Devil in the Details

ABC explored the existence of Satan during the March 26 “Nightline” but stacked the deck in favor of those who do not believe the devil exists.

Harris invited internationally known, and in some circles, renowned New Age guru Deepak Chopra to argue that Satan does not exist. Bishop Carlton Pearson, hailed as a “former fundamentalist preacher who says he used to cast demons out his followers,” joined Chopra.

Mark Driscoll, labeled a “hip yet hard-line preacher,” and Annie Lobert, a former prostitute and leader of the “Hookers for Jesus” outreach program in Las Vegas, represented the view that the devil does exist. Lobert herself noted her lack of intellectual credentials, “I don't have a theologian background, but I have 16 years of experience of walking with the Devil so I know he's real for sure.”

“Nightline” gave audiences a balanced look at the issue. Chopra argued it's the unhealthy people in the world who need Satan: “Healthy people do not have any need for Satan. Healthy people need to confront their own issues and that all the trouble in the world today is between religious ideologies. So I would say be done with Satan, and confront your own issues.”

Lobert testified about her own experience with what she believed was the devil:

I am a former escort/prostitute/stripper, what have you. And a night came in my life where I faced death. I O.D.'d on cocaine because I hated myself. And I kept hearing voices to tell me to kill myself. There was no reason to go on. And I know that wasn't coming from inside of me. There was a diabolical force speaking to me. And I truly believe it was the devil and his demons.

Driscoll argued that the world can't have goodness without evil as a counterpoint. He stated, “I think [God] created angels and people and he gave us the capacity to have free will for there to be virtue, there must be the possibility of vice … I think if you don't allow choice, the theologians will say you don't have love. And so the argument is made that if God were not allowing choice, then you wouldn't have evil, but you also would not have love.”

“It's awkward for me to be here tonight because I'm from four generations of Demon caster-outers and I think that the best way to get people free is to get them to stop believing so much in this hairy, horny, freaky, scary, omnipresent entity and it will not manifest the way we have believed it to,” stated Pearson.

So yes, each was allowed to present their argument for or against the existence of the devil, but the fact remains the most notable authority in the debate was a non-Christian scholar who called those that believe in the devil and God, “primitive.” Chopra responded to Driscoll's argument with:

It's actually a little difficult for me to respond because everything he says is in contradiction to what we know about the physical universe, that began about 13.8 billion years ago, in something called the Big Bang. I have been hearing all the terminology. How come you're all so convinced that god is a he or satan is a he when she be a black woman, you know? The point is, And how come we have the ideas that are so primitive. Why don't we understand that so far evil is a part of ourselves.

Harris appeared on the March 26 “O'Reilly Factor” to promote his “Nightline segment and told host Bill O'Reilly, “I've been covering evangelicals for years now.” With experience like that, Harris should have been able to find a Christian theologian to defend the idea that Satan exists. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary most likely could have effectively argued the position that the devil is real.

While Harris appeared relatively neutral as moderator of this debate, his heavy promotion Pearson's arguments in this exchange with “O'Reilly” appearance indicated that he gave more weight to the argument that Satan does not exist:

O'REILLY: But here's what's interesting about the scientific part of it. I did about 15 years ago an investigation of exorcisms out of Rome. OK? And the Vatican to this day has kept it very quiet, because it can be exploited in hysteria.

They have priests that go in and -- to people who have unexplained maladies, much like the movie. And a priest played for me a woman in Sicily's testimony where she was speaking in Etruscan, the language Etruscan. And they had it on tape. And the woman was a peasant and didn't know anything, could not have known Etruscan. And that -- those were the kinds of things that really, I went, whoa, unexplained, this, that, and the other thing. Did you get into any of that stuff?

HARRIS: You know, one of the guys on the panel is this guy. His name is Bishop Carlton Pierson. And he is a former fundamentalist preacher. He used to cast demons out of people for a living. He had a change of heart. He now believes that Satan does not exist.

O'REILLY: Did he refund the money of the other people that he cast them out?

HARRIS: Unclear, but he's clearly apologetic.

O'REILLY: Apologetic.

HARRIS: And he is now saying that he made a big mistake. And his theology was wrong. He was leading people in the wrong direction and that...

O'REILLY: And what does he say? The devil made him do it?

HARRIS: He doesn't go quite that far. But...

O'REILLY: You have got to get him on that.

HARRIS: He does say that it's a dangerous myth, that if you externalize all of our evil tendencies, as opposed to looking inside for what may be wrong about us, you can set up a straw man.

O'REILLY: Well, you can. I mean, you can make an excuse, “It's not my fault. I was possessed by a demon on Tuesday and that's why I did X, Y, and Z.”

Good for ABC for including all viewpoints in this debate. But CMI suggests next time reporters should look for scholarly authorities from both sides of the aisle.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.