The Criminal Belief in the Devil
A criminal belief that’s done so much harm
HAVANA TIMES – Vilma Trujillo, a young woman from a remote rural community of the North Atlantic Region of Nicaragua, was burned in a bonfire last February 21 for being possessed by the devil, all with the approval of a Protestant pastor – or lay leader, which makes no difference– and with the knowledge of the whole congregation – or of some, which makes no difference.
Her murder can be analyzed from several perspectives: the institutional aspects of those churches; the legal aspects of the crime; or the abandonment and ignorance in which such zones of our country have remained for centuries.
All these points of view are necessary to sensitize us about what has happened, but I feel that we need to go deeper to get to the root of this crime. I believe that the root of this horrendous event is the pernicious belief in the existence of the devil, preached for millennia to frighten people.
It’s the tree of faith in the devil that over the long history of Christianity – Catholic as well as Protestant – has produced fruits exactly as rotten as this crime that occurred in Nicaragua. It’s that tree that we should torn up by the roots and from the core.
This is something that’s not spoken about when the killing of Vilma is discussed. Vilma was a young woman who perhaps also believed in the devil, and for that reason agreed to go to church to pray, believing that because she was unfaithful to her husband she was possessed of the devil. Who knows what happened in the days during which they kept her locked up, fasting, praying…
Like all his countrymen, Jesus of Nazareth believed in the devil. He also believed that the earth was flat and that it was the sun that rotated in the sky, rising each morning and disappearing every afternoon. Jesus and his countrymen were mistaken.
In the Bible, as in all of the ancient books, there are many allusions to the devil, who is given a variety of names and titles, all emphasizing his immense power.
Like all of his contemporaries, Jesus spoke of the devil and believed in his existence. But that belief wasn’t the center of his message, not by a long shot. He merely used it as an “element of contrast” for the good news that he was announcing; and the novel portion of that good news, the essential part of his message was the existence of a good God in whom unlimited faith could be had, and the overcoming of fear as a path to “salvation.” How could a good God leave an evil spirit loose in the world to inflict harm on people?
Because he announced a good God, and failed to coincide with what the other priests, scribes, Pharisees and other ministers of God were teaching, Jesus himself was considered a blasphemer. They accused him of being possessed by the devil. Although they didn’t burn him at the stake, they did kill him for his provocative ideas and for the ethics he proposed based on a substantially changed image of God.
In Jesus’ time, the origin of most diseases was unknown. All those illnesses that today we know to have a psychic or neurological basis – epilepsy, mental disturbances, deafness and muteness – were at that time understood to be symptoms of the presence of the devil, who had the power to enter into human bodies. Being sick was often considered a sign of diabolical possession. The “possessed”, who according to the evangelical stories Jesus approached and cured, without ever condemning them or submitting them to any physical punishment, were surely victims of such illnesses.
The work “demon” (“daimon” in Greek) means literally “torn off”. A psychological and modern vision of this concept understands these “demons” as the shadows of our own conscience, something known as “neurotic components” of the personality, the hidden face of our psyche. If we reject these “shadows” they will pursue us. And we’ll end up attributing what are simply our own weaknesses, our limitations, our dark side, to an evil supernatural being outside of ourselves, in other words to the devil. In behaving thus, we avoid taking responsibility for our own actions.
We have to learn to take control of our “demons”. The more we negate them and reject them, the greater the power they have over us. A Zen master says: “Make friends with your rage, it forms a part of you, it’s your vital energy. Don’t cut off your finger when it hurts you”. The less we accept our shadows, the less we recognize them, the more we will project them onto others: on those of another race, on women, on homosexuals, on those who are different. In that way, we “demonize” our fellows. In that way, it will always be “others” who are responsible, who are guilty.
How many times in our country have we heard those who have sexually abused a child say that he did it because “the devil got into him”? How many times have the television stations broadcast as news scenes of the “possessed” convulsing: always poor people, surely ill and suffering discrimination…
Numerous Catholic and Protestant theologians –although less so the ministers of the Protestant sects that abound in our country – have questioned the existence of the devil using solid arguments.
I especially remember the German Catholic priest and university professor Herbert Hagg. His passion was the idea of “building bridges between the Bible’s message and the people of today.” He wrote a basic book on this topic: “The Devil: his existence as problem.” In his book, Haag documents the horrendous historic fruits that “faith in the devil” has wrought throughout the history of Humanity and especially throughout the history of Christianity.
Perhaps the most horrible of all was the burning of witches during the dark centuries of the Inquisition. Using Biblical texts as a basis, the priests of the inquisition affirmed that women loved or hated with no middle ground, and that this trait dragged them into committing acts of extreme evil during which they became accomplices of the devil, who possesses them. They also said that women are by nature credulous, and for that reason the devil “makes attacking them a priority,” a fact demonstrated by Eve’s temptation in paradise. In addition, they said, women are inferior and that makes their faith fragile and vulnerable to the devil. The Latin word “femina” that some journalists employ frequently means just that: a person of fe menor or of weaker faith.
Vilma Murillo left this world without knowing, perhaps, that her death has bonded her in sisterhood to the thousands of women who were also thrown into the fire many centuries before her because the religious authorities considered them to be possessed by the devil. The last one burned in Europe was named Ana; she was burned in Switzerland in 1782. She was a poor woman from the countryside, just like you were, Vilma.
This article has been translated from Spanish by Havana Times.