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Despite what many of you may believe, I am not in league with Satan. It's nothing like that at all. We're just good friends.

Most religions have some counterpoint to God or their idea of supreme goodness. Among Christian-based faiths it's the devil. Beelzebub is always trying to lead God's children away from salvation and into damnation.

Perhaps the most common or popularized image of Satan is summed up in the film "O, Brother, Where Art Thou?" when Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) tells his traveling companions: "Well, there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, Pete, but the great Satan hisself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail and he carries a hay fork."

This description is immediately challenged by the character of Tommy Johnson (Chris Thomas King), a blues-playing African-American, who says, "Oh, no. No, sir. He's white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice. He likes to travel around with a mean old hound."

Although I am well acquainted with Satan and all his workings, I couldn't tell you what he looks like. I should probably know this given how much adverse influence he's had during my life.

But I don't. Satan in the flesh could look like anyone, including Oprah Winfrey, Orrin Hatch or even one my grandkids, and I wouldn't know. He's clever. If you're going to work against God, you have to be.

Exactly how Satan came to be popularized as "red and scaly with a bifurcated tail" is a mystery. Your average Christian says Satan is a fallen angel, which is a whole other creature than an actual person equipped with horns.

Mormons believe the devil is a fallen version of ourselves (literal children of God), which is to say our actual brother in heaven. It would explain a lot. Like most jerk older brothers, he's mean, a bully, and always getting us into trouble.

Finally, according to some Muslims, Satan is actually America. Yeah, the entire country, but especially Washington, D.C.

Whichever it is, Satan is never referred to as "she" regardless of how much sense this would actually make. Like Father in Heaven, the devil is always identified as male. Whether this is intentional because of fact, or simply for the sake of convenience is anyone's guess.

One thing nearly all faiths agree upon is that the devil is responsible for a lot. He's the reason there's so much misery in the world. Satan got Eve to misbehave, wagered with God over the soul of Job and even had the nerve to tempt Jesus.

While Satan gets most of the blame for human misery, I don't think he's entirely to blame for our woe. Satan may be responsible for actual evil, but I don't believe he's responsible for selfishness and stupidity. Those are human problems.

If you cheat on your spouse you might try to argue that the devil made (or at least helped) you do it. But you'd be wrong.

If you know you're not supposed to do something and you do it anyway — well, that's not evil. That's selfish. And stupid. And that's all yours.

This is not to say that everything bad that happens to you is your fault. There really is evil in the world, terrible things that happen to the innocent and defenseless.

But for most of us, our sorrow is more often than not of our own making. We indulge in these misadventures with selfishness of forethought. Recognizing who the real devil is requires no further search than the nearest mirror.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or —

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