A devil-like figure is found in many sacred texts. In Buddhism "the tempter" is called Mara. He offers enticements that keep one from the path of enlightenment. In Zoroastrianism it is "the Lie," Angra Mainyu, who directs "the forces of darkness" against God. Hindu texts have no one Satan figure, although lesser demons known as "asuras" tug at one's mind, pulling us from God-consciousness.

The Hebrew word for Satan means "adversary." In Genesis, the serpent of the Adam and Eve story is believed to be the first voice of Satan. In Isaiah 14:12 Satan is identified as a fallen angel; and in 2 Corinthians 4:4 as "the god of this world." Jesus at one point chastised Peter’s behavior, calling him Satan. Christ explained why: "You (Peter) are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

In the Muslim Quran the Arabic term for devil is Iblis, meaning "distant" or "astray." The biblical term Satan (pronounced "Shaytan") is also used. His primary characteristic is "hubris" -- being proud or arrogant before God (Allah). The Quran and the Bible tell somewhat different stories about how Satan came to be, but both involve rebellion from God. Both refer to evil spirits or demons, known as “Shaytan jinn” in Islam.

Sometimes Satan and demons are depicted as real entities, yet at other times are symbolic representations of egotism and rebellion from God. Which is true? The teachings of the Baha'i faith offer this: "The reality underlying this question is that the evil spirit, Satan or whatever is interpreted as evil, refers to the lower nature in man. This baser nature is symbolized in various ways… God has never created an evil spirit; all such ideas and nomenclature are symbols expressing the mere human or earthly nature of man."

Why should one adopt this non-literal view? One reason is freedom from inordinate fear, anxiety and even neurosis that can develop. Secondly, to reorient one’s faith toward love, attraction to God and service to humanity, rather than fear of damnation and evil spirits.

Lastly, by realizing that the spirit of evil is not "outside" of us, but simply the darkness of ego within each and every one of us, we begin to abandon notions of "the evil others": other groups, religions, or nations worthy of disdain and dehumanization.

Crenshaw is a member of the Baha'i faith. He lives in Eureka. Contact him at davcren@aol.com.

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