Hell was agog with the news. There would be a special gathering, and all the officials of Hell were summoned to attend. Word spread like wildfire! The Devil himself would be speaking this evening, and was to make a grand announcement. It was rumored that the affair was to be a real celebration: the rarest of treats, a jubilant day in Hell.
The great Hell Hall was packed; not a seat was empty. Crimson streamers adorned the great platform, black candles flickered wickedly in the sconces on the walls, and a splendid banner draped behind the podium bearing the Great Seal of Hell. The collection bowl was passed around, too; there are never sufficient funds to do the Devil's work. Each attendee was expected to contribute the coin of the realm; no other currency is accepted in Hell. (These coins bore the inscription "In the Devil we trust" on one side; the other bore his proud likeness, and the words "The Kingdom of Hell was within you.")
To one side of the platform, a band was warming up. A few of the people present softly hummed along, or sang the familiar refrain: "Where ever two or more of you are fighting in His name, there is war ..." (1) Abruptly the strings grew silent, and a hush rippled through Hell Hall (more commonly known as the Hall of Regress). The distinguished figure of the old Devil himself appeared center stage, flanked by his most prestigious officers, and they looked magnificent in their regalia. This was a rare occurrence indeed; the Devil did not often appear in public. He had underlings, secretaries and spokespersons to address the administration of the realm and preside over functions, and he delegated such duties.
The Devil had no need of introduction, and dispensed with the formality; this was highly unusual, and it sent waves of shock (and awe) through the assembly. His majestic voice rang out, and the hellish hall reverberated with each word as he spoke. "I have a special announcement to make tonight. By this time tomorrow, we shall have achieved a great victory, and one that we have awaited from time immemorial! Tomorrow, the greatest nation on earth is going to conscript itself to our forces by obliterating one of the most abject and hopeless of nations. It will do this in the interest of liberating oppressed people, but this great nation has lost all sense of true liberty; it will, instead, extend an illusion of freedom to a people, many of whom have cherished no such illusions."
The Devil paused for a moment to dampen his throat from a pint of blood on the podium, and then continued: "Many of these will be delighted with the pleasant dream, and the gentler yoke of democracy. They will awaken one day to discover that rule by the majority is what is known as a pyramid scheme. Slowly but surely, the many are seen to become fewer, and fewer; the majority will always appoint people to represent them for the sake of practicality, and their chosen representatives will in turn appoint their own hand-picked representatives; the further it spreads, the higher it goes, and the more power and wealth become concentrated at the top. Everyone agrees to the game, without questioning the rules. It is a pyramid that builds invisibly from the top down, and gathers in new stones at the bottom to elevate the capstone. As you know, successful worldly schemes always begin with me. A devilishly clever invention, if I must say so myself." The Devil beamed with pride, and the applause was deafening until he motioned for attention again.
"For precisely this unique and important occasion, I long ago penned a bit of satire to entertain myself, and now I'd like to mark this historic milestone by sharing it with you. If it's a bit subtle for some of you, I'm sorry; but others will no doubt understand and appreciate it as much as I do." The crowd in the Hall went accommodatingly wild, until the Devil commanded silence again with a gesture. He continued with his speech.
"Blasted are the wealthy in worldly power, for theirs are the kingdoms of purgatory. Blasted are they that exult, for they shall be discomfited. Blasted are the wagers of war, for they shall inherit the infernal regions. Blasted are they that stuff and sate themselves after righteousness, for they shall be emptied out. Blasted are the merciless, for they shall obtain no mercy. Blasted are the pure in their own sight, for they shall see themselves as they are. Blasted are the conflict makers, for they shall be called my children, and they are legion. Blasted are they who are exalted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Hell (ahem). Blasted are ye, when men shall applaud you, and uplift you, and shall say all manner of flattery against you sincerely, for my sake." (2)
The Devil bowed, and waited for his audience to settle down again before resuming his speech. "Once," he said, "I took the so-called savior of mankind to the top of a high mountain, and I showed him all the kingdoms of the world. These can all be yours, I told him, if you will but bow down and worship me. He understood that it was within my power to grant him authority over nations, and kingdoms, and peoples. He refused me! I, who could have delivered the people of the world unto him, yoked and ready to serve him. He chose to suffer humiliation and degradation instead, because he cherished a pipe dream of genuine freedom. Freedom to choose, or refuse a master; freedom to share life, or deal in death; freedom to revere wisdom, or feed it to the flames; freedom to exercise kindness, or cultivate callousness; freedom to act, for well or ill; to live in peace, or wage war. He was a holy fool; he bought a token of freedom for others at the cost of his own life, and refused to accept the terms of slavery for generations of others at the cost of his own survival, even his own prosperity!"
The Devil shook his head. "We have a new savior now, and this one is willing to listen to reason. I took this new liberator to the high mountain, and offered him the kingdoms of the world. He saw that by enslaving men, he could make them believe they were free; by teaching them how to hate each other, he might force them to live together in fear of each other for a time; he saw that wisdom was pure foolishness, better put to use as fuel for the funeral pyre of humanity than held aloft as a torch to guide people through dark times. He understands that the common people aren't bright enough to make their own judgments; that waging war is the perfect way to keep peace, and dominance is the sure cure for the ills caused by inequities; and he'll prosper by bowing down to me, while all these admirable goals fall conveniently into his line of duty. Hell is grappling with Heaven again, and we can win this round. We'll have gained a host of new conscripts for our cause by seducing the brain of an empire; the feet won't question it, the hands will do as they're told, the heart will grieve in silence, and the guts will digest it all too slowly to present much of a problem for us."
His brow wrinkled for a moment before he resumed, and said, "The one thing we really have to keep a close eye on, is its dratted spirit. We will dispatch our best agents to make sure it stays at half mast. They will broadcast the message that there is no hope of turning back the feet, or setting the hands to new tasks, or curing the brain of its fatal attraction. They will ridicule the whispers of the heavy heart, and clog the guts with indigestible news. The spirit may strain at such a burden, but it will fail if it is pulling alone, and eventually surrender. And that, my compatriots, will be our finest hour. Hell will at last be able to upgrade to a newer version and take a great leap toward the stars, when we download the United States of America into our local network, and that's happening as I speak. It's quite a bit to download; but if the spirit is weak, the Devil is willing. This is, indeed, the moment of reckoning. A good fight to all, and to all, a good fight."
(2) See the Gospel of St. Matthew, 5:3-11.