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Beliefs about Satan by liberal & conservative
Protestants, and Catholics

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Liberal Christian Beliefs

According to one Baptist source: "Religious liberals do not believe in the literal reality and actual personality of Satan...The devil or Satan is not at all a real person, but only an impersonal evil force present and operating in the world." 6 The same source estimates that 75% of American clergy hold this belief.

Many liberal religious faith groups believe that Satan and demons do not exist as living entities. Jesus, his disciples and the general public during the time of Christ's ministry clearly believed in Satan and armies of demons. However, they lived in a pre-scientific age. People in 1st century CE Palestine used the concept of demonic possession to account for mental illness, bad weather, lightning, thunder, unfortunate accidents, dreams of nocturnal seduction, etc. These beliefs continued through the Middle Ages in to the Renaissance. However, medical, mental and physical sciences have provided better and simpler explanations to phenomena once believed to be caused by demons. Today, with the exception of Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians, very few mental health professionals attribute mental illness to indwelling demons.

Most would regard the concepts of Satan, demons, spiritual warfare, demon possession etc as being totally divorced from reality, a left-over belief from a pre-scientific era. Two quotations reflecting this liberal interpretation of Satan are:

bullet By Author G. Messandé:

"We live under the sign of a nonexistent deity cobbled together twenty-six centuries ago by power-hungry Iranian priests. We live under the sign of Satan. Is this our destiny - are we to let an imaginary monster devour us forever?" 7

bullet By John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop:

"Evil is real, but an external being who causes it is a human projection of part of our own reality into the external world of being. The devil is an excuse, someone to blame, part of the system of control that religious institutions set up to keep themselves dominant."

"Belief in an external devil has done more harm than we can imagine. Executing the witches of Salem, Massachusetts, is only one of them."

"It is time for the human race to grow up and let go of these childish ideas." 14

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Conservative Christian Beliefs

Most conservative denominations teach that God inspired the authors of the Old and New Testaments to write material that is inerrant -- free of error. The books were composed by individuals who were inspired by God. They view the Bible is completely free of error, as originally written. Since they believe that the Bible is totally truthful and reliable, then they are forced to conclude from the many references to Satan as a person that he must exist. If they deny the existence of Satan and his demons as real, living entities, then they have to also deny the inerrancy of the Bible. The latter is such a foundational belief, that it cannot be abandoned.

Conservative Christian beliefs appear to dominate the Internet. A search phrase "exist satan" on the AltaVista  search engine showed that all of the first 12 articles were written from a conservative Christian perspective. According to the same Baptist source cited above:  "Any system of religious belief that denies the literal reality and actual personality of Satan is radically unChristian and unBiblical in nature and clearly under the dominion of the very devil whom it denies." 6 Many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical denominations teach that Satan:

bullet Is as a real, living entity.
bullet Is described in many locations of Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, with the same powers, abilities and personality throughout.
bullet Was once archangel. ("archos" means "chief", and "angelos" means "messenger" in Greek).
bullet Was "Lucifer, the first and most glorious creation of God."7
bullet Staged a revolt in heaven with the help of some renegade angels
bullet Is now exiled from heaven with his followers
bullet Roams across the earth doing evil.
bullet Is supported by countless demons. Although the origin of these demons is not clearly defined in the Bible, most conservative Christians believe that demons are the fallen angels who were exiled from heaven with Satan.
bullet Is either the leader of, or a major influence on, all non-Judeo-Christian religions. One Fundamentalist writer believes that "The great ethnic faiths of India, China and Japan major in demonism, as well as the animistic religions of Africa, South America and some Islands." 8  Some look upon Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Native American spirituality, etc as forms of Satanism. The Gods and Goddesses of other religions are often seen as Satan himself, or as demons under the control of Satan.

Harvest Ministries has an excellent, clearly written essay on Satan, as seen from an Evangelical Christian perspective. 9

The conservative Christian position is well represented by a quotation from the writings of Richard Lee and Ed. Hindson: 10

"Today people are experimenting with astrology, witchcraft, Ouija boards, divination, channeling, Tarot cards, fortune-tellers, mediums, crystals and shamans. Mankind has come to the final conclusion of disbelief in God and has turned to belief in the very opposite! Satan has cleverly convinced the modern mind that he is not to be taken seriously until all other spiritual options are exhausted. Then, when empty souls turn to him in desperation, he can take them over completely and totally.

C.S. Lewis wrote in 'The Screwtape Letters,' 'There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors.' " 11

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Roman Catholic Beliefs

The Roman Catholic Church has long held beliefs concerning the nature of Satan which are similar to those of conservative Protestants. He is seen as a supernatural entity who has great powers. He has been referred to as the Accursed Dragon, Evil One, Foul Spirit, Master of Deceit, Prince of Darkness, Satanic Power, etc.12  

Satan and his demons had been frequently held responsible for demonic possession. A demon or Satan himself was seen to dwell within a person and control their activity.  The church has recently taken the first steps towards overhauling its vision of Satanic possession to more closely match the liberal concept. Satan is no longer a seen as attacking people and attempting to posses them from outside. Rather, most cases of possession are seen as caused by a force "lurking within all individuals." Such cases are best treated by mental health professionals. However, the church is not revising "scriptural references to the Devil or suggesting that people cease believing in the Evil One" at this time. So, belief in Satan continues, even though his involvement in mental illness and demonic possession is being downgraded.

The Pope discussed Satan during one of his Wednesday meetings with the faithful on 1999-AUG-18. He explained how Satan was absolutely vanquished by Christ. However, Satan is still present today attempting to seduce individuals into committing wrongful acts. Father S. De Fiores subsequently discussed Satan on Vatican Radio. He discussed the concept of "diabolic circles" which are concentrations of evil in the world. He linked this evil to Atheism, the quest for power, and the presence of Satan. The results are "gulags, Auschwitz, [and] the ethnic cleansing of our time." He continued: "Satan camouflages himself, trying to make good seem evil and vice versa."

During early 2004, many residents of Canneto di Caronia, a small village of about 40 homes near Messina in Sicily, became convinced that their electrical appliances and furniture have become possessed by demons. Spontaneous fires had broken out in refrigerators, television sets, washing machines, and cell phones. Mayor Pedro Spinnato is reported as saying: "We cannot risk a tragedy through these fires, so I have no other option but to evacuate the village. We have had electrical engineers in to examine cables and wires but they can find no explanation. It is not just electrical items, furniture is also catching fire for no reason. Already people are blaming the events on evil spirits and I am being asked to get the local priest to perform an exorcism." Spinnato ordered an evacuation of the village.

Vatican exorcist Gabriele Amorth told the Italian newspaper Il Messagero: "I've seen things like this before. Demons occupy a house and appear in electrical goods. ... Let's not forget that Satan and his followers have immense powers." He told the Scotsman: "With cases of demon behavior, it is normal for domestic appliances to be involved and for demons [to] make their presence known via electricity." 13

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  1. G. Barna, "The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators," Word Publishing, Dallas TX (1996), Page 22.
  2. George Barna, "What Americans Believe.", Regal Books, Ventura CA (1991), Page 206
  3. Gustav Niebuhr, "Poll Indicates Diminished Role of Devil", N.Y. Times News Service, 1997-MAY-10, at:
  4. J. F. Cogan, "Handbook about Demon Possession For Human Service Workers" at
  5. "Religious beliefs vary widely by denomination," 2001-JUN-25, Barna Research Group, Ltd., at:
  6. "Does Satan Really Exist?," Our Baptist Heritage, 1993-MAR/APR. Text published at:
  7. G. Messandé, "The History of the Devil", Newleaf, London, England, (1996), Page 328
  8. M.F. Unger, "Demons in the World Today," Tyndale House, Wheaton, IL, (1971), Page 8
  9. Greg Laurie, "Foundations for Living: Who is the Devil?" at: and
  10. R. Lee & Ed. Hindson, "Angels of Deceit," Harvest House, Eugene, OR, (1993), Page 118
  11. C.S. Lewis, "The Screwtape Letters," MacMillan, New York, NY, (1961), Page 3
  12. Richard Owen, "Satan gets a facelift," The Australian, 1999-JAN-26 at:
  13. "Vatican exorcist: Devil is in the electricity. 'Let's not forget that Satan and his followers have immense powers'," WorldNetDaily, 2004-FEB-11, at:
  14. Bishop Spong, "Do You Believe in the Devil?," Q and A newsletter, 2008-MAY-07.

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Copyright ©1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-MAY-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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