The mayor of Inglis, a small town in Florida, banned Satan from the town in January.
The proclamation, posted up around the town, read: "Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil, destroyer of what is good and just, is not now, nor ever again will be, a part of this town of Inglis."
In a spirited defense of Satanists everywhere, the ACLU threatened a lawsuit, as they said the proclamation violated the separation of church and state. The situation was resolved when it was pointed out that, although written on official letterhead, Mayor Risher’s proclamation was not a town ordinance and was not voted on by the city council.
The mayor’s controversial proclamation was, of course, inspired by the events of September 11th. The way she tells it, “[God] talked through me, you see? I'd never written a proclamation before. I just grabbed the town letterhead and started writing, and didn't stop till the page was full. I was crying when I read what I had wrote afterwards, it was powerful” (from her interview on Satanosphere.com).
I’ll admit that I laughed for a good 5 minutes when I first read the story. Then I stopped laughing and started thinking about it in the context of everything that has happened in this country since September, and realized that there was more in it than some goofy attempt to use mortal law to ban a supernatural entity of questionable existence from a small area of Florida.
It wasn’t too long ago that our president stood up and declared certain countries to be an “Axis of Evil.” It is a phrase that invariably makes me think of James Bond movies, or, worse, the old TV show, Get Smart. Are we back in the Cold War all of a sudden? Maybe wishful thinking would have it that way. Evil, when given faces and land boundaries, or even a corporeal body with horns and a tail or a long black beard, can be fought with guns and bombs, and the Good Guys (that’s us, right?) can be endlessly optimistic that they will win. What happens, though, when evil is not personified? When you can’t point to an individual or group and say, “Get them!”
Like it or not, that is really what we are up against. Terrorists we can label, identify, and attack as criminals. Terror, and the feelings that create it, we can’t. When Mayor Risher said, “If I can get rid of the main one, I can get rid of them all. That's my goal to get rid of evil in the town,” she fell into the same trap that Bush has: the idea that getting rid of one organization or entity can erase terrorism, which comes from hatred, a germ that lives in every human on the planet, and has ever since a man crawled out of the primordial slime and stole his neighbor’s cave.
Even Mother Theresa had it. Even Gandhi.
What makes it even more complicated is that evil, as a concept, is subjective. The men who hijacked the planes on September 11th didn’t believe they were doing anything evil, and, under the moral code that they recognized, it wasn’t. Evil, like Satan, is a catchall word, used to cover many things, like hate and cruelty. Evil cannot be eliminated in the crosshairs of a rifle and hate cannot be banned by laws or stamped out by war, only its effects and individual agents can.
Fighting evil is a lot like fighting cancer; the treatment targets the result of the original cancerous cell, not whatever caused the cell to mutate in the first place. There is no way to pinpoint one cause, and there is no way to be sure that it is 100% gone. To stamp out hate and destruction, or even all those who are on the side of Al Qaeda or potentially on their side, we’d have to stamp out the human race.
We can target their leaders and their agents with war, but not the germ that caused that hatred. We can “cure” the world of a very specific group of people – at least the members of the group that we can get our hands on – but we can’t prevent more by those means. I don’t object to defending ourselves against the effects of terror, but, like some cancer treatments, the war may end up killing the host rather than the disease. And when that happens, the disease will spring up again somewhere else, but the host is dead beyond recovery.
Despite Mayor Risher’s beliefs, Satan, complete with horns and a tail, isn’t our problem. Satan can be as warm and fuzzy as you care present him. To Milton, Satan was a Greek epic hero; to Buddhists, Satan is just another figment of our imagination in this construct that we call reality. My roommate affectionately calls her boyfriend “satan” for reasons that more or less escape me, but certainly have little or nothing to do with Mayor Risher’s definition.
Hatred, fear, callousness, and greed are our problems. And banning those is an individual task.
Sarah Ficke will make sport for you, and laugh at you in her turn. She has channeled her obsession for books into a career as an English professor.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
3.28.02 @ 9:09a
And racism. Let's not forget that. Sometimes the ignorance of race seperation isn't even a fear or hatred, but just that: ignorance.
So as much as people claim to strive for individuality, what is it that keeps most bound to a hive culture?
Fear. Hatred. Ignorance.
Way to hit it on the head, Sarah.
3.28.02 @ 9:15a
Ignorance! I knew I'd forgotten something. Thanks Tracey.
3.28.02 @ 10:30a
Whether you accept Satan, Lucifer, the Devil, Oprah, Beelzebub or any other named representation of Evil Incarnate as legitimate or not to you, realize that for many who are not you, putting a "name" on that evil helps them to face it, deal with it, and push it out of their life. Sure, plenty of people got their guffaws at Ms. Risher, but I'd say at least as many people quietly and personally acknowledged that, hey -- maybe rather than saying nothing, instead of subvocalizing my concerns and turning my head to the badness in the world, I could actually take a stand and try to keep evil out of my life. And, even if it's more symbolic than anything else, if you're willing to face down the "big" evil, maybe it dawns on you that by perspective those "little" evils are even easier to combat.
What Risher did was to reach her community on a "global" level, in the hope that in helping to ease her constituents' fears and bolster their determination, they would improve their community on a personal level. And I won't do anything but applaud that.
But hey...I thought this was just a petition to kick Julianelle out of here.
3.28.02 @ 10:37a
Nice one Russ. My problem with this lady is that I don't think she was being symbolic. When she says that "God spoke through her" and wrote the proclamation for her, I think all the symbolism goes out the window. She's wacked, and people like that, who are so clearly influenced by personal, spiritual beliefs, and use their governmental positions as platforms for such, are dangerous.
3.28.02 @ 10:40a
Who else wants to sign?
3.28.02 @ 11:06a
I agree that individuals may need to personify evil to get it out of their life, but assuming that everyone else shares that same personification is dangerous, as is trying to control it with public legislation. That is what causes things like the Salem witch trials.
3.28.02 @ 11:14a
The Crucible rules!!!
4.10.02 @ 1:28p
I find the most ironic part of hate is that those of us who are more or less fighting against it can wind up hating the "haters." Like trying to protect the freedom of speech for those who would put limits on your speech if they could.
4.10.02 @ 1:40p
I've never really thought about it before, but how subjective is "evil"? Sure, the vast majority of people in the world think the 9/11 attacks were evil. But there are a lot of people who don't. So what makes something "evil"? Majority decision?
And if that's the criteria, how does it work when applied to other subjective things - like "good"? The majority of voters thought Bush would make the best president. The majority of people thought "A Beautiful Mind" was the best movie. But is he? And was it?
4.10.02 @ 2:14p
Actually, Matt, the majority of people voted for Gore.
But you're raising a point that philosophers have considered and argued about for ages - are there moral absolutes? Is there a distinct "good" or a distinct "evil"? Just because one person feels something "bad" is justified, does that necessarily make it subjective, or is that person simply crazy? Does the end justify the means, especially when the means requires taking lives? What, for example, makes dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki "better" than destroying the WTC? Is it because we were officially at war? If so, does that mean that another attack by the Taliban on US soil would now be justified? Tough questions.
4.10.02 @ 6:24p
And the people of Experiment Earth argued themselves into a downward spiral, unable to see right from wrong, good from bad...
What happened in September was evil. People died, isn't that enough? Maybe our friends in Afghanistan would say that their evil is negated by our prior evil. No one knows but God and Mayor Risher. But people jumping out of buildings is bad, period.
Declaring her town a Satan-free Zone is nuts, but I understand where she's coming from. And it doesn't hurt me any. And I've done crazier things to make myself feel better.
If everyone put as much time and effort into fixing the world (as Risher attempted in her own bizarre way) as they do criticizing, the world would be a different place.
4.10.02 @ 6:43p
Nicely spoke, Jason. Who cares whether the evil is "absolute" or not? It's still evil. What's gained by carping on someone for wanting to make a demonstration of solidarity against evil -- even if you think it's silly? Or more pointedly, if you're against people who are against evil, where does that leave you?
4.10.02 @ 7:07p
I seem to recall that the Catholic Church has been guilty of a large number of atrocities in the name of combatting "evil." In fact (and apologies for once again playing the "Jewish card"), I would be curious to find out Mayor Risher's opinion of my non-belief in Jesus. Does that make me evil?
4.10.02 @ 11:22p
I can't speak for her Adam...but I think we all know you're evil, anyway.
I'm sure there are a number of Palestinians who don't like the way Shimon Perez is combatting "evil," either. Everyone's got skeletons in his or her sociotheological closet. Seems to me the biggest problem of all here is pride; everyone wants to be a victim, to say "look what so-and-so has done to me/my culture/my religion/my whatever." Instead of forgiving, or reaching out in order to reach some kind of peace, we'd rather keep rubbing salt in the wounds because that's less painful than swallowing our pride. That's true in Jerusalem as much as in Belfast, and for the Tutsi and Hutu as well as the Serb and the Croat. Instead of pointing the finger and saying "Look what THEY did," maybe we could instead say, "What can WE do to fix this?"
4.11.02 @ 12:04a
4.11.02 @ 3:00a
7.13.02 @ 12:54a
Banned? What do you mean, I'm banned? Well, there goes my vacation to Inglis. I guess it's off to Vegas again. Jesus.