There is a scene in the Movie Devil’s Advocate where Al Pacino, who plays the Devil, takes up a rant against God. In so doing, the scene rather remarkably portrays the attitude and view of God and religion held by many secularists today. If you click through to the YouTube page and look at the comments, you’ll see page after page of clench fists raised saying, in effect “YEAH!” Beware of the abundance of extreme profanity if you look at those comments. It seems not to be enough for some secularists that they find God and faith irrelevant, rather they must go further to hate God and faith.

Fr. Robert Barron has a cautionary note when engaging these sorts of secularists and atheists. He notes that they are not so much rejecting God, as a caricature of God, a false and distorted picture of God, gleaned from selective reading of Scripture, and a selective and a distorted notion of the life of faith. Frankly the “god” some of them reject, we reject too.

Hence, we do well to listen carefully to their notion of God and faith and to learn to distinguish the god they reject and the faith they despise, from the True God and the true faith.

With that in mind lets take a closer look at the Al Pacino (as the devil) rant and analyze it. It may be helpful for you to view the video below and follow the text (reproduced here) before looking at my line by line reflection. I am sorry for the profanity in the middle of the clip….It is Hollywood after all. But the profanity does illustrate the depth of the anger, that not a few have today, of the caricatured god they reject who they somehow think is the True God. Here is the quote in full and the video is below:

What are you carrying all those bricks for, anyway, God? God? Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He is a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you these extraordinary gifts, and what does he do? I swear, for his own amusement, his own private cosmic gag reel, he sets the rules in opposition. It is the goof of all time. Look, but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t take. Taste, but don’t swallow. And while you are driving yourself nuts, what is He doing? He is laughing his sick ……..off…. He is an absentee landlord. Worship that? Never!…I’m here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began. I’ve nurtured every sensation man has been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him. In spite of all his imperfections I am a fan of man. I am a humanist. Maybe the last humanist. Who in their right mind, Kevin, could possibly deny that the 20th Century was entirely mine? All of it Kevin. All of it. Mine. I’m peaking…It’s my time now.

And now permit a few responses to each line:

What are you carrying all those bricks for, anyway, God?

Most secular critics of the faith see the living of the faith as a hardship that stifles humanity and lead to unhappy and unfulfilled lives. They see us shackled by dogmas that limit us and confine our search for truth and greater self actualization and development. They see us as carrying bricks.

Sadly, some Christians give rise to these notions by manifesting a sour-faced, joyless faith, which does manifest unnecessary hostility to the world  and the beauty of creation. This of course is not an orthodox expression of the true faith. For at the heart of the true faith is the joy of an empty tomb, the new life of resurrected glory.

As a Christian my deepest experiences are of joy and serenity. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at what God is doing in my life. It is my joy to praise and serve God. His law is more precious to me than gold and it has preserved me from a boat load of trouble!

It is true that the Cross is held high by the Church. But it is at the Cross that the full love of God for me is visible as Jesus dies in my place. And the cross brings life, for it is in dying to lower things that we rise to higher and more wonderful things. I glory in the Cross and, in the laboratory of my own life, I have experienced how it does bring me life and blessing and how its power transforms my life.

I am not carrying bricks for love lightens every load. God’s commandments are not burdensome to me, for the more I love God and my neighbor, them more and more I keep them, almost without effort. Here too it has been my experience that God has given me grace upon grace and that, as his Law comes alive in my life, it is by his gift, rather than my effort. To be in Christ is my joy, my life, my most precious possession.

As for burdens, we all have them, secularists as well as the faithful. But to experience my burdens with faith lightens them and gives me confidence that they only make me stringer and prepare me for glory.

I do not carry bricks, I am carried by God’s love.

Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch….He is an absentee landlord.

Here is a deistic notion of God, that he sort of sets things in motion, and then steps back to watch or go have lunch or something.

But neither Scripture nor my own experience confirm this notion. The Lord holds all creation together in himself (e.g. Col 1:17). He is more present to me than I am to myself. Though he transcends he also indwells through immanence.

I have come to powerfully experience God’s presence in my life in recent years. As my prayer has deepened I am drawn into close union with God in wordless contemplation. I am privileged to walk with many spiritual directees who have also come to experience deep union with God.

The normal Christian life is to be in living conscious contact with God at every moment. Nothing is more strange to me than to think God is watching from afar. Even as I type these words my heart is moved with his indwelling presence, a presence that is real and unquestioned by me.

He is a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you these extraordinary gifts, and what does he do? I swear, for his own amusement, his own private cosmic warped sense of humor, he sets the rules in opposition to your instincts. It is the goof of all time. Look, but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t take. Take, but don’t swallow. And while you are driving yourself nuts, what is He doing? He is laughing

It is a Christian teaching that God gave us our passions (what Pacino (aka the devil) calls “instincts.” It is also Christian teaching that these passions are, of themselves good and necessary. God does not given them to us for his amusement, but for our survival and for our enjoyment of the good things he offers.

It is a truth however, that our passions, after the fall, are unruly and we often struggle to maintain them in a balance that is healthy and helpful.

It is not just God who sets up rules to limit our indulgence of passions. The world does too. If you drink and drink, you’re under arrest. If you eat too much the world laughs at you and calls you fat, and doctors wag their finger and (rightfully) warn of heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol etc. If you vent your anger excessively you may be arrested or sued. If you merely indulge your sexual passion and grope people, sexually abuse or rape them, you are subject to arrest, imprisonment and lawsuit.

There are necessary limits for our indulgence of passions in any setting, secular or religious. If all we do is follow our instincts, we are but animals, and orderly society is not possible.

Self Mastery – So limits are not unique to a Christian or religious setting. What is unique is the understanding that what the world calls limits, we call self mastery. The Christian moral vision is not a vision so much of limits, as of transformation and freedom. I am not to be enslaved by my passions but the master of them. Christ announces freedom not slavery or suppression.

Here too I am a witness. I am joyful in what the Lord has done for me. He has set me free from innumerable sinful habits and patterns. I have gained great mastery over many of my passions, especially anger. In its place are greater compassion, patience, kindness and love.

I do not experience these as impositions or limits, but as gifts. I am not stifled but strengthened. I am joyful over the fact that I am not a slave to pornography, I do not sexually act out nor do I even want to. I am seeing my greed abate and be replaced by greater generosity. I am less resentful, and more easily forget hurts of the past.

I do not say things like to boast, except to boast in the Lord. I am so glad at what he is doing in my life! He is not laughing at me, He is loving me, and transforming me! Thank you Lord.

I’m here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began. I’ve nurtured every sensation man has been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him. In spite of all his imperfections I am a fan of man. I am a humanist.

Yes, Satan and the secular mindset like to praise themselves as the friend of man, the friend of the people.

Here Satan claims to be close,  while God is distant and laughing. I have already addressed those notions.

But what Satan here calls “nurturing every sensation” I call temptation. Our passions do not need to be nurtured. We have them naturally from God and, of themselves they work fine. And as noted, since the Fall of Man, sometimes they work too well and out of balance. What Satan and the world do, is to manipulate and tempt us beyond what is necessary or just. All day long, Satan and the world seek to provoke our anger, our fear, our sexuality, our need for popularity and acceptance, our greed, our hatred, our hunger and thirst. The hope is to get us spending too much and to ensnare us in the insatiable desire for more. When our passions own us, we are easily bought and manipulated.

This is not humanism, it is hatred and exploitation. It is slavery that is the goal, not freedom. Most people who have marched under the banner of freedom in recent decades have ended up addicted, diseased and indebted, with broken families, broken lives and broken hearts. Any honest look at the disarray caused by the excesses of modern times tells this sad tale.

Satan also boasts that the he has never judged or rejected man. Nonsense, for both he and the so-called “tolerant” secularists are highly judgmental.

Scripture calls Satan our accuser.

And the secular world is anything but tolerant. Just utter, even unintentionally, something that is not politically correct and watch how fast you are humiliated, called names, kicked to the curb, threatened with lawsuits, and even told to resign. Transgress, even for a moment, the rule that certain protected classes are never to be questioned or challenged, and watch the venom and name calling: bigot, homophobe, hater,  intolerant, insensitive, racist, etc.

Our so-called tolerant society specializes in destroying those who transgress, even obliquely. There is no room for apology, clarification, context, or any presumption of good will. The transgressor must be destroyed.

Is this humanism or is it what the Pope has called the “tyranny of relativism?” Is this what the devil in this scene means when we says he and the secular world does not judge although God, and presumably, religionists do? It does not seem that being judgmental is a problem only of the religiously observant. Frankly, some of the destructive vindictiveness of the secular world far surpasses what the Pope or the local pastor can mete out.

Who in their right mind, Kevin, could possibly deny that the 20th Century was entirely mine? All of it Kevin. All of it. Mine. I’m peaking…It’s my time now –

Ah, and here is where “Satan” goes a bridge too far. I am really rather surprised that Hollywood allowed this line in the final cut. For here is where the mask comes off, and we see the real face of Satan and the true fruits of the secularism of these times. The woes of the 20th Century have little to do with religion. Rather, they emerge directly from secular principles, as well as from sin set loose by Satan.

Most of us who have lived through the 20th Century realize what a dreadful fall we have had.

It is true our technology, science and medicine are off the hook and wonderful things have been seen.We have also made progress in turning back the most severe forms of racism.

But the dreadful and bloody wars where millions died, the genocidal mania that swept Germany in the 40s, the Balkans and Rwanda in 90s. The over 100 million killed by Stalin and the Chinese in their Communist crack down. The incredible bloodshed in southeast Asia, the unfathomable toll of abortion and on and on.

The West has also suffered dramatic decline and our families have been destroyed by promiscuity, divorce, and cohabitation. Contraception and abortion have also fueled a kind of death wish as our birthrates have plummeted. It is the children who suffer most.

Church attendance has severely declined, social unrest grows, the economy throughout the West is laden with debt and near disaster.

Most of us who are older remember times that were safer and simpler, where people made commitments and kept them, and where self control and a common moral vision were more the norm. They were not perfect times by any means, and some things were worse, but any casual observer will note a sudden and shocking decline in the 20th Century of the basic fabric of culture, faith, family and country.

Yes, I would easily agree, the 20th Century has surely been a playground for Satan. It recalls the vision of Pope Leo who came to understand that Satan’s power would grow for the period of 100 years. He asked that the Prayer of St. Michael be thus recited everywhere, especially after low Mass. Keep praying, for, even if Satan’s time is up, the ripples in the water take time to calm down.

Yes, I am surprised Hollywood allowed this last line to stay in. For, despite all the talk of how religion has caused wars, and how religion imprisons people in a lack of self fulfillment, and dogmatic rigidity, the problems of the 20th Century cannot be laid at the door of faith. The ruins of the 20th Century are the “fair-flower” of utopian secularist thinking. Divorced from God, and insisting it is accountable to no one higher, and convinced it can cast aside the wisdom of previous ages like filthy rags, secular culture has shown us the fruit of its premises. Welcome to humanist paradise.

As for me, I have come to love the Kingdom of God. We in the Church have not lived it perfectly or manifested it well. Indeed, we too are accountable for the ruins around us, for it has happened on our watch. We failed to effectively hand on the faith to our children, and we were inwardly focused while our culture melted down. Other Catholics were too busy trying to fit in, rather than joyfully live the faith.

But in the end, it is not the faith that was the cause, it was the failure to life the faith that caused our witness to the world to fall flat. Now it is the time for Christians to authentically come to a true and lively faith, a joyful and confident faith. For, as Fr. Barron has said so well, it is not God that most atheists and secularists reject, it is a false picture of God that they reject. It is up to us to encounter the living and true God, and to manifest him to the world. We must soberly assess the world, joyfully embrace our God and our Faith and manifest him personally to the world.

7 Responses

  1. Jon White says:

    “Sadly, some Christians give rise to these notions by manifesting a sour-faced, joyless faith, which does manifest unnecessary hostility to the world and the beauty of creation. This of course is not an orthodox expression of the true faith.” This is true, but we have to remember and understand that, at some point in EACH of our lives, we have worn a sour-face and been joyless. And I don’t think Jesus had a smile on His face at most times during His passion. We all (secularists as well as Christians) need to understand that none of us knows the burdens any other person is carrying UNLESS THE OTHER PERSON BARES HIS HEART which is an exceedingly-rare occurrence in my experience. What’s called for when we encounter a sour-faced, joyless person is understanding and charity – which the secularist most-likely and (regrettably, hopefully) has less of than the typical Christian.

  2. Greg V. says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Both the clip and your article are truly insightful.

    Pacino gives a bravo performance and I can actually believe he is Satan – his rant has just the right mixture of lie and truth. Of course, he and not God is our friend. He has only been helping us against that “absentee landlord” with His “cosmic gag reel.”

    Your thoughts are also very valuable in showing where Satan lies to us and what the Truth really is.

    I enjoy reading your posts and hope you continue to enlighten us for a long time to come.

    May God bless you!

  3. Nick says:

    As Satan will work in the Antichrist when he comes, so we must let God work within us today.

  4. Deo volente says:

    It is fascinating in this film that Kevin’s chief vice is Pride. He has never lost a court case. The story is told in flashback format. Not to give the end away, but Satan’s tactics shift at the end. He has many arrows in his quiver–7 vices– which are to be tried. In sum, the movie is very well done, is a bit disturbing in some scenes, but really gives pause for all Catholics who view it. It is akin to “The Screwtape Letters” but done in modern script. I find it an expose as you have revealed of diabolic tactics.

    Excellent commentary, Monsignor!

  5. Ismael says:

    For a mainstream Hollywood movie “The Devil’s Advocate” has a deep (Catholic I almost dare to say) theological meaning… which is a true miracle in itself (movies with some religious usually have wishy-washy brain dead hippy ‘theology’… if you can call it ‘theology’)

    The whole movie shows hoe temptation works: the devil whispers but we are ultimately the ones who make the wrong choices when we sin just like Keanu Reeves in the movie.

    Indeed Pacino (he is my favorite actor!) as the Devil clearly sends the ‘secular messages’, such as ‘Religion prohibits every pleasure’, ‘God if He exists makes you want something but forbids you to have it’… which are indeed the lies and hal-truths of the secular antireligious propaganda (which does not mean, luckily, that all atheists think that, although I do think those who do not are a minority).

    Indeed most saints, although often they suffered much more than many of us can even imagine were almost always full of joy!

    >>Who in their right mind, Kevin, could possibly deny that the 20th Century was entirely mine? All of it Kevin. All of it. Mine. I’m peaking…It’s my time now –

    … and the 21st even more so, I fear. Indeed the devil’s power is peaking! The devil is smart, he needs no great tricks, just subtle lies.

  6. Robb says:

    Well said Monsignor, well said indeed.

  7. FIRE says:

    Frankly I am getting a bit tired of explaining this:

    God can do as He pleases, and there is no-one who can judge Him no-matter what He does.

    He is not the subject of a popularity contest.
    It is He that judges the “humanists” and the “secularist”.

    Not the other way around.

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