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OPINION

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The Devil, You Say!

Hardly had the shooting stopped at Sandy Hook Elementary School before the national commentary machine cranked up. Everyone and his dog had something to say: Most of it, as events would show, centered on the compelling need, or lack of it, for gun control.

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To the Rev. Dr. Bill Dickson, it seemed the time had come for a metaphorically deeper treatment, focused on the seething, slithering abode of evil itself and the inhabitants thereof.

"Something shocking is going on in the world," Dr. Dickson, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, told me the other day. "It's not explained in human nature. We need to realize we are in a spiritual battle, facing an evil opposition that wants to destroy us."

What figure would we be talking about here if not the Devil: same red-suited gent rumored for centuries to be abroad in human affairs reduced in our scientific/high tech age to an exclamation or a Halloween costume? To return the Prince of Darkness to something like his old time prominence, Dr. Dickson organized at St. Andrew's a Lenten season series of teachings entitled, "Evil -- the Diabolical Spirit Which Haunts the Wilderness."

How do you like topics such as "Satan as the Corruptor of Governmental, Societal Systems," "Satan as the Inspiration and the Ultimate Object of False Religion" and "Satan as the Enemy of Truth, the Deceiver"? It strikes me we ought to like them a lot -- as occasions for renewing forgotten understandings of a power who should be in the forefront of our worst apprehensions.

The world of today, as I have remarked, takes the Devil lightly, if it takes him at all, despite his traditional portrayal as the avowed enemy of God. The Devil -- fallen angel as he is -- wants the reverse of whatever God wants: contentment, love, joy. It becomes his own joy (by traditional account) to work through God's own creatures -- men, women, children -- to frustrate the whole heavenly enterprise. We find it written in the Gospels that he sought for that identical purpose to work his will on God's son.

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Was Adam Lanza, the Newton gunman, the Devil's agent? To put it another way, can the possibility be foreclosed? Because if it can be, the Prince of Darkness is off the hook, and we turn, necessarily, to the examination of purely human causes and motives.

The guy, you say, was nuts and got his hands on guns he shouldn't have had access to? That could suggest, as many do, the need to tighten up gun controls and maybe better oversee the mental health system.

On the other hand, what if hatred, malice, the dark wish to inflict harm on innocent others -- what if these were the primary driving forces in Lanza's makeup? Would that realization not color the discussion in useful ways? And, yes, if it did, would it or would it not prove that evil some how lurked around Newtown, Conn., on that stomach-churning day last December.

Prove or disprove it how? That would be next question. Merely asking it conjures up mysteries and wonders more familiar to our forebears than to us. Among these: the presence among us of malice and wickedness.

Is it really possible, outside theology, to address the question of how a mere boy -- never mind where he got the guns -- could murder the woman who gave him life then slaughter children on whom he never before had set eyes? And if (as many would contend) you can't talk about such a thing without theology, does the world not owe itself the duty of asking whether our forbears knew some theology it wouldn't hurt us to recall?

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Disbelief in the Devil, whether as blackened angel, symbol of perverted love or both things at the same time -- would strike our ancestors as a huge favor to the old boy, letting him retreat into the shadows while humans sort out their sorrows. He won't get that kind of surcease at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, I venture to predict.

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