Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Talk of the Devil

The BBC's website says this of the concluding item in this morning's Today programme.

The Devil is the personification of evil. But he has inspired great writers down the ages. That is the theme of a new book - the Devil As Muse - by a Cambridge academic Dr Fred Parker. He discusses the cultural significance of Lucifer with Peter Owen-Jones, who is now a vicar now but was an advertising executive in another life.

A potentially interesting tail-piece, but muddled, not well faciliated as a discussion. Fred Parker's book is about the use of Lucifer myth and imagery, but Devil myth and imagery was introduced, Satan got a look in as well. None of the contributors sought to point out that all three refer to the same area of human experience, but originate in different contexts either within or outside the realm of biblical culture. It's a bit like starting a discussion about what sort of Celts the Irish are, but insisting on talking about the Scots or Welsh as well, or even instead.

The fact that the story about the name Lucifer, accounted for as a fallen angel of light, doesn't appear in the Bible but in other religious literature of the era wasn't mentioned. Nor that fact that Satan means 'one who accuses' in a juridical sense which has ancient Semitic roots. Nor the fact that the word Devil is derived from the Greek for 'one who divides'. The cleric seemed to struggling with his own ideas too much to be able to impart such useful information.

Any discussion about humankind's relationship to its complex experience of evil, where this has anything to do with religion, needs to be properly informed. The (largely mediaeval) personification of evil which is part of western culture, and the notion of how people, particularly creative people, have related to it are worth a discussion not steered by a presenter trapped in his own stereotyped muddled view of how to make things simple for the listeners. Better to leave this to Melvyn Bragg, I think.

Given today's growing ignorance about the actual content of religion, ensuring people are accurately and relevantly informed about matters of faith is less than easy. I don't think us religious communicators are doing as well as we could in this information age.

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