Is Satan real? Spoiler: yes!

Has anyone else noticed a sudden increase in Jehovah’s Witnesses on the streets of Britain in recent months? I keep seeing them handing out their Watchtower magazines and “What does the Bible really say?” booklets everywhere lately.

Last month, I was mildly curious and accepted one of the offered magazines. (This, along with my cheerful, “ooh, yes please!” seemed to produce a response in the offerer similar to a mild electric shock.) The reason for my interest was the cover story and its headline, “Is Satan real?” According to Betteridge’s Law of Newspaper Headlines, if an article’s headline is framed as a question, the answer is invariably “no”. However, Watchtower violated that rule, because it turned out, much to my surprise, that the answer is “yes”.

The thing I love about these pamphlets is the contrast between presentation and content. There’s obviously a huge effort put into their production and distribution: the professional design and printing, the man hours spent standing in the street handing them out. The statement they make is so bold and unambiguous: is Satan real? Yes! You start to think there must be something to it. The slick marketing materials imply the backing of a professional organisation, but no professional organisation would stick its neck out to say something so daring unless it was sure of its facts. (There’s no small print underneath “Satan is real” revealing that that’s just the opinion of “36 out of 52 people surveyed”.)

Yet when you read the article, you quickly realise that behind the professional sheen, it’s just nonsense. It’s like a small child has accidentally been given access to a commercial marketing department and design studio. Where you expect extraordinary revelations, what you find is a void, a complete absence of evidence, a tissue-thin facade of argument, and an insight into such confusion and ignorance on the part of the author that any sane person would be embarrassed to admit it to their closest confidant, let alone publish and broadcast it across towns and cities nationwide.

One of the themes that emerged from my series of “Responses to 22 Creationists” articles was the completely different standard of justification of belief that is applied in the religious mind, and it’s clear from any Watchtower article that the same is true for its authors. Without exception, the only evidence offered to support any claim is scripture. Every paragraph ends with a reference to a Bible passage. The whole thing reads like an A-level English literature essay, alternating between quoted passages and conclusions drawn from them, except that the conclusions aren’t about the content and meaning of the book, but about the contents and meaning of reality.

The main aim of the article is to disprove the liberal religious view that Satan is a metaphor, and all Biblical passages which feature him, such as the temptation of Christ, are allegories. Hilariously failing to get the point, the author counters this with the response, “but the Bible clearly describes Jesus as having a conversation with Satan, and you can’t have a conversation with an allegory.”

“It’s the conversation that’s the allegory!” you want to scream, as you smack the author’s face against the brick wall which is an allegory for your conversation with him.

The author reaches a peak of idiocy in his conclusion, when he considers the future fate of Satan. Reaching the end of an article in which he has assumed throughout that every word of the Bible is literally true, and based his entire argument on that assumption, he asks what it means in Revelation 20:10 when it says that Satan will be “hurled into the lake of fire and sulfur”:

“Of course, physical fire and sulfur cannot harm an invisible spirit creature. Therefore, the lake of fire must represent eternal destruction.”

Oh, of course! The Bible can be metaphor after all, but only when it contradicts all the other insane make-believe shit that we should accept as real.

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