Friday, October 8, 2010
Blaming it on the devil. Friday, Oct. 8, 2010.
“The devil made me do it!” – Flip Wilson
In 1968 (when part of the world thought the utopian Age of Aquarius was dawning, and the other part thought the world was going straight to hell), Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song “Sympathy for the Devil” for the Rolling Stones’ “Beggar’s Banquet” album. The Stones, already under fire for their sexually suggestive lyrics and stage presence, were now accused of nothing less than Satanism.
It didn’t help matters that 18-year-old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by a Hell’s Angel after pulling out a gun in December 1969 at the Altamont Free Concert. The incident took place while the Stones were performing “Under My Thumb,” but almost overnight the urban legend developed that “Sympathy for the Devil” had been playing. Hunter’s death was blamed on none other than Lucifer himself.
As a Christian and a Rolling Stones fan, I have to stand up for the song’s true meaning. While the song is, in fact, narrated by the Devil (just as C.S. Louis’ “The Screwtape Letters” are narrated by a demon), the song really isn’t about Satanic powers. It’s about human beings and the crimes we have committed throughout history – medieval wars, the Russian Revolution of 1917, World War II, and the assassination of Jack and Bobby Kennedy.
Humankind has done all of these things, but in the song, the Devil wants credit. He claims to have been present at all these atrocities. He’s puffed-up and self-important. "If you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste,” he says. “Use all your well-learned politesse, or I'll lay your soul to waste."
What the Devil in the song doesn’t realize is that all of these events would have occurred without his help, because they were committed by human hands. In reality, the Devil is powerless; he depends on human beings to do his dirty work. The listener doesn’t want to have “sympathy” for him, but rather pity.
I don’t believe in Satan as a personification of evil, as a sort of anti-God, or as a creature with horns and a pitchfork that rules over a fiery Hell. When someone commits an evil act and blames it on the temptations of the Devil, I think they are taking the coward’s way out. Like the Devil in “Sympathy,” some people want to believe that someone or something outside of themselves is to blame for their actions. I do not believe mankind is inherently evil, but the evil that does exist is there because we create it.
The strange thing about the evil we create is that it does develop a life of its own. Humans can become so deluded, so confused, so sick that powers outside their control seem to take over. No where is this more true than in the act of suicide. All of my life I have felt in control, except for that morning in the motel room, when I had the distinct feeling that I was watching from outside of myself, like an audience member in a movie theatre.
There might not be an evil man in a red suit, but there are evil powers that can entrap us. All of my life I will be praying that those evil powers never come near me again. And the best way to keep them away is to remember at all times that I am responsible for myself.