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(4) Is The satan a Person?
For most Christians, the satan is a malevolent person just like they are but without a human body. This begs the all important question: what is a person? How do you define what constitutes a person? What is personality? Before you continue this post, take a moment and write down your response to this question.
Most of us tend to think of people as ‘persons’ as agents of independent moral authority, that persons are those that can chose or have so-called ‘free-will.’ However, the concept of personality is far more complex than that. Even if we say that a person is an autonomous moral agent that has free will we then need to define free will. What is will? What makes it free? And then we would still have to define the terms we use when it comes to our definition of free will. The problem here is that we once we go down this road, we leave all knowledge gained from the human sciences behind and end up simply speculating and creating a view of ‘person’ far more indebted to our presuppositions than to what we actually know about people.
Especially since the Enlightenment (c. 1800), we have been taught that people are autonomous moral agents, that we all stand alone and that we are all responsible for our own choices. In the last one hundred years however, there has been a turn away from this way of thought to recognizing that the concept of ‘personhood’ requires redefinition. We are no longer to be conceived of as ‘free moral agents’ who make choices determined by our own individual wills. Relationality is now the watchword when it comes to understanding what it means to be ‘persons.’ Speaking of humans, we are beings-in-relationships. Our identity comes not from some isolated thing in each of us but from our relationships. So, e.g., there is no such thing as Michael Hardin. Who ‘I’ am is the confluence of all my relationships. Take away my relationships and ‘I’ do not exist. ‘I’ am my relationships.
We are not individuals. To use a term coined by Rene Girard, we are interdividuals. This has huge implications for how we understand the concept of person and will also have huge implications for how we understand, not only the satan, but also how we image the inner-trinitarian life of God as ‘three persons in unity.’ As long as we understand personhood as discrete individual entities, each with their own will, rationality and ability to choose, we will remain mired in discussions that are little more than speculative quagmires.
Scientific research in social psychology and in the human brain has demonstrated that we are in deep structural relationship with one another well beyond the conscious level. We are inter-dependent beings. Our choices do not come from within but from without inasmuch as our desires, which we perceive to arise from within ourselves, are actually experienced internally even though they externally derived. What we want to call our ‘own’ desires/wants, are in reality the non-consciously taking up of the desires of others and making them our own.
This is a huge shift. For many people it will be troublesome. However, I would rather have a definition of ‘person’ that has some grounding in reality (that which is scientifically demonstrable) than in pure speculation. So as we consider what it means for the satan to be a person it is important to remember that our worldviews will determine how we understand this and what we bring to the table in our definition of ‘personhood.’ Would you rather just speculate as to what a ‘person’ is or would you rather take advantage of all the wealth of accumulated science that has helped us to see ourselves, not as islands on the ocean, but as part of an inner connected reality? These posts will do the latter and thus by reframing our definition of person we will come to see that the satan is not a person in the older sense of an autonomous good free moral agent turned evil, but that the satan is bound up intimately with what it means to be human. This is the turning point we are at.