The Devil

It’s a scary concept, really: A fallen angel, who reigns over the underworld and tortures lost souls until eternity. According to scripture, the devil is a corrupting force that never cedes to tempt humanity, a merchant of souls and the polar opposite of the good and forgiving God who supposedly watches over us. Any of these attributes should make you tremble, dear reader, but chances are that you simply registered these attributes and shrugged. You have heard them countless times before, and the term “devil” has become void of meaning. After all, we live in rational times and tend not to worry about eternal damnation as much as our medieval ancestors did.

The devil, it turns out, no longer scares us. He has become a caricature of evil, a figure of speech that scares but the ultra-faithful. Yet as a character, Lucifer has proved remarkably sticky: The devil remains one of the most portrayed characters in literature and film, and its characteristics keep inspiring musicians across the globe. Not necessarily for the original religious reasons, but as a force of malignity or seduction that each and every one of us feels within themselves from time to time.

So the scary concept has become a seductive one: Maybe the evil we do isn’t our fault but that of a corrupting force? Maybe we carry the devil inside of us only for him to occasionally rear his horned head and lead us astray? The idea that the we are as much the devil as he is us is anything, if not a great excuse – and ironically just as tempting as the man himself.

This month on The Idea List we’re taking on the dark lord himself, the way he keeps sparking popular imagination and meddles with our supposedly rational times.