When Jesus was on earth, his teachings were so clear and easy to follow it seemed that the coming of the Kingdom of God was imminent. Beelzebub, the father and king of all devils, was terrified. He realized that unless Jesus repudiated his teaching, evil’s power over man would be forever broken. Yet Beelzebub did not despair. He incited the Scribes and Pharisees, his obedient servants, to revile and torment Jesus as much as possible. He also used his powers to make Christ’s disciples lose faith in their master. He hoped that humiliation, abandonment by all his followers, and a terrible execution, would make Christ renounce his teaching in such a way that would destroy all his power.
It was settled at Christ’s crucifixion. As Jesus cried out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Beelzebub rejoiced. He took the chains prepared for Jesus and tried them out on his own limbs so they couldn’t be removed from his enemy. But then immortal words were heard: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Now Beelzebub saw that he was totally defeated. He tried to remove his legs from the bonds prepared for Christ but, to his terror, could not move. The very chains were now welded to his limbs. Neither could he move his wings.
So Beelzebub watched in agony as Christ appeared at the gates of Hell, and freed all sinners, from Adam to Judas. He watched as all the devils scattered, and the walls and foundation of Hell silently collapsed. Beelzebub could not stand to watch this spectacle any longer. Screaming horribly, he plunged into the gaping abyss that had opened up beneath him.
Slowly hundreds of years passed, although Beelzebub could not count the time. He was surrounded by complete darkness and silence. He couldn’t help but think hateful thoughts about his victorious enemy. Then suddenly, he heard weeping, groans, and the gnashing of teeth. He raised his head and began to listen intently. That Hell could still be in business was more than he could believe. Yet the sounds grew clearer every minute.
Beelzebub raised himself up and found to his surprise that the chains fell of his limbs. Freely extending his wings he gave the signal by which he had, in better times, called his minions to do his bidding. Instantly, a throng of devils dropped through the opening above, from whence red flames blazed as of old. They assembled around him, like scavengers around a fresh kill. There were devils of all shapes and sizes. A sleek black devil, wearing a cape, with a clean-shaven round face and a huge sagging belly, sat before Beelzebub and smiled as he waved his long slender tail from side to side.
"What’s going on there?" demanded Beelzebub, pointing upwards.
"Just what was and now always will be," replied the caped demon.
"Are there still sinners?"
"More than ever before."
"But what of the teachings of him whose name I bear not speak?"
Stifled laughter was heard as Beelzebub’s caped interlocutor grinned broadly, baring his fangs. "That doesn’t hinder us at all. Men just don’t believe in it."
"But it clearly saved man from sin, and his death confirmed his victory!"
"All that has been changed," replied the caped demon, rapping on the floor with his tail for emphasis. "It’s been arranged so men don’t live by his teachings but by mine, although they still use his name as they do my bidding!"
"How did you do this?"
"I only helped a bit; it mostly happened naturally."
"Tell me how!" demanded Beelzebub.
"When Hell was overthrown and you left us, I saw that those who followed his teachings were happy and quite beyond our reach. They did not grow hate, or lust after each other. They didn’t own property but held all in common; they turned the other cheek and returned good for evil. They were so kindly that other people were increasingly drawn to their way of living. It seemed that all was lost.
"But then something happened. Though insignificant, it caused me to remain hopeful that we might still prevail. Some of his followers demanded that all be circumcised and that none should eat food that the old covenant had deemed unclean. Others refused to be circumcised and wouldn’t accept the old dietary restrictions. I decided to suggest to both sides that this point of principle was of the utmost importance and that God would be angered if they gave in to the other side. They gladly accepted my suggestions and their disputes soon became fierce and quite unchristian.
"I then suggested to both sides that miracles would prove the truth of their beliefs. Even though miracles obviously can do no such thing, they were so anxious to defeat their opponents that they believed the miracles that I arranged for them. This was very easy. They were pathetically willing to believe anything which suggested that they alone were in the right.
"Some claimed that tongues of flame had entered their souls while others claimed to have been consecrated by the risen body of their master and lord. They kept inventing incredible stories to prove their rightness and using the name of the very person who exposed our lies, matched and surpassed us, lie for lie. While they exposed the falsity of their rivals’ miracles, they refused to admit that their own miracles had been woven of the same fabric of lies.
"Although things were going very well, I was afraid that they might eventually see through my flimsy deceptions, so I invented ‘The Church’. Once they swallowed, this, the greatest of all my deceptions, I rested. I saw that this was very good indeed. We had snatched victory from the very jaws of defeat, and all the legions of heaven had lost."
"What is ‘The Church’?" asked Beelzebub sternly, secretly elated but still unwilling to admit that this fat scoundrel was so much more successful than he.
"When these hypocrites utter untruths and suspect that they will not be believed, they always call upon God to be their witness. This, in essence, is ‘The Church’ but I built in another wrinkle. Those who call themselves ‘The Church’ convince themselves that they cannot go wrong, so they convince themselves that they cannot and must not repudiate their lies. This greatest of lies is what they call ‘infallibility’. I taught these pathetic men that God, to ensure that he should not be misunderstood, gave power to certain men, and to those to whom they chose to transfer this power, that they alone could infallibly interpret his teachings. So these men, who collectively call themselves ‘The Church’ regard themselves as possessing the truth, not because what they have passed on is good or reasonable, but simply because they see themselves as the only true heirs of the disciples, their hated master, and finally of God himself.
"While even a fool could see that so many conflicting authorities cannot all be right, this state of affairs only brings more ‘infallible’ factions into existence. As soon as men have declared that they are ‘The Church’, and have staked their entire credibility on that claim, they can’t repudiate their words, however absurd, no matter what others say."
"But why did the Church misinterpret his teachings in our favor?"
"Once they established themselves as the only interpreters of God’s law. And having convinced others of this, they obtained the highest power. And having gained that power they naturally became proud and wicked, and so they earned the hatred and enmity of others. In the inevitable strife that followed, having no means but violence at their disposal - since their doctrines were so irrational - they persecuted, tortured and burnt all who rejected their infallible authority. Even when they knew they were wrong, they were forced to misinterpret the true teachings of the savior to justify their sinful ways and the horrendous cruelties that were used against their rivals and enemies."
"But his teaching was so simple and clear," marveled Beelzebub, still unwilling to grant that his mastery of the ways of evil had been so surpassed by this fat toad, "that it was impossible to misinterpret. ‘Do unto others as you would that they should do to you!’ how can that be misinterpreted?"
"Well, I used various techniques," replied the devil in the cape. "There is a story about a good magician who to save a man from an evil enchanter turned him into a grain of wheat; the enchanter, turned himself into a cock to eat the grain, but the good magician emptied a whole sack of grain over it. The enchanter could not eat up all the grain, and so could not eat the grain he wanted. That’s just they did with the teaching that the law consists in doing unto others what we wish them to do to us. They accepted sixty-six disparate writings as God’s sacred word, and declared that every word was written by the Holy Ghost. Over the simple and clear truth was poured so much chaff that it was impossible to either accept all or identify the one truth necessary for man.
"This was the first method. The second, which was used successfully for over a millennium, consisted in burning at the stake anyone who revealed the truth. Nowadays, though they do not torture or burn, they slander and so ruin the lives of the lovers of truth that few have the courage to oppose them publicly. The third method is that, by asserting themselves as the infallible Church, they teach what suits them even when it flatly contradicts the original teachings. This so demoralizes those who try to reconcile the original teachings with those of ‘The Church’ that after a while they resign themselves to passive acceptance of whatever the powers that be dictate.
"For instance, it is said: ‘Call no man your father on earth, only your Father, in heaven. Neither do you have earthly masters, for your only master is Christ’. But they set themselves up as the holy fathers and masters of mankind. Or again, it is said: ‘When you pray do so secretly, and God will hear you,’ but they force men to pray collectively in churches, with singing and music. Also, their master told them not to swear or use God’s name in vain, but they demand that men should make oaths of obedience to the authorities. God also said, ‘You shall not kill’, but their laws teach that men should and must kill all who oppose their authority or corrupt laws. Or again they teach that if bits of bread are dipped in wine and certain words are uttered over them these scraps of bread becomes the flesh of their master, and the wine turns into his blood, they say that eating this bread and drinking this wine is very profitable for the soul’s afterlife. Men believe this drivel and diligently eat these scraps. Later, when through their very gullibility they fall into our hands they are amazed that these scraps have not helped them." The fat devil rolled his eyes and grinned broadly. At this, all the devils all broke out into loud laughter.
"Excellent," exclaimed Beelzebub, no longer able to withhold his approval.
"Can it be possible that things are just as they were before his victory? Are there still fornicators, robbers, and murderers?" asked Beelzebub, now quite cheerful.
The devils now all spoke at once, trying to show off to him.
"Not just as they were before, but even better!"
"We can’t find enough room for all of the adulterers into their circle in hell."
"The robbers have grown even more desperate."
"Our only difficulty is in finding enough wood to burn the murderers!"
"Don’t all speak together," said Beelzebub, "but answer my questions in turn. Who promotes adultery? Please tell me how you now deal with the teachings that forbid divorce and held that a man should not look at a woman lustfully."
"Me, Sir!" replied an effeminate brown devil, with a fat oily face and a drooling mouth, and he crawled up. He crept up and told of his deeds in a sing-song voice: "We use both the traditional method employed by you in Eden, which delivered humanity into our power - and also a new, ecclesiastical way. In the ecclesiastical way we persuade people that real marriage is not what it really is—the spiritual union of man and woman—but consists in buying very expensive clothes, going into a building extravagantly decked up for the occasion, and performing a stupid ritual. We arrange matters so people look forward to the ceremony more than to the sacred spiritual union itself. And believing this, they conclude that every copulation apart from these conditions is merely a bodily gratification without any strings attached, or a mere hygienic necessity."
The effeminate devil continued with his report: "In this way, while not neglecting the classic tactics used in Eden, of curiosity and forbidden fruit, we obtain optimal results. Imagining that they can have an honest Church marriage even after sleeping with (and ruining) many women, men take many mistresses and become so habituated in adultery that they continue in this way even after their Church marriage. And if for any reason their marriage still seems irksome, they pay a small fee and arrange for another petty ritual to be performed and the first ceremony is rendered null and void."
"Simple and elegant," said Beelzebub. "Now, who is the patron of the robbers?"
"I am," replied a big devil with large crooked horns, pointed moustaches, and great misshapen paws. Having crawled to the front like the previous one, this devil twirled his moustaches in military fashion and stood at attention as he waited to be questioned.
"My once victorious enemy," said Beelzebub, "taught men to live like the birds of heaven, and saying that for salvation, men should own no possessions, urged men to give charity to all who sought it, giving away their coat to one who would steal his cloak. How do you encourage men who have heard these words to go on robbing?"
"I do it," said the moustached demon, tossing back his bead majestically, "just as you, our father and ruler, did when Saul was king of Israel. Then as now, we promote the idea that instead of robbing one another, it is more convenient to allow one to rob them all by letting him rule over them. My only innovation consists in setting up a new ritual to confirm this special privilege to rob and pillage all. We lead him into a specially big and expensive church, put a heavy metal cap on his head, seat him in a high and uncomfortable chair, put a stick and a ball in his band, smear him all over with rancid vegetable oil, and in the name of God and his son, proclaim the person of this oil-smeared mortal to be sacred. It follows that the plundering carried on by this person can in no way be restricted. So these sacred crooks and their helpers, and the assistants of their helpers, all rob and pillage the common people unceasingly, calmly, and safely. Simultaneously, laws and decrees are enacted to permit an idle few to legally rob and plunder the working masses with impunity. Indeed, in some lands the plundering goes on without any sacred anointed arch-robber personage at all. As you see, our method is practically the old one. We have merely made it more general, secret, widespread and more stable.
"We have made the method more general in this way: formerly people submitted freely to whoever they elected, now they must submit not to someone they have chosen, but to anyone who turns up and claims to have the authority of the anointed one. Our method is also more secret; now those who are robbed don’t see those who rob them. The method is more widespread because not content with robbing their own so-called Christian nations using very strange excuses, and especially on the pretext of spreading Christianity, they also rob all other nations who have anything worth stealing by proclaiming religious wars in the name of the Prince of Peace. This new method is more extended over time than the old one thanks to public and State loans. They now rob not only the present generation but mortgage future ones as well.
"This method has been made more stable by making the persons of the chief plunderers sacred, so people are afraid to oppose them. Once the chief plunderer is smeared with oil, he may quietly go on plundering as much as he likes from whomever he wishes. Once, in Russia, I anointed one after another two very wicked women, stupid, illiterate, and dissolute, who, even by these stupid laws, had no claim to be anointed. The last of these was a criminal who murdered both her husband and her legal heir. Just because she had been smeared with oil, people did not deal with her as they would treat other wantons who killed their husbands, instead they slavishly submitted to her for thirty years, letting her and her numerous lovers plunder their goods and deprive them of liberty. Today, simple open robberies - slitting a purse, or stealing goods or cattle - are hardly a one-millionth part of all the legal robberies which are continually being performed by the anointed ones and their minions. Today, unmasked robberies and general dishonesty are so profitable that the chief purpose of life for all is plunder. The only restraint is placed by mutual strife between the various thieves."
"Well done," declared Beelzebub. "But what of the murderers? Who looks after their interests?" "I do," said a blood-red devil, stepping forward. He had sharp horns, fangs sticking from his mouth, and a thick tail that stood proudly to attention.
"How do you get men to murder when they follow one who said: ‘Do not give evil for evil, but love your enemies’?"
"In the good old way," replied the red devil in a very loud voice, "through greed, discord, spite, vengeance, and pride. In the good old way we convince the teachers to teach men not to murder by publicly and cruelly murdering those who have committed murder. This method actually prepares a whole new crop of murderers in the spectators of these gruesome executions. An even greater number of murderers continue to be spawned by three hypocritical doctrines: infallibility, marriage and equality.
"The doctrine of infallibility yielded the best crop of murderers. Violent men who identified themselves as pillars of the infallible Church believed that they placed their souls in jeopardy by allowing false interpreters of God’s teaching to lead men astray. Concluding that these actions would be pleasing to God, they killed whole populations, executing and burned hundreds of thousands of people. Ironically, those who understood the true teachings of God - our most dangerous enemies - were seen as our servants, that is, servants of the devils: while those who executed and burnt them at the stake, and who were actually our obedient servants, saw themselves as saints fulfilling the will of God.
"Today, also, many murderers are given us by the teaching of Church concerning marriage and equality. The institution of marriage leads spouses to kill each other and their children. Husbands and wives kill each other when the law of ecclesiastical marriage restricts their freedom to enjoy lascivious pleasure: but mothers often kill their children chiefly when offspring are born outside the legal definition of wedlock.
"Although murders caused by the teaching of equality do not occur often, when they do, they happen in vast numbers. People are taught that all are equal before the law. However the victims of injustice and plunders discover how untrue this is. They discover that the law only permits the robber to plunder with impunity while they are restrained from retaliation or emulation. When they retaliate against these robbers, ten of thousands of murders are committed."
"What about war? How do you make the followers of he who told men that they should love their enemies since they all were sons of one father, go to war?"
The red devil smirked, spat out a cloud of fire and brimstone and triumphantly slapped himself on the back with his thick tail. "Easy, each nation is persuaded by us that it is the very best in the world and loved especially by God ‘Deutschland über alles’, France, England, Russia all ‘über alles’, and that this nation (its name is legion) has a manifest destiny to dominate all the others. Since we instill the same idea in all nations, they (always feeling paranoid) ceaselessly prepare to defend themselves, and find endless reasons to mistrust one another. But the more one side prepares for defense and builds antagonism towards its neighbor, the more its neighbors hate one another. Thus, today, the followers of he who called us murderers are obsessed with preparations for murder and actual mass-scale acts of murder."
"Very clever indeed," said Beelzebub after a long pause. "But how is it that wise scholars, free from the deception of ecclesiastical dogma, have not exposed these perversions and restored the true teachings?"
"Impossible," said a black devil with a flat receding forehead, protruding ears, and scrawny limbs, speaking in a pompous voice as, wrapped in a colorful mantle, he emerged out of the throng.
"And why not?" asked Beelzebub sternly, irked by this devilish self-assurance.
Quite unabashed, this devil leisurely sat down, not squatting but crossing his weak legs and addressed his master in a confident measured voice. "I continually distract their attention from what it is possible and necessary for them to know, and direct it towards what is unnecessary and inherently unknowable."
"I do it in different ways, in accordance with the intellectual fashions and vanities of the time. In the past, I suggested that it was most important that men should know the mysteries of the Trinity, the origin and nature of Jesus, the divine attributes, and so on.
"They discussed and argued so much over these matters that they grew angry. They were so preoccupied with these arcane matters that they quite forgot to consider how to live. Thus, they had no desire to know what the divine teacher had said about life. Later, when they grew so confused that they themselves had no idea what they were talking of, I convinced some of them that the wisest man who ever lived was Aristotle, an insufferable pedant who had lived over a thousand years ago in Greece. His authority impeded the path of true learning for many hundreds of years. Others were persuaded that the most important thing of all was to find a stone that could make gold. A third set of men became obsessed with an elixir that would make men immortal. So the cleverest and most learned of men directed their minds to these totally illusory matters.
"I persuaded others that it is most important to know whether it is the earth that moves round the sun or the sun round the earth. When it was discovered that the earth revolves and not the sun, and others ascertained how many million miles the sun was from the earth, they were very glad, now they investigate the distances between the stars still more ardently, even though they know full well that there is an infinite number of stars and that all of these matters are quite irrelevant to human virtue or happiness.
"Others were convinced by me that it was of the utmost importance that they should find out how all the animals came into existence. Though this knowledge was also unnecessary, and evidently impossible - seeing that the number of creatures is almost as great as that of the stars - they still direct all their mental powers to these and similar phenomena. These men are amazed to discover that the more they find out concerning unnecessary things the more these irrelevant questions multiply. As the domain of what remains unknown becomes wider and wider and the subjects of investigation become more and more complex and the knowledge they acquire becomes less and less applicable to life, this does not at all perplex them. Convinced of the supreme importance of their solipsistic pursuits, they continue to investigate, to preach, write, print, and translate accounts of their investigations.
"To perpetually hinder these men from ever again seeing that the law of life given in the teaching of Jesus was the only thing necessary, I then convinced them that all ethical systems were relative. They duly concluded that all religious teaching, including the revelations of Jesus, was erroneous and false. Now they try to determine how to live from a science called sociology which studies how badly and unhappily the worst people of the past lived. Thus they attempt to reconstruct the lives of former people on this basis, and deduce general laws of life therefrom, instead of following the teachings of Jesus.
"Then, to compound their errors, I taught them to compete with religious superstition by postulating that science and scientific knowledge is as infallible as The Church. As soon as these scientists were persuaded of their infallibility, they trumpeted around, as clear and certain truth, matters that were often both unnecessary and absurd. Yet, having proclaimed these matters as infallibly true, the prestige of science in its rivalry with religion prevents them from exposing what they know full well to be false.
"I’m convinced that as long as these pseudo-intellectuals continue to venerate science, they will never apprehend the spiritual teachings that could so easily destroy us."
"Well done, you good and faithful servant," said Beelzebub, and his face shone like the Morning Star. "You deserve a rich reward."
"But you have forgotten us!" cried the remaining devils.
"What is it that you all do?" asked Beelzebub.
"I am the devil of technology."
"I divide labor."
"I cause perpetual movement."
"I’m the Printer’s Devil."
"I inspire Modern Art."
"I practice false medicine."
"I cultivate false culture."
"I corrupt educators."
"I teach the art of reforming others."
"I inspire false philanthropy."
"I preach socialism."
"I teach hatred to women," they shrieked in unison, crowding up to Beelzebub.
"Speak one at a time and briefly!" commanded Beelzebub. He turned to the devil of technology. "What do you do?"
"I persuade people that the more they produce and the faster they do so, the better it will be. So, destroying their lives to produce things, men make more and more useless things, while becoming alienated from what is truly necessary to them."
"Splendid! What about you?" asked Beelzebub of the divider of labor.
"I persuade men that since things can be produced quicker by machines than men, men must become machine-like, and the men who are turned into machines hate those who have done this to them."
"Excellent! And you?" said Beelzebub addressing the devil of perpetual movement. "I persuade men that they ought to move from place to place as fast as possible. Thus instead of each improving the place where he is, man spends much of his time moving from place to place."
Beelzebub praised him too.
The Printer’s Devil then stepped forward. He disseminated to as many people as possible all the evil that is done in the world.
The devil of Modern Art explained that, under the pretext of pleasing men and arousing elevated feelings in them, he fostered their vices.
The devil of false medicine explained that he persuaded men that taking care of their body was the highest value. Since physical anxiety about the body has no end, men not only forget about others but also neglect their spiritual life.
The devil of culture taught people that study of the vices created by the devils of technology, division of labor, perpetual motion, printing, art, and medicine, is a virtuous lifestyle, and that a man learned in these vices need not try to improve.
The devil of education explained that he persuaded men that while living badly and not even knowing in what virtue was, they could teach the right way of living.
His brother, the devil of reforming, explained that he taught lazy people that they could best improve themselves by reforming other bad people.
The devil of intoxication taught men that instead of trying to live better, it is better to forget themselves under the influence of wine, opium, tobacco, or morphine.
The devil of philanthropy made rich men with ill-gotten gains even more evil by persuading them that by giving paltry contributions to charity they became saintly and had no need of improvement.
The devil of socialism excited class hatred. The devil of feminine hatred boasted that besides class enmity he aroused enmity between the sexes.
"I am comfort!" "I am fashion!" cried out yet other devils, crawling up.
"I am not so old and stupid as not to understand that once the teaching of life itself is contaminated, everything that might be harmful to us becomes profitable," rejoiced Beelzebub with a loud peal of laughter. "Thank you all!" He sprang to his feet.
The other devils encircled Beelzebub. At one end was the devil in the cape (the inventor of The Church); at the other was the devil in the mantle (who invented Science). They clutched each other’s paws and the ring was complete. Then, fiendishly laughing, shrieking, and waving their tails, the devils danced round Beelzebub. He danced in the middle, spreading and flapping his wings and throwing his legs up as his shackles mysteriously flew up, beyond hell and beyond the earth itself.
From far above could be heard cries, groans, and weeping and gnashing of teeth
The language of this story was updated for Diotima
by Nalin Ranasinghe. Aylmer
Maude’s 1934 translation proved to be of considerable assistance.