I have heard some Christians say, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
That always struck me as an interesting expression of the circular reasoning fallacy.
Aside from that, I would have to disagree: the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to make people think that there is nothing they can do about it.
When I say that, I do not mean that I believe that the devil exists, but rather that the devil is a metaphor. A metaphor for what is a much more complex and extended conversation, but suffice it to say, I do not believe in Hell or the Devil per se. That is, I do not believe the whole classic God vs. Satan setup.
About that, I have a logical argument, and then an observation about the moral implications of the belief.
First, if Satan exists, then he is not the master of Hell and the purveyor of evil—he would simply be their custodian. If Hell exists, then God is the true devil, the true evil.
After all, God is supposedly omnipotent, therefore he controls what exists and does not exist. And even if he somehow cannot prevent hell from existing, he does control who goes there. He’s the one that casts souls into the pit. The Devil does not deserve the blame, God does. And so if Hell does exist, then God is evil—because if there is an existing punishment from which there is no release, then any deity who is not irrevocably evil would simply use oblivion.
But eternal torture? The very idea is sickeningly repulsive. By definition, God would be the Evil One if he sent a single soul to such a fate. (Not to mention, it also normalizes and justifies the concept of torture.)
That’s the logical argument. Beyond that, the observation I have has to do with people’s apparent need for Hell to exist.
The quote that I started with makes a rather sly assumption: that somehow not believing in the Devil is a bad thing.
The only purpose of believing in Hell, or even for Hell purportedly to exist, is as a threat of punishment for bad behavior.
As has been observed many times, if you behave only because of the threat of Hell, then you’re not a good person, you’re a bad person on a leash.
Because if you remove the idea of Hell and the Devil, then what remains is personal accountability.
The Devil is simply what we blame for our own failings of personal responsibility. You are effectively saying, “I lack the normal self-control to keep from making choices I know are wrong, and so I have to try to frighten myself with eternal punishment in a last-ditch attempt to keep myself in check.”
The problem with that approach is that it is doomed to fail. The reason why is that we hold the assumption that we are so flawed that we ultimately cannot control ourselves.
Thus my statement about lacking personal responsibility.
Thus also my previous sentiment that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to make people think that there was nothing they could do about it—when in fact there is something you can do about it. You are not a slave to your impulses, you are not a bystander in life, and you are not incapable of fighting evil. It is not inevitable.
Only those that want to control you want you to believe otherwise. They convince you that the Devil exists, that you are his for the taking—unless you submit to those among us who wish to control you. And they wish you to believe that there is nothing you can personally do to fight the evils and injustices in the world. They want you to accept them.
Don’t fall for it.