“In Search of … The Devil”
A Review of
The Devil Wears Nada:
By Tripp York.
Review by Justin Bronson Barringer.
The Devil Wears Nada:
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Years ago I attended a strange event put on by xxxchurch. It brought together three things red-blooded American men are supposed to love most: pro-wrestling, rock music and sex talk. It was at there that I was first introduced to the less-than-legendary, yet somehow infamous 1980’s Christian hair metal band, Stryper. In more recent weeks as I have been reading Tripp York’s The Devil Wears Nada, which itself is as strange as the aforementioned xxxchurch event, I couldn’t help but have Stryper’s most (unfortunately) unforgettable song, “To Hell With the Devil,” playing in my mind as the soundtrack behind York’s words. Not to mention recurring mental pictures of men in yellow and black spandex.
York’s premise seems even more bizarre than my first encounter with Stryper. And that event also featured WWF superstar “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and sexual icon Ron Jeremy. I mean, who the hell (sorry, couldn’t help myself) goes looking for the Devil? Well, in short, Tripp York. But, what would prompt an upstanding theologian, and a Mennonite no less, to go in search of the Evil One? It all started with a wager. Which may be enough reason to believe Satan was involved from the beginning of this venture. Could one prove the existence of God if one was able to find, and therefore prove, the existence of Satan? York decided to try.
He is quick to hone in on the Christian, primarily Protestant, affinity for all things diabolical. Of course, truthfully, we really love to hate those people and ideas and practices that we ‘know’ had to come from the Devil himself. It is to this point that York will return again and again. Just in case we are unsure what the Devil’s works include York provides a list of any number of things he has heard people attribute to the Devil, such as dancing, voting for Bill Clinton, creating Islam and the internet, tempting women to get jobs, and my favorite, creating the Smurfs. So if Satan had his hand in all this he shouldn’t be too hard to track down, right? On this point, York notes, “sometimes what we are looking for is right in front of us, or, in regards to Satan, perhaps inside us” (37).
That being the case, York continues his search, and where better to do that than among evangelists and exorcists? The evangelists here are actually a group of bodybuilders who use feats of human strength as a means to share the gospel. York rightly wonders though, “where anyone would get the idea to use physical strength as a means of bringing people to know a nonviolent Jew from the first century” (York 40). York is really after bigger questions about how Christian faith is understood by disciples of Christ and thus how they understand their place in the world. Perhaps, York suggests repeatedly, the deceiver has cunningly led folks to believe that they can separate their faith from the One who their faith is to be in. That is to say, instead of following Jesus’s lead many Christians have decided that it is up to them, by any means necessary, to lead people to Jesus, or more fitting in this context, away from Satan.
On that note, if I have one real complaint about The Devil Wears Nada it is the tone York sometimes takes in his interactions with others and in his critique of the church. In some of his interviews it seems like York uses his superior education and wit to sort of go Socratic Method on folks and corner them with their own words. Now, I happen to think York is right more often than not in his lines of questioning, and he readily admits that he knows he comes across like a jerk at times, but I wonder if at times he fell into the very same, by any means necessary, trap he seems to suggest we should avoid.
However, it is precisely York’s utilization of his education and wit that make this book so fascinating. Seriously, no nonfiction writer, other than A.J. Jacobs and Anne Lamott, has made me laugh out loud (that’s LOL for the younger, texting generation) so hard or so frequently as Tripp York. Yet, York’s theological and cultural commentary are as astute as they come. And, the questions he raises will have me ruminating for quite some time. York helps us wade into the messiness of life that is this morass called the time between the times.
Yes, I do get sidetracked easily; back to the search at hand. Once York wades through the muck that is the world of professional exorcists he finds himself confronted with more Christians who seem to exhibit satanic behavior through their racism, homophobia and xenophobia, and thus are naturally convinced that the Devil spends most of his time not with them, but with “Darwinians, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, homosexuals, pagans, bonobos, penguins, Wiccans, and, apparently, Nigerians” (64).
Before York interviews any of the aforementioned comrades of Satan he briefly addresses issues raised by Scripture and theological reflection such as theodicy and the Devil’s role in the suffering in this world. For some, this may seem like the least interesting section in the book because it has fewer entertaining interviews and thus fewer ridiculous answers from interviewees. (I forgot to mention earlier that one minister who York interviewed found it absolutely necessary to stress that ‘his’ Jesus was no monkey.) Anyway, though this third section lacks some of the amusing storytelling it is perhaps the most provocative in the book because York engages the Christian tradition, including our holy text, in a variety of profoundly intriguing ways. For example, his interpretation of passages about Satan’s rule in this age question calls into question the very foundations of Western democratic society. He suggests that if Satan holds the keys to this world’s kingdoms and gives them who he pleases, then those in power and those who vote for the ones in power are conspiring with the enemy, for whom York is searching.
It is only fitting that York would interview folks that most Christians assume are most directly tied to the devil, like Satanists, Unitarian Universalists and others who dabble in the occult. Honestly, it seems that these folks are a lot more boring than I would have thought. And, more surprisingly they seem to share more in common with Christians in America than most of us would be willing to admit, they just wrap their version of the American dream in words like tolerance and openness or black clothes and pentagrams. At one point, York even lays out the nine tenets of Satanism and wouldn’t you know it, they look nearly identical to the ideas of that the American church today inherited from our supposedly Christian founders. Does the pursuit of happiness come to mind?
Near the end of the book Tripp recounts his attempt to sell his soul to the devil and all I got from this story was the fact that even trying to sell your soul to the Devil won’t get Sallie Mae off your back. Seriously though, there is more to the story, but I just can’t shake the fact that the second most powerful force in the universe can’t even shake student loans.
All joking aside, for the moment anyway, York makes at least two things clear in The Devil Wears Nada. First, our beliefs about the Devil are more culturally derived that most of us could ever imagine. And Second, Satan, whoever or whatever this being may or may not be, is more present in the lives of Christians, though in ways we rarely seem to notice, than we redeemed are ever likely to admit. This, York suggests, is why more than ever, we need to get close to God.
Ok, back to joking. Tripp York may not be a black, cross-dressing comedian, but when one considers why York wrote this book he might be able to join in with ol’ Flip Wilson and say, “The Devil made me do it!”
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com