Did Satan Win?

A postcard from America

In October this year, nearly 100 Sydney pastors and elders visited the USA to attend conferences on church growth and observe patterns of church life. One of them, Ed Vaughan, gives us his impressions of life (Christian and otherwise) in America.

Dear Tony,

Greetings from the US of A. We’re having a great time over here on the East Coast, and we’ve particularly enjoyed Boston.

Today, we drove an hour north to Salem, the scene of the infamous witch hunts. Did you study The Crucible by Arthur Miller at school? Anyway, Salem is where it is set.

We arrived at the Salem Witch-hunt Museum in time for the audio-visual display. As you remember, a couple of young girls caused an outcry when they began to accuse apparently respectable members of the Puritan community of witchcraft. Innocent people were tried, convicted, imprisoned and, in some cases, executed.

Miller used the whole thing as a metaphor for the McArthyist witch-hunt of the 50s. The funny thing is that Miller’s interpretation of the Salem witch-hunts is now the dominant one. The author of the Museum’s audio-visual certainly didn’t believe in Satan. He explained the situation away by pointing to the strictness of Puritan life and the neuroticism this caused. The fact that it began with a slave girl who practiced voodoo is neatly glossed over.

As I listened, I became increasingly doubtful. It sounded like historical revisionism to me. Did the whole thing really happen because they didn’t have barbie dolls? And who could be more neurotic than 20th Century Americans? The audio-visual finished with the words, “Is Satan Real?”. As I looked around, I got the impression that not many of the audience thought the answer was Yes.

On the way out of the Museum, the absurdity of it all struck me. Amongst all the kitsch and souvenirs, they also sold tarot cards and oiuja boards! Now you can’t have it both ways. You can’t deny the existence of the Devil and at the same time play around with the occult—or can you?

The crazy thing is that Salem has become a centre of occult practices. Astrologers, psychics and fortune tellers are there in abundance. Parker Bros, who make Monopoly, are based in Salem. And what is one of their biggest sellers? You guessed it—oiuja boards.

GK Chesterton once said that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe nothing, they believe anything. C. S. Lewis said that the two biggest mistakes to make about Satan were to be obsessed with him or to think that he doesn’t exist. It’s funny, but over here they’ve managed to do both at the same time.



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