Stories about moral and philosophical ideas
This is one in a series of stories which provide ideas for reflections on moral and philosophical ideas. They can be used for all kinds of discussion groups and for individual reflection.
David Wiseman wrote a story entitled “The Devil You Know” which appeared in the After Dinner Conversations magazine on July 2021.
The narrator is walking down the Main St. in a small town on Christmas eve when he encounters the devil all dressed up in formal attire with two of his sons. The devil says “hello” to the man as they pass each other on the street and the man says “Who are you?”
The devil says “ I’m Nick, Nick Baphomet, other places I go by other names, but I think you already know me.”
The narrator says, “I ‘m not sure, maybe I do. You live here?”
The devil says, “No, not full time, just here for the holidays.”
The narrator says, “You celebrate the holiday? I mean…you celebrate Christmas?”
The devil says “Of course!” he replied, “One of my great successes, don't you think?”
“Your great successes? But…”
“Oh yeah. Jesus, Mohamed, Abraham, all the other guys like that, all mine.” He smiled and leaned towards me slightly, so a cloud of foul breath rolled over me. “To be honest, I’m still pretty smug about ‘em all. Used to be that there were so many gods nobody knew who did what and who to pray to, then I got the idea of just one god. Counterintuitive, right? But then the argument’s over whose god is the real god. So good, eh? Brought more misery into the world than anything before or since. Yep, proud of that.”
The devil goes on to tell the narrator that he likes peace and quiet and that people for the most part avoid him and pretend they don’t see him.
The narrator then asks the devil where else he visits like down there. The devil mocks him and says he hasn’t been down there in centuries.
“No! Down there’s all closed up, has been for centuries. Got too crowded, and besides, there was nothing down there that couldn’t be done right here.”
“All over, a week here, another there. We’ve got offices worldwide, all the big cities and some fairly out of the way places too. There’s opportunities everywhere.”
“Offices? You have offices?”
“Incorporating was probably the single best thing I ever did. Meant I could delegate so much. Mostly it runs itself nowadays, I can put my feet up and do little more than watch, sometimes for decades. When I look back, I can’t imagine what it’d be like running things in the old way. It’d be ridiculous, I’d never keep up.
The narrator then says to the devil “Let me get this right,” I said slowly, “You’ve turned into some kind of jet-set corporate executive and you don’t want my soul in exchange for my heart’s desire?”
“Where’ve you been, friend!” He threw back his head and snorted a kind of cross between a laugh and a whinny. “Do you have any idea how much a single soul is worth today? Even a hardly used one like yours?”
I shook my head dumbly.
“Less than the cost of a cell phone. And a very cheap one too, not one of your fancy things. Nobody deals in singles any more. Everything’s wholesale, bought and sold in bundles of two million here, ten million there.”
The narrator thinks about killing the devil while he has the chance but then realizes such an attempt wouldn’t work. The devil says “No, unless you really have got magic powers – and I’m pretty sure you haven’t – then it’s probably best to stand down your red alert. Here, let’s shake and we’ll be going.”
The narrator says “Well,” I said a little lamely, trying to retain some vestige of self-respect, “at least I didn’t sell my soul, I can say that. I didn’t do a deal with the…”
The devil says,“You didn't do a deal?” he called back, “Oh, Robert, I think you already did. I’m pretty sure we've got a file on you somewhere. There’s a file on everybody somewhere.”
Questions for discussion
Do you think the devil has a file on everyone? If so, what’s in yours?
What do you think about the claim by the devil that he invented “Christmas? In what ways has Christmas done harm to members of our society?
Some people say they hate the holidays. What are some of the reasons that they might say that?
The devil claims one of his best ideas was getting rid of many gods and claiming there was only one because with only one it’s easier for people to fight over the concept. What do you make of the devil’s claim?
The devil says that he closed up hell centuries ago and now has offices world wide, he has incorporated. What do you make of this claim?
The devil says that a single soul, barely used, isn’t worth much. He’s after volume now. What do you think of the idea that populations have sold their soul to the devil espousing certain beliefs and cultural values?
What do you think of the narrator, who we learn at the end is named “Robert,” thinks of killing the devil, but can’t figure out how to do this successfully. Would you want to kill the devil?
At the end, Robert tries to take comfort in his claim that he hasn’t sold his soul to the devil, but the devil questions him about this claim and tells him he has a file on him somewhere. Do you think the devil does have a file on Robert, and what would be found in it if such a file exists?