Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 93: Can Satan Cast Out Satan?
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 93: Can Satan Cast Out Satan?

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

The Gospel of Mark reads, “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.’ And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.’” (3:22-26)

I think that a Girardian reading of this passage lends some helpful insights. From the foundation of human civilization, people have projected their own anger and hostility onto scapegoats, claimed that those scapegoats were possessed by satanic demons, and then expelled or killed the scapegoats. The scapegoating mob has always believed that their actions were just and the will of God or the gods (the divine). In truth, the human forces that have tried to eradicate Satan from their midst have been satanic. “Satan casting out Satan” describes the scapegoating mechanism. When people call someone Satan, they have assumed the role of Satan the accuser, and invariably they come to participate in scapegoating. Jesus taught that the way of Satan is accusation, while the way of God is forgiveness. Accusation is Satanic because it attempts to absolve the accuser of guilt while simultaneously ascribing too much guilt to the accused. However, forgiveness breaks the cycle of accusation, and it is through forgiveness that Satan falls from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:18), because Satan loses all of his power.

Jesus did not deny that Satan casts out Satan. In the short term, satanic forces can cast out the perceived Satan in a community’s midst. However, Jesus taught that it doesn’t ultimately work, because attempts by Satan to cast out Satan merely divide the house between the satanic forces that scapegoat and the victims of the scapegoating mechanism. People are never fully innocent, given that nobody is without sin. Indeed, as long as the scapegoating mechanism is the glue that holds communities together, the main difference between the victims and the victimizers is who happens to have power at the moment. As long as the scapegoating mechanism pervades human communities, the victims would readily become victimizers, if they could.

While the victims of scapegoating violence are rarely completely innocent, they are never as guilty as perceived by the scapegoating mob. Meanwhile, the mob never recognizes its own satanic desires, because it always attributes its own hate and violence to the divine. Consequently, the peace created by the scapegoating mechanism is always temporary. Invariably, hostilities build up until, once again, Satan attempts to cast out Satan with the scapegoating mechanism. According to René Girard’s anthropologic analysis, this happens perpetually because all cultures are grounded on the scapegoating mechanism (see essays 6 & 7). The only way to break the endless cycle of violence is to develop a new culture grounded in love and forgiveness, which is what Christ offered.

Jesus taught that satanic violence is ultimately self-defeating, because a house divided against itself cannot stand. Scapegoating violence is only a temporary “solution” to the problem of human violence in that it substitutes a small dose of sanctioned, “sacred” violence for the widespread “profane” violence that would otherwise occur. By exposing the scapegoating mechanism as a scandal, Jesus facilitated reconciliation and offered a way to stop the cycle of violence. Inspired by Jesus and, perhaps, assisted by the Holy Spirit, we can refuse to participate in the scapegoating mechanism. If necessary, we may assume the role, like Christ, of the willing and forgiving victim. Whether or not satanic violence is self-defeating, as faithful Christians we should do our best to imitate Christ and participate in the reconciliation of Creation. This includes living prayerfully and peacefully. If we find ourselves victims of the scapegoating mechanism, I think our faith calls us to willingly submit to its powers. If we forcibly resist, the mob will regard our resistance as satanic, and the house will remain divided against itself.

I think this helps explain 1 Peter, which encourages slaves to obey their masters and wives to submit to their husbands. Christians, by their examples of love, should encourage others to reform their hurtful ways. If Christians responded to injustice with violence, they would not help heal a broken world. Tragically, many Christians have applied 1 Peter’s teachings from the perspective of the victimizer, rather than the victim, to justify slavery, mistreatment of women, and other abuses.

Go on to: Part 94: “It Is Finished”
Return to: Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence Table of Contents
Return to: Christian Living Table of Contents