In a 1997 lecture entitled “The Origin of Satan in Christian Tradition,” Religious Historian Elaine Pagels writes about how the character of Satan morphed over the centuries from a messenger of God’s to His enemy:
So there are many stories about Satan’s origin; but what struck me about them is this. Diverse as they are, whichever version you choose, they all agree on one thing: that this greatest and most dangerous enemy did not originate (as we might have expected) as an outsider, an alien, or stranger. Satan is no distant enemy: on the contrary, he is an “intimate enemy”—one’s closest relative, older brother, or trusted colleague—the kind of person on whose goodwill and loyalty the well-being of family and society depends, but one who turns unexpectedly hostile, jealous, and dangerous.
So it is not the total outsider whom we hate, but the heretic—one whose belief is close to ours except on some details which to some will seem trivial. Such were the Arians and Nestorians in the early days of the Christian Church. And such are the Sunni and Shi’a over the last 1,400 years.
With the execution of a prominent Shi’a cleric (Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr), Saudi Arabia has earned the undying hatred of Iran. For many centuries, there has been a small Shi’a minority in the Eastern portion of the Arabian peninsula, and the executed sheikh was their religious leader. Shown below is a map illustrating the distribution of the two sects in the Middle East:
This comes at a bad time for Saudi Arabia, as the sharp decline in the price of oil is about to have dire consequences in the ability of the kingdom to provide benefits for its favored citizens. The price of gas has jumped 50%, water and electricity are going up, and the country’s safety net is in danger.
So what should we do? I think this is a good time to put our hands firmly in our pockets and start whistling until we see who wins, King Kong or the Dinosaur.