Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hating the devil

An interesting disagreement among orthodox Christians, even among orthodox Catholics, is whether the devil should be hated. I have run into a number of people who think in the affirmative. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that that is the more common position. On the other hand, I think we should not hate the devil—in fact, we should love him.

Here are some plausibilistic arguments for my position:

  1. Surely, we should not hate the souls in hell. But if the reason for hating the devil is that he cannot repent of his wickedness, then the same applies to the souls in hell. And if the reason for hating the devil is his evil works and his empty promises, then that's a bad reason—it's a reason for hating the evil works and the empty promises, but not for hating the devil.
  2. Anything that is good deserves to be loved to the extent that it is good. Anything that exists is good to the extent that it exists. Thus, the devil deserves to be loved to the extent that he exists. And to the extent that he does not exist, surely then it is not he, who exists, who is to be hated, but the fact that he does not exist fully should be hated. (Yes, one can hate its being the case that p.)
  3. Love and hatred are closely tied to actions. Now the actions we should engage in with respect to the devil are ones that are good for him, and hence they are more like loving than like hateful actions. For instance, we should reject the devil's temptations. That is good, because by rejecting the temptations we make him be responsible for fewer evils than he would be responsible for if we yielded, and it is bad for one to be responsible for evils. We should shun the devil's company. But to be in the devil's company, we would have to be wicked. And it harms a person to be provided with wicked companions. Furthermore, we should strive to frustrate the devil's wicked plans. While the frustration of one's plans may be bad for one in one way, in a more salient way, it is good for one when the plans are wicked. It is a bad thing for one to succeed at evil.

On the other hand, one might worry that love has a unitive dimension, and then one might argue that we should, surely, not seek to be united to the devil—that is just too dangerous. However, we can be united simply by doing good to someone, and there are ways of doing good to the devil that do not carry undue danger—for instance, we can, as noted above, do good to the devil by frustrating his evil designs. Another good we could do to the devil, should God assign this to us (we are mysteriously told that we'll judge angels), could be to condemn him to punishment, if it is intrinsically good to be punished for one's wickedness.

At the same time, the love should not have much intensity. The devil is dangerous, and we should not think too much about him. Maybe I have already done too much.


Heath White said...

A quick perusal of the Summa on hatred makes me think this is a complicated question. Hatred is the mirror of love: we love something insofar as it is good, and hate something insofar as it is evil.

First thought: we should not hate the devil but his evil qualities. But then ought we to love, not a person, but their good qualities? No, that’s wrong: we love individuals because and insofar as they are good, and so we hate the devil because and insofar as he is evil. Of course, it follows that we should hate other people too, because and insofar as they are evil. Hmmm.

Aquinas’ picture seems to be that for everyone except God, you should carry around a mixture of love and hatred. That doesn’t seem right to me but I’m not sure what to say. But at any rate, the claim that we must either hate or love the devil is, on this picture, a false dichotomy.

Another consequence is that while you can perfectly love someone (with no mixture of hatred) if you view that person as totally good, you cannot perfectly hate someone (with no mixture of love) because the individual cannot be totally evil, on pain of non-existence. Perhaps, however, you could be unaware of this metaphysical point and form the false belief that someone is totally evil.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe for Aquinas one reason for the asymmetry is that the deepest things about a person--their esse and their essentia--are good? Moreover, neither the esse nor the essentia are qualities of the person. So when we love a person for her esse and essentia, we do not love her for a quality of hers, nor are we loving a quality of hers. She is a compound of the esse and essentia (and maybe of matter, depending on how you count the essentia).

Or to put it differently, a person is always essentially good--i.e., she is good in all that is of her essence--while she has some bad accidents. When we love her, we love her good accidents, but above that we love her in her essence, or something like that. (The fact that essences for Aquinas are individual is also important. It's not like we're loving the species when we love the individual for her essence.)

Anonymous said...

Although it is uncontroversial that we should hate what the Devil does, it would be too dangerous to take an active interest in him. I think the answer is pretty straightforward: We should hate what the Devil does, but we should be indifferent towards him.

However, Dr. Pruss suggests that we should love for the Devil, but our love should lessened as much as possible. I'm not sure if that makes sense, since such watered-down love doesn't seem to be worth of being called "love." Of course, I'm not sure how Dr. Pruss defines the word. Does he have in mind love as an emotion towards an object, a concern for the well-being of another, or some other concept?

I think the better solution is to avoid the question of whether to love the wicked and instead, adopt an attitude of indifference towards them, while hating what they do. Such an approach is, I think, more instrumental towards our goal to do good and avoid the temptations that might come with caring for wicked people.

Mr Veale said...

1) What exactly do we know about the devil? The biblical data is meagre at best.

2) How much of a person is left if they are totally evil? For example consider agency. A totally evil person would be a slave to passions. Can such a person be said to be a free agent? Are they LESS than a person?

3) Thinking about the devil is dangerous - so should Christians, as a matter of practical ethics avoid entertainment with occult themes? Like "The Exorcist"? Or "Dracula"? Where do we draw the line when reflecting on evil?

Graham Veale

Ron said...


You know that I love your thoughts and hold you in the highest esteem. This is why I find myself in conflict here. I can't argue compellingly against your arguments; furthermore, intuitively I find the the third to be the most compelling. No, the reason I am in conflict is because of the biblical evidence reminding us to "hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good." Romans 12:9

Ultimately this is why I must also disagree with a couple of others who have posted here. I haven't thought through this very deeply but it seems like you are presupposing that hate has no virtuous qualities at all. What if that is not true? Isn't it plausible that hate, like fear, when used in the proper sense could be a gift given to us to protect us?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Nice to hear from you, Ron.

Notice that in Romans 12:9, "evil" is in the neuter, unlike in the Lord's prayer ("deliver us from the evil one" -- typically undertranslated in English as "deliver us from evil") where it is in the masculine. Thus, it seems reasonable to read 12:9 as enjoining us to hate evil things: evil actions, evil features of character, evil customs, etc., and to hold fast to good things.

12:10 enjoins us to love one another, with no restriction on whether the other is evil or not. Paul obviously loves even evil sinners, and God loves us while we were wicked--i.e., evil.

So I want to distinguish between hating the devil as a person, as the existing individual participating in God (all creaturely existence is participation in God), and hating the devil's character, temptations, etc. I will make exactly the same distinction in the case of evil humans.

An alternate resolution of the difficulty is to say that love and hate are not incompatible. Thus, we should both hate and love the devil, while the good angels we should only love. But then I am worried about the parallelism: shouldn't we, by the same token, hate evil people (including ourselves, if we ourselves are evil)? So it's better to say: no substance is to be hated, but there are qualities (privative in nature) that are to be hated.