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The Devil: what power he holds over human thought!
We have given him many names: Satan, Diablo, Prince of Darkness, Beast, and the Serpent. In human history we have envisioned him enthroned and unconquerable, whispering in our ear every possible excuse and rationale for tempting us to sin. He always threatens our higher nature or spiritual self, and some even confer on him a power equal to God. Many fear his relentless attack, and believe they must fight it off daily.
But What if the Devil has no Independent Existence?
Sigmund Freud created for us a scientific language to describe our inner states. He defined the id, our instincts, as the “I want,” the ego as “Reality,” and the superego as “Morality,” as well as the moderator in a constant power struggle between the id and the ego. The Baha’i teachings similarly describe this ongoing life struggle as between our two inner states: our lower, or animal heritage, and our higher, or spiritual nature:
It is evident, therefore, that man is dual in aspect: as an animal he is subject to nature (instincts), but in his spiritual or conscious being he transcends the world of material existence. His spiritual powers, being nobler and higher, possess virtues of which nature intrinsically has no evidence; therefore, they triumph over natural conditions. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 81.
The Real Struggle: Not Against an Outside Force, but Within Ourselves
Animals, captives of their nature or instincts, cannot be held accountable for the actions that flow from them. However, humans are held accountable because, although endowed with an animal body, we are given a soul at conception that allows us to overcome our harmful instinctual desires. The soul is the mechanism that allows us to triumph over what historically we have referred to as “the temptations of the devil.” In the Bible we read that we are made in the image of God. Of course, this does not mean we can ever be God, but because of our souls, we can choose to reflect His divine virtues, elevating our behavior—or we can decide to follow our lowest inclinations. Abdu’l-Baha describes the consequences of the second choice, which can result in behavior lower than any animal:
In this material world, man is subject to the force of instinctual desires, of which sin is the inevitable consequence, for these desires are not bound by the laws of justice and righteousness. The body of man is a prisoner of nature and will act in accordance with whatsoever nature dictates. It follows that sins—such as wrathfulness, envy, contentiousness, greed, avarice, ignorance, rancour, corruption, pride, and cruelty—must exist in the material world. – Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 133.
The Comfort of the Devil
Since humanity has spiritually, physically, intellectually and materially evolved over time, from infancy through adolescence, our understanding of reality has changed and evolved, as well. With no flat earth came a new age of exploration and an explosion of knowledge. As we approach our spiritual adulthood, to fuel our advancement, we must also be able to leave behind the persona of the devil—which equaled our capacity to understand in our childhood, but no longer symbolizes reality. A child’s excuse for bad behavior is that someone or something else always made them do it. But with spiritual adulthood there comes a new reality, a new maturity and the ability to act as an adult, without excuses or externalized blame.
Doing Without the Devil
We no longer need to believe in that Devil we have placed on a throne, now unmasked and vulnerable to destruction. It’s sobering to realize that all the evil in the world comes out of our own lower natures, but until we accept this reality we can’t take full responsibility for ourselves and the state of humanity in general. However, when we realize that only one all-powerful force exists outside ourselves—the Creator—we can be motivated to act to establish God’s kingdom on Earth. Spiritual elevation is the true weapon against evil, and the Baha’i teachings offer many tools to help us reach this goal.
So: do we go where our lower nature leads us, or are we led by our higher spiritual selves? This is the essence of the human struggle, and each one of us gets to make the decision.