One of the key elements in any contest is understanding the strategy of your opponent. In the spiritual battle of life, we must be able to recognize, name, and understand the subtleties of the Devil’s tactics. While we often emphasize his more obvious and frightening maneuvers (especially on Halloween), his usual tactics are subtler and more pervasive.
A 2011 book by Fr. Louis Cameli, The Devil You Don’t Know, is of great assistance in this matter. Having read it a few years ago, I think it would be of value to reflect on four broad categories of the Devil’s tactics, which Fr. Cameli analyzes in this book.
While the four categories are Fr. Cameli’s, the reflections here are largely my own, though surely rooted in his excellent work. I highly recommend reading the book, in which Fr. Cameli describes the categories more fully.
I. Deception – Jesus says, The devil was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
The Devil deceives us with false and empty promises. Most of these relate to the lie that we will be happier and more fulfilled if we sin or deny aspects of the truth. Whatever passing pleasures come with sin, they are just that—passing. Great suffering eventually comes from almost all sinful activity. Yet despite this experience, we humans remain very gullible; we seem to love empty promises and put all sorts of false hopes in them.
The Devil deceives us by suggesting all sorts of complexities, especially in our thinking. He seeks to confuse us and to conceal the fundamental truth about our actions. Our minds are very wily; we try to avoid the truth by making excuses. Conniving with the Devil, we entertain endless potential complications by asking, “But what if this? And what about that?” Along with the Devil, we propose all sorts of difficulties, exceptions, and sob stories in order to avoid insisting that we behave well and live according to the truth.
The Devil deceives us with euphemisms, exaggerations, and false labeling. The dismemberment and murder of a child through abortion becomes “reproductive freedom” or “choice.” Our luminous Faith and ancient wisdom are called “darkness” and “ignorance.” Fornication is called “cohabitation.” The redefinition of marriage (as it has been known for millennia) is labeled “marriage freedom” or “marriage equality.” We too easily cooperate with the Devil by calling “good,” or “no big deal,” what God calls sinful.
The Devil deceives us through the misuse of information. Information is not the same as truth. Data can be assembled very craftily to make deceptive points. Further, certain facts and figures can be emphasized to the exclusion of other balancing truths. In this way, information that is true in itself can be used to deceive. The news media sometimes exercise their greatest power in what they do not report. This, too, is a way that the Devil deceives us.
We do well to carefully assess the many ways in which Satan tries to deceive us. Do not believe everything you think or hear. While we ought not to be cynical, we should be sober. We should attempt to verify what we see and hear and then square it with God’s revealed truth.
II. Division – One of Jesus’ final prayers for us was that we would be one (cf John 17:22). He prayed this at the Last Supper just before He went out to suffer and die for us. In so doing, He highlights that a chief aspect of His work on the cross is to overcome the divisions intensified by Satan. Some point out that the Greek root of the word “diabolical,” diabolein, means to cut, tear, or divide. Jesus prays and works to reunify what the Devil divides.
The Devil’s work of division starts within each one of us as we experience many contrary drives: some noble, creative, and edifying; others base, sinful, and destructive. So often we struggle internally and feel torn apart, much as Paul describes in Romans chapter 7: The good that I want to do, I do not do … and when I try to do good, evil is at hand. This is the work of the Devil: to divide us within. St. Paul lays out in Romans chapter 8 that the chief work of the Lord is to establish within us the unity of soul and body, in accordance with the unity of His truth.
The Devil’s attack against our inner unity spills out into many divisions among us externally. So many things help to drive this division and the Devil surely taps into them all: anger, past hurts, resentments, fears, misunderstandings, greed, pride, and arrogance. There is also the impatience that we so easily develop with those we love and the flawed notion that we should seek other more perfect and desirable people. Many abandon their marriages, families, churches, and communities in search of the elusive goal of finding better and more perfect people and situations.
Yes, the Devil has a real field day tapping into a plethora of sinful drives within us. His goal is always to divide us, internally as well as from one another. We do well to recognize that regardless of our struggles with others, we all share a common enemy. As St Paul writes, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Feuding brothers will reconcile when there is a maniac at the door, but the first step is noticing the maniac and then setting aside lesser divisions.
III. Diversion – To be diverted is to be turned away from our primary goal or task. For all of us, the most critical focus is God and the good things awaiting us in Heaven. Our path is toward Heaven, along the path of faith, obedience to the truth, love of God, and love of neighbor. The Devil does all that he can to turn us away from our one true goal.
The Devil tries to make us too absorbed in the passing things of the world. Many claim that they are too busy to pray, go to Mass, or seek other forms of spiritual nourishment. They become absorbed in passing, worldly things and ignore the lasting reality that looms.
The Devil seeks to distracts us with anxieties and fears. He causes us to fixate on fears about passing things rather than having the proper fear of the judgment awaiting us. Jesus says, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28). In other words, we should have a holy reverence and fear directed towards the Lord. If we do this, many of our other fears will be seen in better perspective or will even go away altogether. The Devil says just the opposite: we should be afraid of the thousands of things that might afflict us in this passing world, and not think about the one most significant thing that awaits us—our judgment.
The reason for this diversion is that the Devil wants us to focus on lesser things so that we do not focus on greater things such as a moral decisions and the overall direction of our life. We must learn to focus on what matters most and refuse to allow our attention to be diverted to lesser things.
IV. Discouragement – As human beings, and certainly as Christians, we should have high aspirations, but Satan often seeks to poison that. Along with high aspirations can come pride. We sometimes lack the humility to recognize that we must make a journey to what is good and best. Too easily, then, Satan tempts us to be impatient with ourselves and others. We sometimes expect to reach our aspirations in an unreasonably short amount of time and show a lack charity toward ourselves or others. Some grow discouraged and give up on the pursuit of holiness. Others give up on the Church because of the human imperfections found there.
The Devil discourages us with open-ended aspirations. There is always room for improvement; we can always do more. But here the Devil enters, for if we can always do more, then it is also possible to think that we’ve never done enough. The devil discourages us, encouraging these unreasonable demands within us as to what we can or should do each day.
The Devil discourages us through simple things like fatigue, personal failings, setbacks, and other obstacles that are common to our human condition and to living in a fallen world with limited resources.
In all these ways the Devil seeks to discourage us, to make us want to give up. Only a properly developed sense of humility can help to save us from these discouraging works of Satan. Humility, which is reverence for the truth about ourselves, teaches us that we grow and develop slowly, that we do have setbacks, and that we live in a world that is hard and far from perfect. Being humble and recognizing these things helps us to lean more on the Lord and to trust in His providential help, which grows in us incrementally.
Here, then, are four of the Devil’s common tactics. Learn to recognize and name them. In this way we can start to gain authority over them. Consider reading Fr. Louis Cameli’s book to learn more.
I have compiled a list of demonic titles and descriptions from the Rite of Major Exorcism that refer to some of these tactics of the Father of Lies (Titles of Satan from the Rite).