It seems these days that many Christians believe more that the world is going to hell in a handbasket than they believe the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.
We give the devil too much credit and too much power — and forget the devil lives under constraints he bitterly resents. If the devil had his way, all of creation would be undone down to the level of the quark.
But the devil is, in fact, on a very tight leash. He is allowed to harass and harm, sometimes gravely harm. But think of how much goes right all the time! Think of the fact that over the time it took to read the last sentence some quadrillion chemical reactions have taken place in each cell of your body so that you remain alive to read the end of this sentence. Think about the fact that the universe in general and this planet in particular have so astoundingly supported life against all probability for eons in an incredibly hostile universe.
Think about the fact that the Church, which started with only a handful of members, now has 1 billion members and is still growing.
These things are all very much against the infernal plans. No wonder Uncle Screwtape gripes about God via C.S. Lewis:
“He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the seashore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore.’
“Ugh! I don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the Miserific Vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least — sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.”
That’s the bottom line: Nothing is naturally on the devil’s side. Everything must be distorted by hell in order to serve Satan’s purposes. Of course, hell is very diligent in this regard, and demons require no sleep.
But the fact remains that, as Catholics, we have the great joy of being able to rejoice in the work of God’s hands and laugh at the devil as the incompetent plagiarist he is.
So when we read, for instance, of a website called (I am not making this up) “CarbonConfessor.com” (where you go to confess your “sins” of carbon use and receive “absolution” from Some Random Guy With a Keyboard), there are two ways of seeing it.
You can, of course, see it as the false parody of the sacrament of reconciliation that it is. But you can also see it as Paul saw the monument to the Unknown God (Acts 17): That is, it is a testament to what film critic Jeffrey Overstreet calls “the inescapability of the Gospel.”
A post-Christian culture like ours still bears witness to the need of the human soul for absolution. The devil, who would much prefer we forget our sense of sin, is stuck with the fact that guilt (albeit, in this case, misplaced) haunts us and keeps asserting itself. He lives in continual fear that humans will turn from his cheap copy of Christ’s absolution to the real thing.
Catholics should always think like Paul in our neo-pagan culture, because it is littered, at this very hour, with all sorts of old signposts that still point to Christ. Our task as Catholics is to (ahem) “connect the dots” for our post-Christian neighbor and to help him follow the clues back to Christ, who still speaks to us through what he has made.
Mark Shea is a Register
columnist and blogger.