Over the past week, I had tried to think of something to write about this year’s national election and just wasn’t coming up with anything that I thought was meaningful. I would start a paragraph, edit it, delete it and start over again. Nothing was really speaking to me but while I was working on something the other night, a special came on television about America and where our country finds itself today. A three-minute monologue was played and I came to learn that it was the voice of Paul Harvey, a noted radio broadcaster who was very popular in the latter half of the twentieth century.
His monologue, “If I Were the Devil” was interspersed with images of modern day events that corresponded with the lines he was speaking, things we see each day and that we usually think little about. When the broadcast had finished, I learned that he had spoken these words in 1965, a year before I was even born, which I think says a lot about how he saw things that were coming down the road, long before many of them began to occur. I have included the text spoken by Harvey below:
“If I were the devil … if I were the prince of darkness, I’d want to engulf the whole world in darkness, and I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I wouldn’t be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree—Thee.
So I’d set about however necessary to take over the United States. I’d subvert the churches first—I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please.”
To the young, I would whisper, “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that man created God instead of the other way around. I would confide that what is bad is good, and what is good is “square”. And the old, I would teach to pray after me, ‘Our Father, which art in Washington…’
And then I’d get organized. I’d educate authors on how to make lurid literature exciting, so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice versa. I’d infiltrate unions and urge more loafing and less work, because idle hands usually work for me. I’d pedal narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
If I were the devil I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war that themselves, and nations at war with themselves; until each in its turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.
If I were the devil I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, and neglect to discipline emotions—just let those run wild, until before you knew it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.
Within a decade I’d have prisons overflowing, I’d have judges promoting pornography—soon I could evict God from the courthouse, and then the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress. And in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls, and church money.
If I were the devil I’d make the symbols of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.
If I were the devil I’d take from those who have, and give to those wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. What do you bet I could get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich? I would question against extremes and hard work, and Patriotism, and moral conduct. I would convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on the TV is the way to be. And thus I could undress you in public, and I could lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure.
In other words, if I were to devil, I’d keep on doing what he’s doing.
What a powerful statement. We hear these things all the time but I guess the statement was what I needed to hear at the moment I needed to hear it. Last night, watching the movie “I am Legend” about a lone survivor living in a New York City abandoned to victims of a plague, another message was postulated in the script: If we take away all the noise that clutters our life, it is a lot easier to hear God speak to us and guide us on what we need to do.
Noise and clutter is our way of life now and with each passing year, it becomes harder to distinguish what is good and right from what is false and misleading. Social media, something I use myself, can be a great tool but it can also be used for great harm and when it absorbs our lives, we have given ourselves over to a power that is not of God’s creation but of man’s invention. That can be said of anything but have you really noticed how much our society has changed in just the last few years since social media became so widespread?
Reading an article posted today in the New York Times, I found to my amazement that, more than the loss of power and lights, even more than the loss of a hot shower or a cooked meal, the thing that was troubling many New Yorkers who were a victim this past week of Hurricane Sandy more than anything was the loss of their ability to charge and use their smartphones. Suddenly, cut off from the vast world of information at their fingertips, they found themselves unable to cope with the lack of knowledge.
The Devil encourages us to eat from the tree of knowledge and we do, every time we turn on the computer or whip out our smartphone to read about what is happening to everyone else we know, both those we know closely and those we might only know by name only. What was refreshing was that several came to the realization that without the smartphones and only being able to occasionally access the world of information, life suddenly regained a measure of richness and people actually spent time talking to each other and sharing information with each other in the way human beings have since the beginning of humankind.
Let’s look at some of the other things in Paul Harvey’s statement. Harvey says “With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please. Do as you please”. For a long time now, we have engaged more and more in “doing as we please” and calling ourselves liberated from the societal values we used to uphold. When we don’t teach our children restraint but instead, allow them to do what they want to, we aren’t encouraging their self-expression but rather, we are discouraging their self-control. Everyone must be able to exercise some level of self-control. We have laws as an expression of our society’s willingness to govern ourselves and laws passed by representatives of the people are examples of self-control by society as a whole. Harvey says “If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects but neglect to discipline emotions . . . let those run wild”. Is that not what we as a society have done over the years as we have removed discipline that worked from our schools and replaced it with psychological techniques that does little to teach a child that there are consequences for bad behavior?
When I was a child, a teacher or a principle could discipline a child for their behavior and I don’t think that it adversely affected me as an adult because of it. If anything, it taught me that good behavior was commended and bad behavior carried punishment, not just from school but most likely from home afterwards. There is very little evidence that I can find or have seen that convinces me that the methods of my teachers, parents and grandparents and those before them did not work as well as the methods employed today. We didn’t have metal detectors and drug dogs in schools back then either.
Another statement Harvey makes, in part, states “I would evict God from the courthouse, and then from the school-house, and then from the houses of Congress and then, in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and I would deify science because that way men would become smart enough to create super weapons but not wise enough to control them”.
Does this sound familiar? Remember that these words were written 47 years ago, when family values in the United States were still a core staple of our lives and when courthouses could still have the Ten Commandments on display and school children could openly pray. Our elected leaders were often judged just as much on their religious values as they were their political effectiveness. Fast forward to the present and look where things stand now. Prayer in publicly funded schools is forbidden and teachers who have encouraged it have found themselves unemployed and ostracized. The Ten Commandments have come down in courthouses all over the country and in many cases, God has been stricken from the oath one must take before testifying. Representatives and Senators dance around the subject of religion for fear of offending someone and will often suppress their own beliefs because they have been told by society that their beliefs have no place where our laws are made and the direction of country decided.
Most of our country’s founding fathers were men of faith. Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 49 were Protestants, and two were Roman Catholics Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 28 were Church of England/Episcopalian, eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, and two were Methodists. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine believed in God but eschewed organized religion, preferring instead to worship in their own fashion. Regardless of the statistics, one cannot deny that their deeply held spiritual beliefs helped to guide them on setting the course for the United States and that the country. That course, despite wars and other setbacks, made America the strongest nation on earth for a long time.
As our society’s values have eroded, so has the confidence of our nation and the direction of it in many ways. Instead of recognizing that we have turned a corner and are heading in a direction different from the one our Founding Fathers set forth for us, we push forward on paths of growing darkness and uncertainty.
A final statement made by Harvey is one we have all heard expressed in one form or another. He said “If I were the devil, I would take from those who have and I would give to those who wanted, until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious”. I submit that we have already been doing that more and more, especially in recent years as the economy worsened. The Federal government continues to take more and more of our money and uses it to pay for social programs that give money to those who won’t work to earn it. Notice I said those who “won’t” earn it. I do believe that society has a responsibility to help those who cannot work and those who want desperately to work but cannot find it. I don’t belief that we owe anything to those who choose not to contribute to society. Martin Luther King called this giving people a “hand up and not a handout”.
More radical elements sometimes refer to this as “income redistribution”, where more and more is taken from the earners and given to those who want it. It angers the parent of three children who works long hours in a fast food restaurant for a minimum wage and no benefits to see their paid taxes going to support those who don’t want to work, that buys them groceries and that gives them free medical care. It makes that person question why they are working like a dog to pay for others who won’t work and not just quitting and letting the system pay his or her way too. It angers those whose ingenuity creates wealth, whose business acumen helps them to grow a business that provides jobs for others, only to have the government take more and more of their income away and regulate them out of business.
If you take from those who work and continue to give it to those who want it, sooner or later, you kill the incentive to work, the desire to create, the ability to produce jobs and the means to build a strong economy and to prosper. Plain and simple.
I think about another movie, a Disney Pixar film that came out a few years ago called “The Incredibles”. In that movie, the villain was a person who dedicated himself to getting rid of every single one of the superheroes who had helped to save the planet time and time again. He had invented great gadgetry that allowed him to have powers equal to those of the superheroes he had vowed to get rid of. His reason for it? So he could eventually sell his technology to everyone so that all would have equal super powers so that “when everyone is super, no one will be”.
Every single human being has the right to achieve his or her dream. Everyone has the right to exceed the expectations society may have for them. It does not mean that everyone is entitled to being given that dream or being handed their success because the day you give success to everyone, that is the day that nobody will be successful, nobody will achieve, nobody will reach higher and no one will inspire others to follow.
America has reached a crossroad and we aren’t going to get too many more chances to make the right decisions and choose the right path. In this election and in those to come down the road, think back to where we have come from, look at where we are and think about where we want to go. Whether we vote Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or whatever, we should never lose sight of the principles and the foundation on which our society was created. If God doesn’t exist, then neither does the Devil and its all a moot point. I believe that God does exist and that he gave us the guiding principles and laws that we need to follow. Because I believe in His existence, I have to believe that the Devil exists too, in the form of evil and that evil is spreading and infiltrating our lives each day. It is because of that I will take a strong look at my elected leaders in Washington and I will vote for those who stand with God behind them and in front of them.
None of us our perfect. None of us have all the answers either. It is time we start trusting in the One that does. His name is still on the dollar bill….for now.