23 February, 2009
Writing about EVIL.
Note: this is a response to this, this, and oh-my-goodness I love that.
I remember believing in God before I can recall being taught He existed. I wish I could remember learning about satan. I don't, but I assume I learned about it in Primary (this was the source of most LDS-specific doctrine I learned as a child). Of all the unique doctrines the LDS church espouses, I think our beliefs about Satan are truly unique, and yet very rarely talked about. Now obviously all Christians believe in the devil. Even other, non-Christian religions claim there exists some form of opposition, be in the form of man's fleshy carnal instincts, evil spirits, or whatever else. But our belief that Satan was a guy like us who chose to fall from grace and now fulfills (albeit begrudgingly) a crucial role in God's plan for opposition in all things...that's some nightmarish stuff. Because Satan isn't some jerk in a red Halloween costume. He's guy just like us who made really bad choices. Making him not only difficult to identify in a crowd, but almost sympathetic. I know we can't (or rather shouldn't) empathize with Satan, but really, who doesn't empathize with being too smart for your own good and, upon being rejected from everything you've ever known, seeing no other viable option but to seek the destruction of all who didn't commit to the good vs evil dichotomy as passionately (one way or the other) as you?
Okay. Maybe not everyone can empathize with that. But I can. And I'm not meaning to sound like an advocate for Satan. That douchebag is trying to destroy my life as much as yours, and I definitely resent him for it. My point is that the real satan is scarier than the satans in Renaissance paintings. Because he doesn't carry a pitchfork and run around throwing cobras into people's faces (at least, not literally). He actually seems alright. He makes some excellent-sounding points. As President Faust pointed out, if satan's voice didn't sound so good, no one would ever listen to it.
It's important for us as writers to realize that. That most villains in fairy tales are a vast oversimplification. That evil is a subtle thing. And that's how it ought to be portrayed. Oftentimes in movies (both those made by Mormons and those that are not) evil is portrayed as something fairly easy to recognize. Like Professor Snape (even though he turned out to be good ... which was part of the genius of that story). The ugly guy in black is always bad. Now obviously to some degree, evil can be recognized with the aid of intuition and the spirit. But it's not easy. And if we make it seem so, we would be doing ourselves and the gospel a disservice. I think it's really important that when we talk about or write about satan and his followers, we make it abundantly clear: EVIL IS HARD TO PICK OUT. If it weren't subtle, if figuring out the difference between good and evil weren't really, really, tough, why else would we need the assistance of the Holy Ghost to figure it out? Exactly.
Another freaky thing about satan is that he's not alone. Maybe I'm off here, but in my opinion most of those so-called "satan-worshippers" are too dumb and too messed-up to be much of a threat to God or his aims. They don't know enough about anything to be entirely accountable, or else they wouldn't do it. It's the people who worship satan unconsciously who are the real threat. There shouldn't be any Sauron-type characters in Mormon media or in any media. Evil for the sake of evil doesn't make any sense, and nobody in our generation is going to fall for it.
Finally, we need to make it clear that being enticed by evil or even having experience with evil does not doom anyone. Yet another general Christian concept that some Mormons seem to miss: we are all sinners. Everyone has fallen for satan's tricks many, many times. Obviously in the next life the divide between good choices and bad choices is much clearer, but in this life, those that mess up do not automatically join satan's forces and start raising hell, as it were. I think it's really important that we recognize we're in a war, but the sides are nebulous. There's all sorts of crazy stuff going on in the mortal world, and like Scott said, we would be dishonest not to portray all of it.