THERE ARE NO REDEEMED DEVILS–AND WHAT A LUCKY BREAK THAT IS
According to bowl-headed 11th century monk Saint Anselm of Canterbury, god can never redeem the devil because the devil is the wrong species.
This was (for some reason) a question of much debate among–pardon the term–church thinkers for centuries. Some writers, like Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, seemed to at least flirt with the idea that in the end even Satan would, like a kid whose pockets are bursting with Chuck E. Cheese prize tickets, seek redemption.
But this idea was not very popular, since most historical preachers agree with me that devilish redemption spoils a lot of the appeal of having a devil to begin with. And perhaps also made him a less useful tool for their preaching.
They couldn’t just come out and say that, though. So Anselm cooked up the idea that god redeemed humanity by becoming human, but couldn’t for Satan because every individual angel was a separate species unto itself. Yes.
I don’t think this concept was unique to Anselm, but he was the one to employ it as a “No Homers” clause for demons. I bring this up merely to assure everyone that if you ever fret that your ideas are too silly to be taken seriously, the bar is really not as high as you probably think.
Art and media aren’t subject to the same kind of cultural brain fever that affects theology, and so have a much easier time with these kinds of questions.
This comes up because I watched the most recent (and apparently final) season of the onetime Fox series “Lucifer,” which sees the title character finally attempting to make amends with his estranged father, god.
I never much liked this show, objecting among other things that the cop procedural formula was silly and unneeded. But I did still watch most of it, which is extra ironic because this show’s idea of Hell is that you keep doing things you don’t like over and over again.
Similarly, I do not find that Lucifer needs a relationship with god to be considered “good” (and actually–spoilers–neither does the show in the end), because really the showrunners already committed to that just by establishing him as a character with humane feelings, motivations, and vulnerabilities.
After that there wasn’t really much else to do: When the devil is just like the rest of us, the heavy lifting is over. And Satan is almost always just like us.
Nevertheless, this idea goes back centuries. The French Romantics in particular seemed in love with the idea of reconciling Satan: In Victor Hugo’s unfinished poem, God & the End of Satan, Satan’s daughter, Liberty (born from a single feather that fell from his wing when cast out of Heaven), restores him to both god’s favor and the supposedly angelic name “Lucifer.”
In Edouard Schuré’s play Les Enfants des Lucifer, the Satanic revolutionaries preach that Lucifer is not actually the devil at all but rather “the other voice of the almighty,” and the play’s real villains are the corrupt church who preach only half of the supposed true gospel.
In her overwhelmingly long novel Conseula, George Sand makes friends of Satan and Jesus, as the devil assures Sand’s heroine in a hallucinogenic musical vision that he is “like Christ”–not just in that he is “the god of the poor, the weak, and the oppressed,” but also that he has specifically reconciled with Jesus and they now share common ends.
For obvious reasons, Modern Satanists don’t seem particularly fond of this theme, and often we will carefully snip around these references when citing such sources. It’s like when your friend is dating a creep, but you have to hold your tongue because, “Well, as long as you’re happy…”
As already mentioned, the idea of a redeemed devil spoils the character’s appeal. Satan is better off staying on the outs, because that’s why we love him in the first place. It’s like if Rocky Balboa quit boxing and opened an auto dealership–he might say he’s happier, but nobody bought a ticket to see that.
Second of all, who really wants to truck with figures like god and Jesus to begin with? At best, these characters are artificially idealized to the point of being alien and inhumane–and at worst, they represent the public’s most toxic and fascistic desires and impulses. Who needs it?
These are obvious objections. Perhaps less so is the most important distinction: What exactly is there to be redeemed of?
The very idea of forgiveness suggests authority, or at least a leg to stand on–neither of which most Satanists are interested in acknowledging. It’s a lot like a California stop: You might (might) slow down over such a thing, but that’s it.
Since Satan is a piece of fiction, it’s not particularly consequential whether he’s “good” or “evil” or any other abstract idea. What matters is whether he’s fulfilling the roles that are most useful for us.
In our case, that usually concerns whether he’s relatable, approachable, sympathetic, personally empowering, and in short, human–or at least, humanistic.
Most variations on the character are at best flawed: Tom Ellis’ devil on the aforementioned “Lucifer” is a brash man-child; Satan in Paradise Lost is conniving and self-serving, while in The Revolt of the Angels he’s (arguably) passive and retiring; less imaginative creators render him purely monstrous–although this too is not necessarily without its appeal.
But if the character serves our ends by remaining vital and emotionally helpful, then these limitations hardly matter–and in some cases perhaps even serve to embellish what we love.
To put it another way: gods do not redeem devils, or anyone else. We do.
Indeed, we’re the only ones who even can–or should.