Lucifer, Leviathan, Beelzebub, Devil, Ruler of the Darkness — Satan goes by many names and takes various forms. He began as Ahriman, a wicked soul representing human strife in the archaic Iranian religion, Zoroastrianism. He’s later portrayed as a great demon ruling over a realm of corruption in Jewish Kabbalism. And many will be familiar with the classic Christian Satan, a horned, red, demonic human with a pointy tail, and the origin of all evil.
He’s mean. He’s sinister. He’s cunning. And no matter which Satan you’re dealing with, you’re probably in for a bad time (unless you’re Ozzy Osbourne, in which case, tell your best friend I say s’up). After all, being bad is just his nature.
But what if I were to propose a different version of Satan? One who wears skinny jeans, straightens his hair and tells his mom to shut up so he can sing along to his new Dashboard Confessional CD? What if Satan, the big, bad Serpent of Old, is actually just another whiny little emo boy?
Let’s take a closer look at the story of Satan to see if the emo label sticks.
As we get started, the first thing to note is that even in the Bible, Satan goes through a few different phases. “Basically, Satan starts out as God’s prosecutor and hangman in the Hebrew Bible,” says historian of religion Per Faxneld, author of The Devil is Red: Socialist Satanism in the Nineteenth Century. “At this point, he’s ultimately a benevolent, if harsh and scary figure. Later, theological innovations by Christians led to him going from a member of God’s heavenly court to being perceived as an evil spirit. He also became identified with the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the New Testament, we see Satan tempt Christ and cause illness and sin. Further theological elaboration, drawing on a cryptic passage in The Book of Revelation, added the story of his fall from Heaven.”
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Let’s pause here for a second, because Satan’s fall from Heaven is where he really enters his emo phase. The story goes that Satan becomes self-obsessed — he loves the way he looks and thinks — so he starts feeling jealous of God’s fame and popularity. (God, being the creator of all things, is Satan’s dad, mind you.) These feelings of jealousy drive Satan to rebel against his dad (sounds pretty emo already), who basically grounds him and chucks him down to Earth. Satan responds by becoming increasingly fussy, changing his name from Lucifer to Satan like an edgy teenager, and sulking in a pit (essentially Heaven’s basement) for the rest of time.
Is My Chemical Romance rehearsing right now, or is that just Satan trying to piss off his dad again?
Going back to Satan’s life story, his Biblical fall from Heaven eventually inspires a lot more speculation on what he’s all about, which comes in the form of some amazing writing outside of the Bible that reflects the emo-ness of everyone at the time. “This was then turned into great literature in the English Puritan John Milton’s 1667 epic Paradise Lost,” says Faxneld. “When rebellious English Romantics like Percy Shelley and Lord Byron read Milton 150 years or so later, they thought Milton’s Lucifer was one groovy, defiant dude standing up to the ultimate authority: God. They identified with him, because they themselves were protesting against monarchy, patriarchy and so on. Shelley was into free love, vegetarianism, anarchism and various other progressive causes. In several texts, he therefore used Satan as a progressive symbol of overthrowing unjust authority. Byron on occasion used the figure in a similar manner, and also cultivated a demonic dandy persona — exuding a luciferian glamour many women found irresistible.”
(When you put it that way, Satan sounds pretty cool, but remember, being emo is cool! I’ve been known to straighten my hair, say “rawr” and rebel against societal norms myself.)
If we look at Satan’s personality through all of this writing — the Bible, Milton, Shelley and Byron — we can get a pretty good idea of what he’s all about. “Satan, while certainly a frightful character, doesn’t have much of a personality in the Hebrew Bible,” Faxneld says. “If we consider the later theological interpretation of the serpent as Satan, he could perhaps be described as cunning and eloquent. This also goes for Satan as a tempter in the New Testament. Popular understandings of Satan are often colored by Milton’s depiction of him as a vigorous anti-hero, who after his defeat became given to brooding and sulking down in Hell.”
These popular understandings of Satan as an anti-hero are, of course, the ones where he’s at his most emo, a true hot emo boy. “The Biblical Satan isn’t really very emo,” Faxneld says. “Milton’s Satan fits the bill quite well, on the other hand. This Satan is rebellious, much like a member of a modern-day subculture, and decidedly emotional and introspective. He makes melodramatic speeches, and ponders the Hell he feels within his own heart. Starting out proud and quite majestic, he’s eventually reduced to a pathetic, whiny figure, not unlike caricatures of emo men.”
So next time some sign-wielding preacher tries to scare you off by saying the Devil’s coming to smite you, you can calmly explain to them that Satan’s not to be feared; he’s just one of many hot emo boys. Plus, there are way worse bands to listen to than Panic! at the Disco while you’re being endlessly tortured in the deep depths of hell.