Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made.Genesis 3:1
The serpent being referred to here is Satan. This is the first time Satan is mentioned in the Bible and the one thing God tells us about him is that he is very subtle.
Now, some Bible translations use the words “cunning” or “crafty”, but the translation most faithful to the original Hebrew use the word “subtle”.
At first glance this seems odd. There are so many adjectives God could have used to describe Satan: “diabolical”, “violent”, “dishonest”, or “vile” just to name a few. Jesus calls him “the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). But here God chooses subtle. The word subtle doesn’t even seem bad at first glance. When we say someone is subtle we usually don’t mean it as an insult. So, why subtle?
People are subtle when they don’t want to reveal themselves, or their intentions, completely. A dictionary definition of subtle is “so delicate or precise as to be difficult to analyze or describe” and “making use of clever and indirect methods to achieve something”.
Satan is very intelligent. He knows that if he appears to us in all his ugliness, comes at us with all his violence and hate, we would be terrified and run. His true nature would be so objectionable that we would never accept him. So, Satan must be subtle in his work. He does not come at us all at once. As we shall see, the way Satan is subtle is… well… truly diabolical.
To demonstrate this I want to look at samples of society and television over the last 70 years. This is not an exhaustive look at history, but a look at specific things which reveal a pattern when seen as a whole. It is not a judgement of the people involved, but an observation of behaviors over time. We’ll begin in the 1950’s.
TV programs of this era never showed married couples sharing the same bed. Couples like Lucy and Ricky on “I Love Lucy” were shown sleeping in separate twin beds. As well, Elvis Presley is only shown above the waist on TV because the way he danced was seen as inappropriate for television. Well there certainly is nothing wrong with a married couple sleeping in the same bed, and nothing wrong with seeing them sleep in the same bed on a TV program, the reason for this was to keep the suggestion of sex out of the show. This is something between a husband and wife. And just as married couples were treated in real life, the show producers would not presume it appropriate to explore the intimate part of our TV couples marriage.
The main characters of 1950’s television were moral, upstanding people. Programs like Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Bonanza, Dragnet, Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Lone Ranger, Lassie, Ozzie and Harriet and The Mickey Mouse Club all promoted, and at the very least did not contradict, Christian moral values.
TV shows were popular then because society as a whole believed in these values. Well not everyone lived up to them, most people admired and aspired to imitate them.
“Life is Worth Living” featuring the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, won an Emmy Award for “Most Outstanding Television Personality” in 1952. This program had a Catholic bishop teaching Catholic truths with nothing but a podium and a chalkboard. He would not wear a simple black suit like you see so often today – Bishop Sheen was in full cape and cassock. And there was no EWTN. This program was on major networks like ABC from 1952 to 1957. Bishop Sheen drew as many as 10 million viewers each week, a huge percentage for the number of households who even had TV in the 1950’s.
Something interesting and tragic happened in 1962. The Supreme Court took prayer out of schools across the United States.
The 1960’s social reforms promoting equality for minorities and woman had good intentions, but they were often tied to violent protesting and, in the case of women’s rights, sexual immorality. In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that it was unconstitutional for the government to prohibit married couples from using birth control.
By the end of the decade, 1969, a married couple is shown sleeping in the same bed for the first time on “The Brady Bunch”. Of course this is perfectly fine, but it shows the change in what the public would tolerate being shown on TV.
In 1972, the title character in the prime time TV show “Maude” had an abortion. This was the first time a leading television character, or any character in prime time, was depicted having an abortion. One year later the Supreme Court made abortion legal across the United States.
From 1960 to 1965 there were 2883 Abortions in the United States, even though it was illegal in all states. In 1967 Colorado became the first state to legalize abortion. When abortion became legal nationwide in 1973 there were 744,600 abortions. So, in that one year abortions wend up 258% over the total number of abortions committed in the first six years of the previous decade.
Abortion continued to grow at an alarming rate over the next 18 years. Two years after abortion was legalized in the US, 1975, the total rose over one million (1,034,200). It would take almost 40 years to drop below one million again.
In 1980 abortions rose above 1.5 million babies killed in the womb and did not drop below 1.5 million until 1993 when 1,495,000 abortions took place. The number of abortions peaked in 1990 when over 1.6 million babies were aborted.
In the 13 years from 1980 to 1992, 20,430,670 babies were destroyed. This is more than the population of the State of New York. Compare this to the total number of US military deaths in the history of the United States, which is 666,441. In 1996 a ban on partial birth abortion was vetoed by President Clinton.
The total number of abortions committed in the United states from 1973 to the publication of this post is over 63,000,000 lives. This number of deaths would wipe out one of every five people in the United States, or the entire populations of Indiana, Missouri, Maryland, Wisconsin, Colorado, Minnesota, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut and Montana.
In the 1970’s TV programs in which the main characters had premarital sex were becoming popular, including M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, WKRP in Cincinnati and The Love Boat.
In 1976 two new programs became popular. “Charlie’s Angels” relied heavily upon the sex appeal of the three attractive women playing the lead rolls. The TV program “Three’s Company” had a man living with 2 woman, neither of which he was married to. While the living arraignment was platonic, it was a first for prime time television. One year later the first regular character on a TV series to be homosexual appears on the comedy “Soap”.
Through the 1980’s TV programs, as well as society, become more and more accepting of premarital sex, extra marital sex and living together before marriage. Popular programs that reflected this include Cheers, Dallas, The Golden Girls, Hill Street Blues, Knots Landing, L.A. Law, Miami Vice and Night Court.
On TV programs “Roseanne” and “Family Ties” main teenage characters were depicted having sex, a first for a main character on TV. The teenage sex was depicted as a normal rite of passage. Another first was when the title character on “Murphy Brown” had a baby out of wedlock.
A new, or perhaps renewd, kind of behavior entered society in the 90’s. It was introduced on the very popular comedy “Seinfeld”. This program not only included all the main characters engaging in regular premarital sex, but was the first program to introduce a relationship called, “Friends with benefits”. In this new kind of relationship two friends who do not have a romantic “boyfriend/girlfriend” relationship, occasionally engage in sexual activity “just for the fun of it”. This was depicted on “Seingeld” between the title character and another main character.
Another sign of the slow erosion of sexual morality can be seen in the political world where politicians seem to be held to lower and lower standards. In 1987 Gary Hart sought the Democratic presidential nomination and was widely viewed as the front-runner until reports surfaced of an extramarital affair. A picture of a young woman (not his wife) sitting on his lap was leaked to the press. Hart withdrew from the race in disgrace.
However, from 1995 to 1996 then 49-year-old President Bill Clinton and 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky had a sexual relationship which came to light in 1998. Even though Clinton lied about it and then later admitted to it, his popularity suffered little compared to Gary Hart’s career 11 years earlier.
In 1996 President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which, among other things, prohibited married same-sex couples from collecting federal benefits. Despite this, the acceptance of homosexual behavior began to grow in the late 1990’s.
In 1996 for the first time a TV program has as it’s main characters active homosexuals. The wide popularity of the program “Will and Grace” demonstrates (and assisted) society’s growing acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle during that time period.
Beginning in the late 1990’s people living a homosexual lifestyle are continuously portrayed as perfectly normal and acceptable by all the other characters in the movies and TV programs in which they are depicted.
In 2003 Massachusetts becomes the first state to allow same sex couples to marry.
In 2005 a movie titled, “Brokeback Mountain” about two men in a homosexual relationship became a popular movie and grossed $83,043,761 in North America (it cost less than $20 million to make and promote). The movie won several awards, including Oscars for best director, best writing and best original music. Contrast this with the 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ”, which grossed over $370 million in North America. It wasn’t nominated for any of the major Oscars (just music, cinematography and makeup) and won none of them.
In 2012 the “Masterpiece Cakeshop “in Denver, Colorado was sued by a gay couple for refusing to make a wedding cake for their “wedding”. The case was decided in favor of the plaintiffs; the cake shop was ordered not only to provide cakes to same-sex marriages, but to “change its company policies, provide ‘comprehensive staff training’ regarding public accommodations discrimination, and provide quarterly reports for the next two years regarding steps it has taken to come into compliance and whether it has turned away any prospective customers.” It took six years, 2018, for the United States Supreme Court to overturn this ruling by a 7-2 vote.
In 2015 the Supreme Court made it legal for same sex couples to marry in any state in the US.
After being made legal 36 years earlier, oral contraceptives, which became so popular it is known simply as “The Pill”, received a whole new status in 2011. In August of that year female contraception was added to a list of “preventive services” covered by the “Affordable Care Act” forcing employers to provide contraceptives via health insurance without patient co-payment.
I believe this demonstrates the gradual decline of morals in the United States, which began with taking prayer out of schools.
Imagine if the people of the 1950’s were told what TV, movies, laws and society in general are like in the year 2017. What kind of reaction would they give? Would they even believe you?
Can you imagine today’s television programs being shown in 1955? How well would Bishop Sheen reruns do on major network or cable stations today?
It is difficult to imagine this kind of moral decay happening by chance – without a lower power pulling the strings. This is how Satan works. All demons work this way.
He gets us to accept sinful things gradually. Sometimes just by small changes in what is acceptable behavior to watch on TV. Surely showing a married couple simply talking or sleeping in the same bed is not wrong, but it was a very gradual change, over years and years, to go from TV of the 1950’s to TV of the 1970’s and so on. Each change, every stripping away of a moral standard, are often quite small. They are usually too small to even be noticed or they are celebrated as an advance in human social development.
Satan works in individuals the same way. He offers, and encourages us to embrace, small ways of lessening our virtuous habits and the way we think. A little more TV, a little less time with family. A little more eating for fun, a little less time in prayer. A little more time on the smartphone, a little less sleep. A little more drinking, a little less time helping others. Each day, week, month and year we slip a little more toward a destructive lifestyle of laziness, gluttony, lust, selfishness, pride or other deadly sin.
This is why we must be vigilant. Pray everyday. Go to confession every month. Ask a friend, relative or spouse to hold you accountable for your behavior. Look to do things pleasing to God. Keeping a journal is often very helpful. You can look back 6 months, a year or more and see how you are doing now compared to then.
Be humble. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Trust in His mercy. Look for Him in the Scriptures, in Mass, in the crib, on the Cross and in prayer.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance.Ephesians 6:10-18