Blog Post

Why Do People Deny the Existence of Satan?

CB writes: “Why do so many people deny the existence of Satan? Isn’t it obvious that evil is afoot in this world?”

It's not so much that people don't believe in evil; they just don't believe that evil is personified. They see Satan as a symbol of evil, but not as a person.

For example, as Pope St. Paul VI explained in his famous 1972 address on the devil, people have all kinds of explanations for evil.

“Why do we not speak about it [the devil] anymore? We do not speak about it because we lack a visible experience. We believe that what we do not see does not exist. Instead, we fight against evil. But, what is evil? We are speaking of evil as a deficiency, a lack of something. If someone is ill, he lacks health. If someone is poor, he lacks money. And so on. This is not the case when we speak about the devil; that is why this is a terrible reality. We are not dealing with a deficiency, an evil caused by the lack of something. We must realize that we face an efficiency that is evil in itself; an existing evil, an evil that is a person; an evil that we cannot classify as corruption of goodness. We are speaking of an affirmation of evil, and if this does not frighten us, it should.”

He went on to state very emphatically that “anyone who refuses to acknowledge the existence of this terrible reality departs from the truth of biblical and ecclesiastical teaching.”

It does seem hard to believe that even in the face of this clear and precise warning, along with thousands of years of teaching on the existence of Satan, there are so many Catholics today who refuse to believe in his existence.

According to the Applied Center for Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, belief in the devil has actually risen in recent years, from 62 percent in 1957 to 70 percent in 2007. However, just as Pope Paul explained, the majority don’t believe he’s actually a personal being.

As they write in this blog post: “For many, the devil or Satan is a symbol of evil rather than a being . . . Among the 85% of U.S. adults who believe in God that were asked the question, 69% see Satan more as a symbol of evil and 31% say they believe Satan is a ‘living being.’ Evangelical Christians are among the most likely to believe Satan is a being (55%). Catholics are among the least likely to agree (17%). Eighty-three percent of Catholics say they see Satan more as a symbol of evil.”

As disturbing as these statistics might be, they’re hardly surprising. Disbelief in the devil has insinuated even the highest echelons of the Church. For example, in 2019, during an interview with the Italian magazine, Tempi, Father Arturo Sosa, SJ, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, declared that the devil was a symbol, not a person.

The devil, “exists as the personification of evil in different structures, but not in persons, because [it] is not a person, [it] is a way of acting evil. He is not a person like a human person. It is a way of evil to be present in human life,” Fr. Sosa said. “Good and evil are in a permanent war in the human conscience and we have ways to point them out. We recognize God as good, fully good. Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

His remarks sparked an international controversy, with his statement repeated in headlines throughout the Christian and secular media only to be partially walked back a few months later when Fr. Sosa told Italian journalists that “the power of the devil . . . obviously still exists as a force that tries to ruin our efforts.”

By then, the damage had been done, and those Catholics who were already doubting the existence of the devil had one more excuse to continue to dismiss the reality of Satan.

Believe it or not, there are even some people who believe there should be a “revision of doctrine” on the whole subject of Satan, beginning with Scripture.

“Some critics, believing they can define Jesus’ own position, claim that none of his words guarantees demonic reality,” we read in the Church document, Christian Faith and Demonology. It was just a reflection of the beliefs of His time.

Those who make these assertions are doing so on unconvincing evidence, especially where the New Testament is concerned. In these pages we find that Jesus, who was characterized by his independence of spirit with regard to the opinions of His time, didn’t just believe in Satan because this is what everyone believed at the time. In fact, in the Acts of the Apostles, the Sadducees admit “neither resurrection nor angel, nor spirit.” This means that they didn’t believe in either angels or devils, so opinion on the existence of Satan was very much unsettled at the time of Christ.

“There is no disputing the fact that Christ, and even more so the apostles, belonged to their times and shared the current culture. Nevertheless, because of his divine nature and the revelation which he had come to communicate, Jesus transcended his milieu and his times; he was immune to their pressure . . . So, to assert today that Jesus’ discourse on Satan was only a borrowed doctrine without importance for universal belief, seems, even at first sight, to be an ill-informed opinion on the times and on the personality of the Master.”

Jesus’ personal witness is, in itself, a powerful indicator of the existence of Satan. In addition to his temptation in the dessert, and his frequent casting out of devils, he also spoke about the devil in his parables, such as when he attributed to Satan the cockles spread in the field (Matt 13:25); when he warned Peter that the “powers of death” would try to prevail against the Church and try to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31); when he left the Upper Room on the night of his death and declared the arrival of the “prince of this world” (John 14:30); when the soldiers laid hands on him in the Garden of Gethsemane and he declared that the “reign of darkness” had come (Luke 22:53).

“These facts and these declarations – which are well placed, repeated, and in harmony with one another – are the result of change," the document states. "They cannot be treated as fables to be demythologized. Otherwise, one would have to admit that in those critical hours the mind of Jesus, whose lucidity and self-control before the judges are attested to by the Scripture accounts, was a prey to illusory fantasies and that his word was devoid of all firmness. This would be in contradiction to the impression of the first hearers and of the present readers of the Gospel.”

As a result of these ideas being promulgated by the learned and spread in prestigious journals, the faithful are left confused. “The faithful, accustomed to take seriously the warning of Christ and of the apostolic writings, feel that this kind of teaching is meant to influence opinion.”

Of course, this is precisely what Satan wants.

As Venerable Fulton J. Sheen explained in his book Life of Christ, “Very few people believe in the devil these days, which suits the devil very well. He is always helping to circulate the news of his own death. The essence of God is existence, and He defines Himself as: 'I am Who am.' The essence of the devil is the lie, and he defines himself as: 'I am who am not.' Satan has very little trouble with those who do not believe in him; they are already on his side.”

© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®

Send your New Age questions to