by Phillip Luke Sinitiere
Baldblogger (BB): One of the thoughts that came to mind as I read Satan in America was “fate” of God/gods according to the secularization thesis/narrative. Many of the foremost supporters of the secularization thesis have recanted in recent years (e.g., Peter Berger), writing about the endurance of religion and faith in the technological age. From one perspective, it seems that Satan “survived” the secularization thesis; few seemed to question the existence (and/or reality) of the Prince of Darkness even as many doubted the viability of belief in God/gods. Is this an accurate observation, and if so, what does this say about Satan in American religious history?
Scott Poole (SP): I don’t think the secularization thesis is at all tenable for American society. I actually make the case mushrooming beliefs about Satan from the 60s until today underscore the idea that not only is America not becoming more secular, its becoming more religious all the time. Berger has, as you note, recanted. Its as telling to note that the author of The Secular City, Harvey Cox, has published books on Pentecostalism and another called When Jesus Went to Harvard in the last few years.Along these lines, part of my own intellectual background was a book that made a huge impression on me in the mid-90s called The Death of Satan. Written by the brilliant cultural historian and commentator Andrew Delbanco, the book argues that, as beliefs about Satan and the world of spiritual evil declined throughout American history (especially in the 20th with what he calls the birth of a “culture of irony”), Americans lost the ability to talk bout evil in meaningful termsIt’s a profound book but, in my mind, profoundly wrong in certain respects. Americans have not lost the language to talk about evil—they have a lurid, gaudy and intemperate language with which they do talk about it. What Americans have never been able to face, at least Americans who are white and of middle class and upper class status, is the way the national experiment is profoundly entangled with historical evil. I hope that readers are struck, as I still am, by how frequently the Devil has been the ghost at the American banquet. My own experience as an author was to feel like I was on a guided tour of an American inferno, where beliefs about demonology seemed to be creating horrors at every turn. This didn’t cease in the 18th century, or the 19th century or t an point in the 20th. Indeed, one of my last chapters is entitled “Lucifer Rising” to convey the sense that , for specific historical reason, post-Vietnam, post-Nixon America became fertile ground for lurid beliefs about the Devil.
Read the rest of part 2 of Baldblogger's interview with Scott Poole here.