The Fourth Devil
There's an old legend about three devils that sounds like "The Apprentice." The boss devil (whom you can easily imagine as Donald Trump) assigns to three junior tempters the task of increasing the traffic of damned souls into Hell.
The first devil tries to persuade people that "there's no God." He gets a meager flow of rather tough souls and is "fired" -- a term that has a very special meaning in Hell. The second tries suggesting that God is too nice to damn anybody: "there's no Hell." He gets a slightly larger catch of limp souls and is also "fired". The third gets a flood of tasty damnees and wins his apprenticeship by whispering, "there is a God and there is a Hell and you'd better repent -- tomorrow. There's no hurry."
Using the same method C.S. Lewis alluded to at the beginning of The Screwtape Letters, I discovered that the legend is true but outdated. Recently, a fourth devil, who took the trouble to get an MBA at Harvard, has emerged as the brightest falling star in Hell. As he explained in his sales pitch to the boss devil:
I don't deny that my predecessors have made worthy contributions to peirazmology [the art and science of temptation]. Snarlflog's use of the lovely old slogan"there's no God." has brought us a few souls.But look at the feeble results of his work in Russia, that pesthole of religiosity. After over fifty years of anti-religious Marxism, it's still corrupt with churchgoing and piety. And although in the United States Snarlflogdid manage to twist their own First Amendment into a tool for the suppression of religion, their predominant belief is still some sort of Christianity.
Furgriddle's revival of "there's no Hell." has been of some use to us in replacing Christian notions of sin and repentance with a vague belief in a tolerant God who makes no demands on their behavior. I particularly liked his use of catchwords like "diversity" and "multicultural". But the meagerness and insipidity of the resulting supply of humans has been disappointing.
And there's nothing wrong with Rackfilth's application of "there's no hurry." Procrastination and preoccupation with everyday affairs have always been valuable weapons for us, especially when coupled with sudden death. But their effectiveness has been weakened by modern medicine, which often warns humans of their deaths well in advance and gives them time to think and repent. Regrettably, Rackfilth's approach is not as effective as it used to be.
However, Your Malignity, I don't wish to deride the efforts of my predecessors but rather to build upon them. They will have prominent supporting roles in my proposed campaign, which is a radical change of strategy.
We've tried making good people suffer; our motto has been "let no good deed go unpunished". But it often backfired; remember all the useless labor we wasted on Job. And, as our late lamented colleague Screwtape used to say, wars have certain inherent tendencies that are by no means in our favor. [see Chapter V of The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is "on indefinite leave", but that's another story.]
I therefore propose that the ultimate temptation is prosperity. I hate, just as much as you do, to see the little vermin happy for even an instant. But if you want to catch them, you've got to bait the hook. My plan is to give them what they think they want -- prosperity and comfort -- so that they forget about God and live solely for pleasure and diversion.They will soon grow soft and selfish, like spoiled children.Then, we'll yank the rug out from under them and bring on depression and hardship. When their fragile little economic systems collapse, their resultant disappointment, envy, and mutual hatred will bring them all home to us.
Note how well my plan dovetails with Rackfilth's approach. Given more prosperity and leisure, humans will become preoccupied with acquiring toys and being entertained - and thus will be distracted from thinking about the Enemy. Rackfilth is working on something he calls "information technology" that will keep the little vermin perpetually occupied with huge floods of trivia and too busy to think of anything but their own amusement. They will become monsters of shallowness and selfishness and thus, meat for us.
Let me test my plan, Your Malignity. Give me a free hand in the Western world for a century or so and then judge the results...
At this point, my transcript broke off. Since Hell is full of hackers, I had expected that my efforts would soon be detected and blocked. But, from the fragment we have, I think we can infer that this bit of infernal history took place about forty years ago and that the fourth devil got his chance.
He seems to have been successful. Look at Europe, where religion and idealism survived the persecutions of Hitler and Stalin. Now, bloated with prosperity, their traditional morality has been almost completely replaced by materialism.(A classic case is Ireland, once devoutly Catholic throughout centuries of persecution and poverty and now prosperous and irreligious.) Europe's churches are empty while its bars and brothels are full of hedonists oblivious to their own decay and impending collapse.
I suspect the fourth devil has been promoted. His plan seems to be working beautifully
In The United States, the prosperity gambit has been augmented with overtones of class warfare and loud cries of "equality". The younger generation has come to expect undeserved entitlements and eagerly buys the latest electronic gadgets in order to ingest a plethora of trivia. Morality, especially with regard to sex and honesty, is in tatters.
But there is still hope. Religion, and the concern for the needy that it engenders, are still significant forces in our society. And the "new normal" has disgusted and energized the conservative and religious among us. There is still time, just a little time, for us to try to find ourselves again.