“Satan masquerades as an angel of light,” the Bible claims (2 Corinthians 11:14, NIV). Surely then, he must frequent in Christian robes. The idea that Satan, the literal or mythical personification of evil, presents as his opposite has caused no small amount of paranoia throughout Christian history and Christian groups with divergent theological positions have been known to accuse the other camp of unknowingly following the devil. Jesus himself was accused of demon-possession by his religious contemporaries (Matthew 12:22-32, Luke 11:14-23, John 7:20, 8:48, 10:19-20) and Jesus called his religious contemporaries’ children of the devil (John 8:44). For some reason, self-reflection has rarely entered this historical picture of accusing the other of following Satan. Given that the devil is, conceivably, ingenious and cunning at levels of magnitude beyond puny human intelligence, a reasonable question for all Christians to ask themselves would be, how do I know I’m following God and not the devil?
This is, admittedly, a scary and disorienting question to ask, and few churches encourage critical thinking at this level. Yet there is perhaps no question more paramount to the Church if it wants to be the Church at all. Therefore, it is incumbent upon every aspiring follower of Jesus to reflect more courageously and darkly. Assuming what the Bible says about the devil is true (for the sake of argument) then a devil-worshipping Christianity surely exists. The Bible teaches that the devil presently rules the world and its major institutions (1 John 5:19, Ephesians 3:10; 6:11-12), that he is worshiped as God (“the god of this age” 2 Corinthians 4:4, NIV), and he seeks to be acknowledged as God by the faithful (Matthew 4:9, 2 Corinthians 11:14). Following the Bible’s logic, since Christianity is one of the world’s most major institutions, we must assume that a major iteration of Christianity exists in which the devil is worshiped as God (and presumably it has existed in one form or another throughout the ages). Therefore, Christians should imagine what a Christianity in which the devil is worshiped as God would look like so that they can recognize it. And they should not unthinkingly assume they are not members of it.
How could the devil succeed in deceiving well-intentioned Christians that he is the Christian God so that they would worship him? The devil would look and act as close to God as possible, which means he would be one of the greatest humanitarians the world has ever seen. For how could the devil succeed in deceiving the world that he is God if he didn’t accomplish good? Satan would not hesitate for a moment to help and heal people (the Bible claims with supernatural miracles, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11) as a means to accomplish his goals of power and vainglory. Moreover, he would affirm Christian Scriptures and tradition, including his version of Jesus. And he would give people a sense of community and spiritual connection.
How then could we distinguish the devil from a bona fide angel of light? The devil’s tell, according to the Bible, is that he lies. And his lie entails appearing to be godly but having the opposite character. The devil would be the worst of sociopaths by nature, but he would work very hard to hide it through “the appearance of godliness,” (2 Timothy 3:5, ESV) and he would, “deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22, NIV). Unlike pop culture, cartoonish depictions of Satan, an intelligent personification of evil would be a master of using good to cover up his evil, and of manipulating and abusing good people with the best of intentions to meet his maniacal ends.
Abuse and deception are characterized not by pure evil and lies but by mixture–mixture of healing and harm, good and evil, and truth and falsehood. If abusive partners were purely evil, few people would stay with them, and if liars never told the truth, few would ever believe them. It is the mixture of good with evil and the employment of partial truths that creates confusion and keeps well-intentioned people from perceiving their manipulation. We raise our children hoping they’ll have the discernment to recognize abusive partners, and we pray they’ll have the courage to walk away from a relationship if they recognize telltale signs of abuse, which include threatening or carrying out violence, controlling your sexuality, and demeaning you so you’ll be reliant on them. All of these are ways in which the biblical God, especially as he is emphasized by Evangelical Christianity, treats his beloveds. Unfortunately, few people are raised to recognize abuse and manipulation in their own religion.
If the devil were a Christian God, he would speak to his followers abusively and with mixed messaging, combining words of love with terrifying threats. He would say things like, “I love you unconditionally, but I’ll torture you with fire forever if you stray from me.” He would teach his followers that they are eternally under his protection and simultaneously fill them with doubt about their status, threatening to take away their salvation if they fail to obey his every word and suggesting that they might not even be among the elect, to begin with. And he would teach his beloveds to pray with self-degrading, fear-inspired language that decreases their self-efficacy and self-esteem and increases their dependency on him, such as, “God I confess I’m a wretch just like you tell me I am, I know I don’t deserve your love, thank you for not punishing me and please save my unbelieving neighbor from your anger issue.”
If the devil were a Christian God, he would use his position as supreme deity as cover for his sociopathy. While the Bible plainly and blasphemously attributes the grossest imaginable evils to God that Christians themselves condemn in every other context–genocide, eternal torture, slavery, violent revenge, and others–Evangelicals (and many other Christians) are taught that these very evils are signs of God’s justice, inscrutable wisdom, and love. Devilishness is redefined as godliness.
If the devil were a Christian God, he would cover up his evils by lying about the nature of the Bible. He would proclaim the Bible to be without error so that he could endorse the evil teachings contained within it as truth, and he would use the Bible’s harmful teachings to justify his evil as righteousness theologically. He would deny the Bible’s many verifiable errors (historical, scientific, moral, psychological, etc.) and distorted ideas about God by claiming that the Bible is perfectly inspired, and therefore every word in it must be revered as truth without question–even against evidence to the contrary. His teaching that appeals to scriptural inspiration supersedes commonsense morality and rationality would keep his followers from questioning the ideas in the Bible that they know to be wrong in every other context and therefore from detecting his deception, even as their moral and intellectual capacities function well in the other areas of their lives.
As a Christian God, the devil’s plan for the universe would maximize pain, suffering, and evil. But he would spin it as justice. Evangelical Christianity teaches that the vast majority of humanity will suffer unending torture in physical and psychological fire and that this is God’s perfect will for his creation. What outcome could possibly be more Satanic or blasphemous to attribute to a loving God? Hell is literally the most evil and awful idea imaginable, and yet the Evangelical God proclaims it to be his vision of perfection, love, and justice. If, as Jesus advises us, we judged a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20) and assessed the being who designed hell based on his actions rather than his claims about himself, how could we possibly conclude that such a being is good?
If the devil were a Christian God, he would punish people he capriciously (maliciously?) chose in advance not to have the capacity to receive his grace. According to the Bible, God predestines people to unbelief and damnation. He actively hardens their hearts so that they will disobey him and become recipients of his wrath (Romans 9:6-24). They are utterly incapable of believing in him by his own design. Yet, God claims, they deserve to be punished in hell for his withholding of grace. Why would a loving creator treat his own creatures with such abject cruelty and sadomasochism, torturing them for an evil decision he made for them? The Bible warns us not to ask such questions: “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?” (Romans 9:19-20, NIV).
If the devil were a Christian God, he would be a fascist with maniacal plans of world domination that he would carry out under the guise of healing and world peace and accomplish through violent holy war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Like most fascists, he would embrace ethnonationalism, elevating one ethnic group and nation-state and its distinctive religious texts and rites above all others, using their supposed superior status as a pretense for physical and ideological conquest of the world’s diverse peoples and their spiritual traditions. In the Bible, God elects the people of Israel to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 18:18)–which takes place in the Old Testament through war and empire-building and in the New Testament through the Great Commission Conquest (conversion to Christianity) and the vanquishing of the world’s spiritual traditions. God promises that Israel will bring peace to the world (Isaiah 2:2-4) by ruling over the nations with an iron rod of brute force and punishing dissent (Psalms 2:9, Revelation 2:27). The conquered nations will serve Israel and pay tribute to them as vassal states, “To you [Israel] the riches of the nations will come… Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you… For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined” (Isaiah 60: 5, 10, 12, NIV). The entire biblical book of Joshua is genocide propaganda, in which God commands Israel to ethnically cleanse its neighbors in a holy war and take possession of their land.
This violent religious conquest continues throughout the whole biblical narrative. In the New Testament, Jesus takes it to a new level with his end-times teachings. The Second Coming of Jesus is described in the Book of Revelation as a violent bloodbath in which Jesus genocidally slaughters most of humanity through plague and war. Israel’s manifest destiny is fulfilled through Christianity except now in a more extreme way: all who fail to convert and bow the knee to Jesus are tortured forever in the lake of fire.
If the devil were a Christian God, he would be self-centered (narcissistic). In the Bible, God incessantly seeks his own glory and refuses to acknowledge others for their genuine accomplishments and merits–unless he can somehow glorify himself in so doing. Many Christians claim this is because all glory rightly belongs only to God since he is the source of all good, and that therefore, to glorify anything else is to fail to acknowledge the highest good. While this is a somewhat rational justification, God’s behavior in the Bible is clearly modeled after authoritarian, fascistic kings common in ancient times instead of some sublime philosophical conception of glory. God is often excessively egocentric and brutal. Rather than consistently acting as a praiseworthy spiritual leader who models humility, God frequently acts like an insecure, self-centered tyrant bent on bolstering his own ego and advancing his fragile self-image above all else. The foundation of a relationship with him is fear and submission (Proverbs 9:10) rather than love and freedom. He meets the full diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
If the devil were a Christian God, he would stamp out legitimate forms of mystical and psychospiritual practice that are well-evidenced to increase human flourishing such as yoga, meditation, plant medicines, and earth-based rituals, demonizing them as “pagan,” “witchcraft,” and demonically inspired. These practices tend to lead to self-actualization and questioning of dogmatic, controlling ideologies, so they are rightly perceived as threatening by controlling religious authorities. The devil would divide and conquer humanity and unnecessarily set the world’s theological traditions against each other by cultivating an us-and-them mentality in his followers, proclaiming them to be superior and using labels and slurs like “unbeliever, “worldly,” and “heathen” to dehumanize and degrade outsiders.
As a Christian God, the devil would use dogmatic claims to authority like appeals to the pope or the Bible as the sole arbiter of truth to crush dissent and keep people from listening to their own hearts in freedom (which would make them less likely to submit to his control). He would endorse oppressive ideologies like patriarchy, homophobia, and religious imperialism that lend themselves to authoritarianism. He would control people through spiritual possession, taking over their sovereign right to their own bodies, sexuality, thoughts, and free expression through his Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He would utilize religious practices of mind control and thought-stopping (obsessive confession of sin, brainwashing with Scripture memorization) and punish people for thoughts and emotions that do not align with his agenda. He would cultivate paranoia in his followers about the secular world, life, and alternative spiritualities, threatening to leave his beloveds behind in the End Times Rapture or allowing them to be tormented by demons if they choose to follow their intuition and healthy desires and embrace an alternative path. The devil’s teachings would promise deliverance from addiction and trauma but lead to mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and PTSD and addictive, compulsive dependency on religious practices like confession and exorcism that fail to address underlying root causes of distress. As a Christian God, the devil would teach people that they are born with an evil nature deserving of punishment and cannot trust themselves; therefore, they must constantly approach divinity and life as victims and outsource their power. He would command people to devote their sexuality entirely to him and suppress their healthy sexual urges in order to establish their total subservience and harness their sexual energy for his purposes.
Such a damning (not exhaustive) catalog of ways the Bible’s and Evangelicalism’s God behaves like the devil begs the question, why is this the case? The answer depends significantly on one’s metaphysical orientation (i.e., is there a spiritual reality or not, is the devil a metaphor or a real entity). Notwithstanding, what is clear is that the Bible’s authors often channeled sinister ideologies into their writings and proclaimed them as divine truth. Were they simply unconscious of deeply manipulative and harmful ideologies and tactics common in their times? This was certainly the case to a great extent. Biblical texts reflect the prejudices, superstitions, and systemic injustices of the ancient peoples who authored them.
Yet the manipulations of many biblical doctrines, especially as proclaimed and developed by Evangelical Christianity, seem to go a level beyond mere unconsciousness. According to many of the early Christians known as Gnostics (who were later condemned as heretics), the Old Testament God Yahweh was not the One True God, but an evil demiurge who put religious people under dogmatic control (DeConick, 2016, pp. 31-37). Historically, Yahweh was originally a Canaanite deity of metallurgy in the pantheon of the chief God El (Amzallag, 2009, pp. 387-404) who was adopted by Israel to be their strongman and chief deity to deliver from them from foreign oppression and exile. They consolidated their national identity under his ironclad rule as monotheists and enacted violent revenge upon their enemies and the vanquishing of their religious traditions. Their doctrines of murderous vengeance upon their enemies who had brutally oppressed them led to the invention of the evil doctrine of hell. Was the Canaanite demigod Yahweh a dark influence on biblical religion? Again, the answer to this question depends largely on one’s metaphysical orientation. It is probably wise not to paint an overly simplistic picture of Yahweh, as many deities during this historical period contained good and evil qualities and there are also positive teachings and representations of divinity associated with Yahweh.
My intention is not to paint a black-and-white picture and claim that the Bible, the Christian God, or any particular Christian group is all or even mostly bad or sinister. It is to acknowledge a very dark side to the Christian tradition and its sacred text that most modern-day Christians ignore, disavow, or pass off the blame for onto other Christian traditions. All Christians, and all people who are recovering from religious trauma they endured as Christians, would serve both themselves and others by deconstructing their beliefs and renouncing harmful teachings.
Religious ideology has incredible potential for power and control, and therefore abuse. This was the case during the writing of the Bible and remains so today. It should therefore surprise no one that people with bad motives and dark inspirations authored both biblical texts and more modern Christian doctrines in deliberately deceptive and self-serving ways. Peoples’ ideas about God represent their best and worst tendencies. Christianity, especially in its more dogmatic forms, has been hijacked throughout its history by sinister intelligences to manipulate people with the best of intentions to embrace some of the most toxic ideologies and practices ever conceived. If the Bible was inspired by God, then it was also inspired by Satan.
Amzallag, N. (2009). Yahweh, the Canaanite God of Metallurgy? Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 33(4), 387– 404. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309089209105686
DeConick, A. (2016). The Gnostic New Age. Columbia University Press.
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I’m Andrew Jasko, Master of Divinity (M.Div.), MA Counseling Psychology In Progress, and I work to help you transform your trauma into the place of your power and connect to a healthy, authentic spirituality that works for you (whether that’s as a spiritual not religious, atheist, religious, transitioning, or agnostic identifying person). I was born into a minister’s family and became a preacher and missionary to India, after studying theology at Wheaton College and Princeton Seminary. As a Christian, my relationship with God was my passion, but unhealthy religious teachings caused me an anxiety disorder, sexual repression, and spiritual disillusionment. I felt alone, traumatized, and abandoned by the divine. After an agonizing crisis of faith, I rejected religion and spirituality. Then, I reintegrated a healthy spirituality through mystical, humanist, and holistic practices. My passion is to help you to heal and connect with your authentic sense of spirituality or purpose.