We are, of course, as faddish in our treatment of the spirit world as in our relationship to everything else. For the past few years we have been enchanted with the Devil and his infernal legions. Witches and wizards have become all too predictable a part of our lives, from T.V. comedies to college courses. Films of diabolical possession and exorcism, or even diabolical impregnation and parturition have shocked and titillated the masses. Americans apparently find the notions of Old Ned both charmingly ridiculous and ominously believable. Taught in our youth to accept the literal reality of the Devil, we are ridiculed in our maturity for such belief. The trivialization of the occult is an extension of this attack on the theology of evil, a cheapening of it that reduces sin to entertainment.

C. S. Lewis has his charming Screwtape note that one of the Devil’s favorite ploys is the encouragement of the disbelief in his own infernal reality. Once convinced that evil is no more than superstitious flim-flam, we can relax, content in our faith in human decency and self-sufficiency. The medieval image of the good angel and the bad angel fighting for the soul is laughingly reduced to Flip Wilson’s “The debbil made me do it.”

Tolstoy believed in evil, in the reality of Satan, in “the power of darkness.” So did Dostoyevsky; so does Solzhenitsyn. Even Conrad, for whom evil was in the universe, not beyond it, saw that deep in the human being lay “the heart of darkness.” Graham Greene believes this in an impressively literal and supernatural way. So did Dorothy L. Sayers. In fact, she studied how the Devil has fared in literature. And she wrote her own version of one of the most famous “devil ...

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