wow, they must really be something, right?
But the situation’s much worse than just that bit of noggin-expanding self-fluffing.
Christians respond to these imaginary attacks instead of solving their own very real problems
Take another gander at the list I gave earlier about the many forms of Satanic attacks. Most of the things on that list are real-world concerns that require real-world action to resolve. Cars need regular upkeep, and eventually owners will need substantial savings to purchase a new(ish) one once the old one starts getting too expensive to fix. Addictions may require a multi-pronged approach of medication, social support, therapy, and inpatient/outpatient treatment. Children may need all kinds of parental support to do well in school.
Natural disasters, well, you got me there. Nobody can really help those. But we can at least prepare for them as best we can.
However, once Christians recast a negative situation as a Satanic attack, then addressing it really only has one component:
Yep, good ol’ spiritual warfare! And spiritual warfare only takes a few standard-issue forms.
Joyce Meyer suggests literal thought stopping with Bible verses and “thoughts of humility and love.” David Jeremiah suggests Bible study and tightly, rigidly guarding one’s thoughts. And Kenneth Copeland, offering a hilarious projection by calling Satan “a cruel, merciless being,” suggests simply making up one’s mind not to give in to the attack, plunging into a Bible study, then telling Satan off and reframing the attack as quite a wonderful thing.
I gotta say, I followed almost that entire list of his on my last night as a Christian, and I still ended up deconverted.
Broken roadmaps exist for a reason
None of these strategies work. They’re all broken roadmaps. They won’t get Christians from Point Satan Attacked to Point Hooray Victorious, all because the attack isn’t real in the first place.
For that matter, though, neither is the victory.
But the situation is real, and addressing it with thought stoppers and reframing games won’t resolve it. It’ll just keep happening, because whatever led to it happening never got addressed.
gits leaders who push this nonsensical Low Christian folk belief don’t care. It’s not their cars breaking down, or their friendships dissolving, or their kids doing poorly in school, or their addictions tearing their lives apart. But if they keep reframing all of these negative events as attacks from Satan himself, they reap three valuable rewards:
- Followers get to think of themselves as very important and powerful, even if they are anything but in the real world. (Remember the old lady from This Present Darkness?) Even the earliest Christian writings delight in this kind of playful reversal: the first shall be last, etc.
- When the roadmap fails, followers won’t examine it carefully for flaws. Instead, they will blame themselves for not following its shoddy directions to the letter.
- If the situation isn’t really addressed in the real world, it will probably happen again. That will only make affected followers think that Satan has returned for another attack, leading to #1 and #2 being magnified in their minds.
Really, if I were developing a fake religion based around a nonexistent god and trying to make its nonsensical doctrines self-perpetuating, I couldn’t do a better job than what Low Christian leaders have done with this idea of Satan attacking people.
If I were Satan, I’d play this situation a lot smarter for sure
This has gotten me thinking tonight.
For a long time now, I’ve had a headcanon going about all those stories Christians tell about Satan cheating those who dare to make bargains with him. Sure, he gets things done when Yahweh refuses. But in these stories, dealing with the Devil is risky. He betrays anyone at the drop of a hat and lies whenever it suits him. He doesn’t even need a reason to inflict the worst suffering imaginable on even the nicest person.
This version of Satan sounds stupid and short-sighted.
You know, if I were Satan, I wouldn’t attack anybody. I’d never try to make them doubt or commit sins or whatever. Goodness, what a terrible way to achieve a goal. All an attack does is get the other person on the defensive. It only feeds into their existing worldview, too, as we see in all of the Christian sources I’ve cited today.
Instead, I’d make bargains and keep my promises. I wouldn’t cheat anybody. Instead, I’d do what I’d agreed to do. Instead of inflicting natural disasters and car breakdowns on people, I’d rescue them from the misfortunes Yahweh is happy to rain down upon the just and the unjust alike.
And they would come to me in the millions.
After all, Christians know that even in their worst stories about him, Satan answers prayer far more reliably than Jesus does. And he’s the ultimate communicator, able to cut right to the heart of false claims and lay bare a person’s deepest needs. Meanwhile, Yahweh/Jesus has struggled with his communication skills for thousands of years.
Willing recruits will do far more for me (speaking as Satan, of course) than unwilling conscripts ever would. I’d give my forces rewards for good behavior, training and compassion for mistakes, and chances for rehabilitation and redemption well before eternity ended. And I’d give them answers instead of dead silence.
Most of all, I would never, ever allow the children of my followers to come to harm at the hands of my own priests.
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Endnote: Years after deconverting, I once said that Last Unicorn quote to a woman billing herself as a Christian sorceress who was complaining about demonic curses on her car. She got VERY tetchy with me over it.