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Is Satan for real?

Is Satan a religious fable, or an actual being wreaking havoc in the world?

The question was debated yesterday by four unusual suspects – one megachurch pastor, one former television preacher branded by some as a heretic, the alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra and the founder of Hookers for Jesus – in a taped debate that will air on national television later this month.

Mark Driscoll, whose church is hosting the debate

Mark Driscoll is the preaching pastor at the Seattle-area Mars Hill Church, a congregation that welcomes 7,500 people in attendance each week and that hosted the debate.

“The existence of God has been debated many times,” Driscoll wrote in an e-mail reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “But (a discussion about) the existence of Satan is far less common, which makes it a curious topic to debate.”

The Satan discussion will be the latest in a series of “Face Off” debates created by ABC TV’s late-night news program, Nightline, and will air March 26.

Driscoll is joined in arguing for the existence of Satan by Annie Lobert, a former Las Vegas escort who founded Hookers for Jesus, an organization that offers a Christian message and ministry to women in the sex trade.

Arguing against an actual evil-embodying being are Chopra and the Rev. Carlton Pearson, a formerly televised preacher on Trinity Broadcasting Network and author of “The Gospel of Inclusion,” a book outlining a doctrine of universal reconciliation to God that prompted the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops to brand him a heretic for denying traditional Christian understandings of heaven and hell.

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James Goldston, the show’s executive producer, told the Seattle Times, “We went for the most interesting voices we could find.”

Driscoll told the paper that the curious lineup – a diverse group of people outside the world of theology’s hallowed halls – helps ensure that “this is not just an academic debate but also a practical discourse.”

Goldston told the Times that a debate about Satan is not just a theological curiosity for Christians.

“There’s always an interest in these topics,” Goldston said. “Every time we’ve done one, the response has been pretty dramatic.”

In fact, Goldston said, the very first “Face Off” segment from over two years ago – a debate on the existence of God – is still abcnews.com’s most-commented-upon story.

Driscoll believes that Satan is an actual spirit at work in the world for evil, identified clearly in the Bible and evidenced in the world around us.

“In my own pastoral experience,” Driscoll wrote in an e-mail, “I have witnessed such great evil and injustice so often that no answer but the existence of a real enemy to good and life makes any sense to me.”

Pearson does not believe Satan is an actual being and told the Times that belief in an actual devil “makes us helpless, paranoid and frightened.”

“I’ve heard: ‘The devil made me do it.’ Don’t put that on the devil,” Pearson said. “You made that stupid decision yourself. Let’s talk about why you made it.”

The debate is hosted by ABC anchor and correspondent Dan Harris, who told the Post-Intelligencer he welcomed the opportunity to hold the discussion in Seattle, rather than a remote corner of the Bible Belt.

“It’s good to do it in a non-obvious place,” Harris said. “It’s going to be harder for people to write it off. It’s going to be harder to dismiss it as the usual cliché dialogue.”

Last night’s live debate was closed to the public, with attendance limited to invitees only. Segments of the two and a half-hour debate will air on Nightline March 26, while the Post-Intelligencer reports the debate will be posted in its entirety online.