If popular culture is a barometer for what we believe these days, it would seem that the devil is taken far more seriously than God.
Take for instance Crazyhead, a new original program produced by Netflix and Britain’s Channel 4. It is about two young women in their 20s, both socially awkward in different ways, who find that they share the ability to see demons possessing the people around them. Be warned that the show is off-color and definitely not suitable for children. But for those who can stomach it, the humor, horror, and friendship that lie at the center of the show make it a lot of fun to watch.
It is striking what the show takes for granted and what it strangely ignores. It assumes the existence and danger of demons, hell, and spiritual evil, yet other than a few words uttered in Latin at the end of the season finale, there is no mention of God at all. In that respect, Crazyhead resembles a number of other shows that have come before it like Reaper and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, shows in which devils and monsters are very real threats while God is conspicuously absent.
I have run across this view of the world more than once among people I have known: dyed-in-the-wool atheists who tell me that they believe in ghosts, or totally secular people who never give God two thoughts but think their houses are haunted. From the outside looking in, it seems highly strange to me that someone can be indifferent to the question of whether God exists while being totally freaked out by things that go bump in the night. But perhaps what we are looking at is a cultural shift that springs forth out of a lived experience of evil. We in the West live now in a world in which God is often denied or forgotten, while evil is given a name and a face.
Most surveys still indicate that the vast majority of Americans believe in God — about 9 of every 10 people — but who is this God we all believe in? He is generic and impersonal. Just look at the way Gallup framed the question in its most recent poll on the subject last summer: “Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?” This is not the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God who became incarnate of the flesh of the Virgin Mary and received the name Jesus. Instead, what we believe in now is a vague, floating spirit in the sky, some combination of Santa Claus and the Force from Star Wars. That kind of god is more a tool we can use for personal happiness than a divine savior who rescues us from the power of evil.
Devils, on the other hand, are well known to us. The generation coming up now does not remember a time before 9/11. This generation also does not remember a time before social media connected us all at the hip. A thousand tweets a day tell us who our enemies are. These messages are not subtle. We know there are monsters out there: terrorists, murderers, foreigners, refugees, people who want to shoot us, people who want to take our guns away, Republicans, Democrats, politicians, celebrities. Some of these threats are real, some are imagined, but we hear them all with the same level of frequency and intensity. God may be some distant, abstract energy, but evil is concrete. We know it affects our lives.
What shows like Crazyhead reveal, though, is more than our readiness to believe in a personal devil while denying or ignoring a personal God. The absence of God from the show does not lead to an absence of moral certainty. Demons are bad news. They are to be resisted, not celebrated. The means of that resistance in Crazyhead is violence, but the motivation is love. The central characters, Amy and Raquel, both seek love and serve love. Everything they do is to protect their friends. There are even moments of genuine sacrifice, particularly among the minor characters, who sacrifice themselves repeatedly so that others may live. There is no Christ in Crazyhead, but there is a Christian moral compass at work, whether the creators of the show realized it or not.
This, it seems to me, is the fertile ground for planting seeds of faith. Today’s generation largely grew up outside of the Church. Their dislike and disregard for Christianity is borrowed from their parents more than it is inculcated by personal experience. They do not believe in God, but they do believe in justice and in love. It may sometimes be a skewed view of justice and an unformed understanding of love, but the fact of it remains.
As the famous paraphrase of Dostoevsky says, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” In other words, a world that does not believe in God will completely lose the ability to discern between good and evil, considering both categories meaningless. This may be true, but we are not there yet, at least not completely. The coming generation may not know much of God, but there is a great desire to oppose evil with good. The work of the Church then is to show where this desire comes from.
There is genuine evil in our world: evil borne of sin and evil that springs from the demonic. And there is a whole generation out there ready to stand up and oppose it, even if it does not know why or how. The job of the Church is not to fight them but to equip and train them for battle. As we stand and resist evil in our world, firmly planted in the truth and hope of the Gospel, we bear witness to the source from which all our desires for justice and love spring.
Our enemies are not the ones identified on Twitter. Our enemies are sin, death, and the devil. In Christ, the battle is already decided. We have the victory. It is time we shared that victory with our fellow soldiers. It is time that we gave them a reason to fight.