Paradise lost?

Jews depend on the pluralism of America for their survival.

Satan and Santorum (photo credit: Avi Katz)
Satan and Santorum
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
I think we have to talk about Satan. I know him as hayetzer hara, the impulse for evil. I know him as the snake in the garden, which once had legs and lost them before history ever started. I have seen paintings of him, horns on the head, usually a red body and a pitchfork at the ready. So I was surprised to hear one of our US Republican presidential candidates, Rick Santorum, speak of him as if he were the nasty boy who lives next door with the Obama family.
Those horns of Satan have at times been placed on the heads of Jewish people in the minds of many Evangelicals and others with vivid imaginations and theological absolutes. Most Americans in 2012 are not afraid of being impaled on those Jewish horns, but I wouldn’t press the Santorum fans on the issue.
Satan, the poet Milton’s best character, poor exiled Satan, ex-angel who dared to rebel, that Satan, according to Santorum, sits on President Barack Obama’s shoulder, whispering in his ear evil theology that has captured the Democratic party. Yes, Santorum said Obama has a “phony theology.” He said: “Satan has his sights on the United States of America... This is a spiritual war.”
In America we are taught that all religions, except those that involve kissing poisonous snakes, are deserving of respect. We may prefer our own rabbi, priest, minister, guru, but we are a quilt of theologies and cosmologies that includes atheists and voodoo cults, high Episcopals and low Hindus. Our pride is in our multiple theologies and our multiple ways of understanding the universe that is above and below each of us, posing a million questions of morality and purpose, that each of us struggle with every day.
So it shocked me to hear Santorum, sanctimonious Santorum, speak in public about Satan. No wonder the man has opposed Darwin and castigates Obama for wanting more Americans to go to college. Go to college and you might end up thinking that Satan, like the Easter Bunny, is a metaphor, not a real creature like a donkey or an elephant.
Why should Jews care? Because those who think that Satan has a seat at the table are very apt to decide that Jews have horns and that those who do not believe in the resurrection are hostile to the Christian way of life. I don’t care what they think in their private world, inside their homes and churches and schools. But what they might do with political power is very scary.
Is it more scary than if we elected a Nazi president and gave his party many seats in our Congress? Is it more scary than a Stalinist who would gladly sacrifice a million people to one idea or another? Probably not.
But is it scary? Yes, it is.
Because if you are sure that Satan walks among us, then you become sure that you know you can identify him, and that he isn’t in your party, he is in mine. He isn’t in your church, he is in my house of worship, or my graduate school. And if you think I am Satan-infected, you may try to get rid of the evil by getting rid of me. And here we have a good reason for Jews to get nervous. We depend on the pluralism of America for our survival. We depend on the intelligent morality of those who respect other positions. Any candidate for president who calls his opponent's theology “phony” is no friend of ours whatever his position on Israel may be.
Santa Claus is a sweet old man. Satan doesn’t like Jews. Neither of them are real. •