How’s this for a lighthearted proof of the devil’s existence: there is no reason that a person cannot at one and the same time have a robust moral code and charity towards those who fail to satisfy its rigors. That is in fact what Christianity has always demanded. Likewise, there is no reason one cannot have both a commitment to systematic foundational doctrines and openness to other perspectives and even to revising one’s own most basic beliefs in response to new evidence or insights. Yet for some mysterious reason, despite numerous individuals and even small sub-cultures demonstrating that these ideals can be achieved, they have never been realized by any society in recent recorded history, nor have any of the ancient societies that have claimed to have achieved some utopic vision at some point in their history been able to maintain the achievement.
Western society before the Enlightenment had a comparatively exacting moral code and a strong commitment to certain doctrines, including but not limited to those of Christianity, yet it was decidedly unchristian in its responses to moral infractions and religious dissent. There is no reason it could not have progressed towards tolerance and openness while keeping its faith. That is exactly what Christianity’s law of love required, and I think it was desire for power far more than for truth or for God that caused intolerance and dogmatism to be so dominant for so long. Martin Luther King Junior’s message, though not all aspects of his life, perfectly demonstrated the possibility of remaining fully Christian while moving away from dogmatism and intolerance, and he is only one prominent figure within a multitude of whom the same could be said. Their stories are the leaven within the story of civilization. “I have seen the promised land,” he claimed–and for my part, I believe him.
But we have not followed Martin Luther King’s message of brotherhood. Instead, we now have a society that is relatively tolerant and open to all opinions (as long as they don’t purport to be more than opinions)–but deeply suspicious of any moral or doctrinal system that claims any transcendent authority. We have attained tolerance at the cost of morality; we have achieved open-mindedness at the cost of conviction; we lack any unity worthy of the name of brotherhood. Our society can no longer be called a Christian society in any rigorous sense.
What but some malevolent force bent on humanity’s misery could prevent the natural progress of mankind from grace to grace by using our momentum against us, and casting us from one extreme to another, exacting as the apparent price of progress towards virtue in one area a concurrent regression towards vice in another. Once the majority of people lived in what we would now call poverty but knew exactly where they belonged in the world and in the cosmos; the majority of people now live among luxuries unimagined by the kings of former centuries, but they languish spiritually without any sense of place or identity within the larger order of things.
All history seems to bear out similar patterns. We first traded freedom for security–the move from nomadic flocks to farms and then to walled cities with kings–from Caanan to Egypt. We then regained freedom and obtained wealth and ease but lost our souls when these became our idols. Many poor children in Africa today dance and sing and are happy but are also stuck in poverty, while rich children in America play video games and are miserable with the wide world before them. The one has not enough food to eat; the other contemplates overdosing on the mind-altering drugs prescribed by the doctor. The devil exacts his price for progress and laughs as we congratulate ourselves on our newly acquired virtues–our tolerance and diversity and equality. The least part of hell’s inside joke is that every monument we erect to our progress is initially shiny and beautiful but destined to be sullied by wickedness, worn by time, and ultimately replaced by other monuments with the same fate. Ozymandias is their father and their type, and they will sink through the sands of time to join him and all the golden calves of history in hell, as the devil slowly lays claim to all that is his own.
I offer this “proof” half jokingly: it is really only one theoretical reading of history that I find convincing. But truly I can see no reason why progress must inevitably entail regression, and why humanity keeps slipping back in a thousand different directions from the promised land that so many have glimpsed–no reason except that the forces of evil are real. The scriptures teach that history will not obtain the promised land until the forces of evil are violently conquered–not by man’s “progress,” but by God’s final, decisive intervention in history. And for my part, I believe them.