Two sentries were standing night watch. The sturdy, slow one broke the silence. “We need to keep an eye out for the enemy.”
The slender, quick one became lively.” Yes! Yes!” he said. ”Exactly.”
He was talking with rapid vehemence and gesturing with his hands.
“Yes! There are enemies out there- poverty, ignorance, oppression! And here we are in this beautiful ritual, symbolically committing ourselves to be vigilant against the ‘darkness’ that surrounds us. What you say is so true, my friend. We must be vigilant. The human spirit must prevail!”
The slow one was puzzled. “What ritual?” he said.
The quick one laughed. “This one, of course. You and me. Here. The sentry thing.”
“The enemy,” the other sentry said slowly,” are killers with guns.”
No sentries ever have had that conversation. Among we Christians, however are many who think the deathly spiritual struggle we are in is just a kind of metaphor. They think the devilish tyranny we balm under is an abstract concept, as if the U.S.S.R. suffered from communism but not from the communists. They are like the Muslim moderates whose jihad is a jihad of the heart. They are adiabolists. They don’t think the devil exists.
The devil is the subject of Elder Romney’s talk of April 1971, titled “Satan, the Great Deceiver.” He traces out the vital role Satan has played in the real history of the world from the earliest beginning. He warns that “Stan is irrevocably committed to countering and overcoming the influence of the Spirit of Christ upon men.” He warns that “Satan’s methods are various, devious, and countless.”
There is a curious asymmetry between being an atheist and being an adiabolist. Atheism puts you in the devil’s party. But so does adiabolism. As Elder Romney declares, “the general acceptance of Satan’s declaration, ‘I am no devil, for there is none,’ accounts in large measure for the decadence in our deteriorating society.”
Abstract concepts are high status in our society. The Great and Spacious building has no connection to the solid earth. So a story about an enemy, that even a kid can understand, is too simple, too literal, too low status, too crude. Even, or maybe especially, too true–it doesn’t offer scope.
Childish (and true) literalism is a Mormon characteristic. We believe that the Resurrection happened. We beleive that the Father is a father. We believe that our devil is the actual devil.
It is this reality, this personality, that makes Mormonism so appealing. When I was young, deification bothered me. It was gross when I thought of it as a preparation for openings in the vibrant field of being a planet boss. When I realized that it was about a Father and his children, it was wonderful.
So in a real sense, Elder Romeny’s warning about the devil is appropriate at the Christmas season. Christ was a real baby, real son of the real God, come to save us from real captivity to the real devil.