Who the Devil is the Devil?

With the rapid approach of the third millennium, many people can't help wondering what role the Devil will be playing in it. But an examination of the mainstream press of America reveals almost no mention of him. What a humiliating comedown for one the mere mention of whose name was once enough to make the hair of kings stand up in terror.

The Old Testament has little trace of the Devil with a capital D. The Christian Devil, who is the one most familiar in today's literature and art, appears often in the New Testament, but with only sketchy details. Some time around the tenth century, he began to assume a thousand grotesque and horrible guises to demonstrate both the horror and the folly of sin.

But by around 1700, among educated people, fewer and fewer believed in the Devil. Europe was entering the modern world, the world of science, technology, individualism, rationalism, materialism, democracy, progress. The old Devil came to seem both embarrassing and superfluous. To adjust to this pallid modern world, the Devil has had to become the modern Devil, witty, ironic, disillusioned, a much more complex and interesting character than the old, beastly Devil. But out in today's world of commerce, politics, wars and gross national product, he is little more than a joke. For some, this is a tragic situation; it means that America, like the modern world generally, has lost its sense of evil.

Perhaps, however, he is not dead after all; he may only be hiding. If a sleek gentleman dressed as a prosperous options-and-derivatives salesman offers you fantastic odds on a bet that he will be not be around right up to the last second before the end of the world, and you take him up on it, you will probably be making a bad bet.

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