A Use for the Devil

Statue of Archangel Michael defeating Satan.  Photo by Michel Hébert.

I’ve always enjoyed reading literary fiction and watching films because talented storytellers can lead us to contemplate important truths about our humanity and our world.  In my 20’s, I was a big fan of Arthurian legend — tales of Britain’s King Arthur and his knights — and read the versions written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Thomas Malory, Alfred Lord Tennyson, T.H. White, Mary Stewart, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.  So, I had been looking forward to watching the 2017 film King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, director Guy Ritchie’s creative re-telling of King Arthur’s rise to power.

Near the end of the film, Arthur is locked in vicious final battle with the evil King Vortigern, who seized the throne from Arthur’s father, killed Arthur’s parents, and forced his young nephew to flee to a city where he was raised by a group of prostitutes and lived a hardscrabble life on the streets.  As Arthur fights and ultimately destroys Vortigern to reclaim his rightful place as Britain’s “born king,” he says to his enemy:

You wanted to know what gave me such drive.  It was you.  

You put me in that brothel.  You cut me on the streets.  I am here now because of you.  

You created me.  And for that, I bless you.  [Arthur kisses the dying Vortigern’s ring.]

You make sense of the Devil.  

I interpret Arthur’s statements to mean that Evil can actually create Good.  The Devil’s role is to draw out what is best and right in us as we take a stand against what is worst and wrong around us.

Arthur’s speech reminds us of how we can respond to our own current events.  When we tune into a newscast on any given day, we’re immediately reminded that we live in a world where we are regularly confronted with Evil.  It takes the form of Prejudice (e.g., the hate spewed at white supremacist rallies such as the one in Charlottesville, VA).

It takes the form of Greed (e.g., American-owned corporations choosing to manufacture their products in poor countries where they can exploit workers by paying them only a few dollars a day for their labor).

It takes the form of Selfishness (e.g., millionaire and billionaire politicians advocating for tax breaks for themselves and their rich friends knowing that doing so would end access to healthcare for millions of Americans).

It takes the form of Vanity and Pride (e.g., world leaders with inflated egos scaring us all to death by threatening each other with military action, including nuclear weapons).  The examples go on and on.

Fortunately, good people can view all of these forms of Evil as opportunities.  As we actively resist them and battle against them, we strengthen our Goodness — and we make sense of the Devil.


We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”   Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel


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