Screwtape, The Devil, and the LDS Taxonomy of Beings

The Bible Dictionary declares: “Latter-day revelation confirms the biblical teaching that the devil is a reality and that he does strive to lead men and women from the work of God.

In his preface to the 1961 edition of The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote:

The commonest question is whether I “really believe in the Devil.”

Now, if by “the Devil” you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. …God has no opposite. No being could attain a “perfect badness” opposite to the perfect goodness of God….

The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God and, as a corollary, to us. These we may call devils. They do not differ in nature from good angels, but their nature is depraved. Devil is the opposite of angel only as Bad Man is the opposite of Good Man. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.

What is interesting here is that Lewis’s understanding of devils is so similar to LDS belief and at the same time so different.

Lewis’s understanding that devils are fallen angels fits nicely with the LDS view, though the angels he speaks of were not premortal men and women, but distinct beings from ourselves. In many ways the view of Satan as the opposite of Michael is interesting in light of the LDS knowledge that Adam was Michael, even if Lewis did not intend it in this way.

For Lewis, God and Jesus are one and the same being. From an LDS point of view, however, where we know that Jesus is God the Son, and a being distinct from God the Father, and with our additional understanding of the council in heaven, the competing plans, and Satan’s desire to play the role of Messiah, I think that LDS members tend to view Satan as the opposite of Jesus, not of Michael.

Also our view of God the Father as an exalted Man, and the co-eternality of Intelligences, differs from Lewis’s belief in a single, self-existent eternal being and may have some bearing on Lewis’s assertion.

In the Restored Gospel, who is the Devil? Is he the opposite of God the Father? God the Son? or of Michael/Adam? Perhaps trying to place him in an equal and opposite position to a specific other is an artificial, man-made concept and he does not represent an opposite of any of them but is merely oppositional at whatever level he can get away with.

What is the place of the Devil in an LDS Taxonomy of Beings?

5 thoughts on “Screwtape, The Devil, and the LDS Taxonomy of Beings

  1. The devil, he is below us all, we have physical bodies, so we are ALL above him. God would not allow Satan to harm us directly (JSH for example), so really the harm Satan does is the harm we do ourselves. Satan is pitiful and powerless, but he wields enormous influence.

    In the end, yes, Satan is powerful. However, in terms of actually power, he really has none and even the smallest child has more real power than him.

  2. The Devil is the opposite of the Holy Ghost. They both have the same role, to plant thoughts and desires, or reinforce them.

    And I disagree with your main point. There is no real difference between Lewis’s understanding of devils and LDS doctrine. Does the fact that angels and devils are premortal humans change the fact that they are, substantively, different from us? When angels are spoken of, in scripture, they are not called “people.” And he is correct in casting Satan as the opposite of Michael, though (in Mormon theology) mostly in a premortal, or extramortal (unseen world) sense.

  3. It may surprise some to learn that the Devil is very sensitive to language. Yessiree bob I am. Pop-media display me as a roaring, language-bereft, Balrogian sort of creature—brute evil. Fine: that places me “out there,” rendering me terrifying and illiterate and so, “not us, but that … THING,” a disorganized but compelling power that stands in opposition to your own moral strivings. Of course, hideously monstrous evil does exist “out there,” but if I manifested myself only in those … unattractive … forms, I’d defeat my own purpose. Nevertheless, in whatever shape it assumes, the “not us” aspect of imagining the Devil remains my most efficient means of wielding influence and inflicting suffering upon y’all.

    Language is vital, animating stuff, nearly as important to mortal life as is blood. Language does things to and for you, it’s never “mere words.” You folks don’t get that yet, which makes it so easy for me at one end of the spectrum and so interesting on the other end. Through word by word corruption of language and disruption of contexts I sabotage I-beams in the “artifice of eternity” (Yeats’s phrase, ICYDK). I could go on and on about language and context: how spells work; what makes profanity profane and why proliferating it works to my advantage; how it all works toward the restriction of free agency.

    But to be brief, let’s take a simple example: names for car models. When it comes to people who work hard at taking words out of context and putting them into de-meaning ones, automobile manufacturers rank among my favorites. Consider the Madza Navajo. Naming cars after tribes of Native Americans gives a white man’s owning one and then driving it to and fro special implication, even if he isn’t consciously aware of it. You don’t believe me? Then why isn’t anyone driving a Nissan Negro or a Cadillac Aparthied? Or how about the Escalade. Back in olden times (to you), the phrase “He wrecked the escalade” meant something like “He blew our assault on the outer walls of the fortress by forgetting the grappling hooks,” if such an outrage could even be put into words. But I’m amusing myself.

    What I’m getting at is that context matters. Nudging words, ideas, or people into certain contexts or taking them out of ones they belong in can narrow choices for a person, a population, or even the whole of creation. Manipulating context works black magic. As per the example I offered in a previous blog topic, proclaiming “This person can’t be helped” puts said soul into the category of unredeemable. Once you pronounce a person “unredeemable,” you may then subject her to any and all hellish behavior reserved for the unredeemable. The form such behavior takes depends upon the current fad: dunking, trial by combat, lethal injections, removing feeding tubes, putting people on behavior-modifying drugs, comedic routines ridiculing them, etc. You must keep folks in manageable contexts! Nothing else can be done for them; it’s the only way. THE ONLY WAY. Yes, indeed; that was my original idea about this whole coming-to-earth business. You bunch rejected it back then. Yet look how once you experienced that “sleep and a forgetting” you embraced the concept all by your lonesomes, limiting your own options and in subtle ways (AWA not so subtle ways), pressuring others into doing what’s best for them, to the point of killing them for their own good! Ah, the beauty of status quo; free agency remains embryonic, frozen in time.

    All this is why I understand very well what’s going down with this question: “What is the place of the Devil in an LDS Taxonomy of Beings?” Similarly: “In the Restored Gospel, who is the devil … ?” In the Restored Gospel! Such language is an amateurish attempt to capture me, fix me with context, thus to render me manageable. Of course, in my case, it goes without saying that I’m unredeemable.

    But, sorry folks—it’s that simple, and it, um, isn’t. Clive (he hated being called that) was right: I am not opposite to God. God is the eternally creative and proactive power in the universe. Trying to act in direct opposition to THAT would result for me in reductio ad absurdum.

    But neither I am a firefly to be caught in a jar by the … immature.

    Here’s the easy answer to the question, Who is Satan?: I am whomever you want me to be.

    Of course, that’s the hard anwer, too.

    Nice try, J-Max.

    Oh, and as for that eloquent comment #2: sticks and stones, Zack, sticks and stones.

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