Missing are the cloven-hooves, pointy red horns, tail and pitchfork. Rather, Emiley Cox is beautiful. She is exotic, a seductive temptress luring her prey with empty promises and false hopes. She is a devil for the cynical age in which images of violence, poverty, addiction, isolation and apathy run on a 24-hour news cycle.
Emiley Cox is an American devil — subtle, sexy, a whisper rather than a scream. For now, she has her evil gaze fixed upon one man. His name is Dexter, and for him … hell awaits.
Of course, Cox isn’t the real devil. She’s a 22-year-old actress playing a role in Cornerstone Worship Center’s annual Halloween drama, Dexter: The Final Moments, about a young man’s suicide. It is Cox — playing both Dexter’s girlfriend and the devil — who pushes him over the edge.
“We expect evil to be big and loud and obvious, but that’s not how the devil works,” Cox said. “It’s what we’ve gotten used to seeing, and the devil uses that to his advantage. The real devil is sneaky, creeping into our lives before we know he’s there. By then, it’s too late.”
Amber Burr, the lead writer and creative director of “Dexter,” was inspired by the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ, in which Satan is portrayed as an attractive, hooded woman who constantly tempts Jesus. Burr wanted a devil that was “real” rather than comical.
“People don’t realize the devil can be the most beautiful thing in your life, but it’s all a lie,” said Burr, who played the devil in “Dexter” the previous two years. “The devil’s ultimate goal is to destroy us by any means necessary.”
From the witch hunts of the 17th century, through the “Satanic Panic” of the early ‘80s, to today, the devil has stood on the doorstep of American culture, serving as a catalyst and a scapegoat for the mysteries and tragedies that plague mankind.
“The phenomenon of the devil exceeds the realm of faith,” said Robert Muchembled, author of Damned: An Illustrated History of the Devil.
“In the last 1,000 years, his presence has never really disappeared from the cultural landscape. From the time of the Crusades to space exploration, the black thread of evil has been interwoven in the evolution of Western culture.
“Satan represents the dark side of Western culture; he is humankind’s own malevolence.”
According to a Harris Poll, more Americans believe in the literal existence of Satan (62 percent) than in the theory of evolution (42 percent).
“Satan will not go away,” said W. Scott Poole, author of Satan in America: The Devil We Know. “The devil plays a more significant role in our public vocabulary than at any time since the 17th century.”
Today, the Prince of Darkness hides behind Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort.
But Hollywood has also turned the devil into an anti-hero and a comedic goofball (think Adam Sandler in Little Nicky) — a caricature of evil rather than its embodiment.
“Movies and TV have probably desensitized audiences,” said Chris Luker, general manager of AmStar Cinema 12 in Oxford. “There are movies almost every year about the devil or exorcisms, and each one has to up the scare factor. The further they push, the more callused an audience becomes to the subject matter.”
But this constant exposure and reinvention has done wonders for the devil’s image, said Vic Minish, who teaches Old and New Testament as well as courses on theology and philosophy at Faith Christian School and is also a professor of apologetics at Birmingham Theological Seminary.
“Pop culture has made the devil way more interesting,” Minish said. “There are far more twists and turns to his personality than are actually there. In the Bible, he’s pretty opaque, when there’s any information at all. The devil we know is born mostly out of our imagination.”
Meet the Devil
The word “devil” is derived from the Greek word “diabolos,” which means “to slander.” However, “devil” is also derived from an Indo-European word, “deva,” which means “angel.”
It was the pagan god Pan who gave us the physical attributes of the devil — horns, hooves, pointed ears, tail and a body covered in hair from the waist down.
Various conceptions of the devil differ and even contradict one another. The Bible does not clarify precisely why Satan, a fallen angel, was cast out from heaven; the story of Lucifer’s rebellion comes from Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”
In the Muslim version of the story, the devil — or Iblis — was cast out for loving God too much and refusing to bow down to humans.
According to Dante’s “Inferno,” Satan resides in the ninth circle and deepest part of hell, rejoicing every time he catches another human in his web to suffer eternity in his dark realm.
In the biblical Book of Numbers, God sent “satan” — lowercase “s” — as a messenger to let Balaam know what he had done wrong. “The satan” also appeared in a starring role in the Book of Job, as a catalyst for Job’s trials.
In the New Testament, Satan has a much higher profile. After Jesus was led into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, Satan arrived to tempt him. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.” Jesus replied that man does not live by bread alone. Time and time again, Satan tempted Jesus only to be refuted.
From that point, the devil turned his gaze toward man, leaping from the pages of the Bible to haunt European culture. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, an estimated 30,000 people across Europe were burned at the stake as witches.
Over the centuries, humanity has continued to see itself stalked by an ever-present devil that has come to represent not only the ultimate evil but also the darkness lurking inside us all.
“The devil is a reminder of all the evil in the world,” Minish said. “He is the ‘Prince of this world.’ That means the world is a broken place and things are not as they are meant to be — pain, suffering, wars, broken marriages. Seeing these things remind us there is something outside ourselves attempting to destroy us.”
The 'Satanic panic'
In America, the growth of evangelism brought the idea of spiritual rebirth and spiritual warfare to the forefront of daily life.
“Satan provided America a metaphor for what our culture hates and fears most at each moment in our history,” Poole said.
Fueled by the Christian Right of the Regan era, moral crusaders in the 1980s saw the devil everywhere — heavy metal music, role-playing fantasy games, best-selling books and blockbuster movies.
Jacob Aranza, a young Louisiana evangelist, was largely responsible for introducing the idea of “backward masking” — hidden messages in rock music. He claimed the Styx song Snowblind included the message “Satan move in our voices.”
An Ohio evangelist later proclaimed that, when played backwards, the theme song from Mister Ed becomes “someone sung this song for Satan.”
Such fear eventually sparked what the media dubbed the “Satanic Panic,” which mirrored the Salem Witch Trials. But this time the hunt was led not only by preachers and zealots but by politicians, parent groups and local law enforcement groups.
In 1985, Geraldo Rivera claimed more than 1 million Satanists operated in the United States.
In 1989, radio evangelist Bob Larson claimed that 95 percent of all missing children in the United States were victims of satanic cults.
“America’s Satan is seemingly omnipresent,” Poole said. “(He’s) corrupting Christianity itself, seducing leaders in government and business, building an organizational structure of his followers to rival the church, hindering religious revivals, leading a huge army of demonic minions who can possess human beings, causing natural disasters, inspiring the enemies of the United States to acts of violence.
“Moreover, in a particularly American contribution to satanic lore, the devil is working overtime to bring about the end of the world … as the Antichrist.”
(See “Left Behind” by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.)
The more that people of faith trumpet the dangers of Satan’s sinister plot while decrying the vile nature of a popular culture fascinated with its own dark side, the more of a growth industry the devil has become.
“Evangelical religion and popular culture together spawned the urban legends about the influence of Satan in America, allowing the country to become a kind of demonic echo chamber of rumor, panic, conspiracy theories and deep cultural unease,” Poole said.
That is the attitude that Amber Burr had in mind when she wrote the devil in “Dexter.” While America’s pop-culture Satan can be easily dismissed as a horror movie monster, it’s all by design, Burr said. For her, the devil is like a snake in the grass; by the time someone gets close enough to see if it’s poisonous, the venom is already coursing through their veins.
“By seeming harmless, the devil is taken for granted,” she said. “The devil doesn’t want us to believe in him.”
Contact Brett Buckner at email@example.com
The Devil's nicknames
Prince of Darkness: Coined in Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”
Diabolos: Satan is called “diabolos” 33 times in the New Testament
Old Roger: An 18th-century nickname.
Old Scratch: A folk name from early New England and pre-Civil War America. Appears in Washington Irving and Mark Twain stories.
Beelzebub: Originally a deity named Baal-zebul. In the New Testament, Satan is compared to Beelzebub, and eventually the two names became synonymous.
Lucifer: A Latin translation of “Morning Star,” or the planet Venus.
Mephistopheles: A folklore name that appeared in the Renaissance; appears in the tale of Faustus.
The Beast: From the book of Revelation.
The Dragon: From the book of Revelation.
The Tempter: From the Book of Matthew.
The Devil's playlist
• “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Charlie Daniels Band
• “Number of the Beast,” Iron Maiden
• “Highway to Hell,” AC/DC
• “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise,” Elvis Presley
• “Devil Inside,” INXS
• “Friend of the Devil,” Grateful Dead
• “Runnin’ with the Devil,” Van Halen
• “Devil without a Cause,” Kid Rock
• “Devils & Dust,” Bruce Springsteen
• “Where the Devil Don’t Stay,” Drive-by Truckers
• “Sympathy for the Devil,” The Rolling Stones
• “Devil’s Right Hand,” Johnny Cash
• “Devil’s Child,” Judas Priest
• “Shout at the Devil,” Mötley Crüe
• “Black Sabbath,” Black Sabbath
• “To Hell with the Devil,” Stryper
• “Devil in Her Heart,” The Beatles
• “Devil in a Blue Dress,” Mitch Ryder
• “The Devil’s Orchard,” Opeth
• Anything by blues legend Robert Johnson. He’s said to have met the devil at a lonely crossroads in the Mississippi Delta, where he sold his soul in exchange for becoming one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
“Dexter: The Final Moments”
When: 7 p.m. today and Monday, 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Cornerstone Worship Center, 2885 Choccolocco Road, Anniston, call 256-236-1603 for reservations.