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The Devil’s Law

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Although I have never seen A Man for All Seasons, I find this exchange enduringly meaningful:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Does the end justify the means? Can we afford a presumption of innocence under threat of terror? If there is no law, what separates man from evil?

The dialog was called to mind from a question deep in the comments on a Vox Popoli post. Commenter “guest” asked, and “Beau” replied:

If the devil could make laws what would they look like?

Here's a few:

  • No good deed will go unpunished.
  • Show me the man and I'll show you a crime.
  • You are guilty of offending me.
  • All your base are belong to us.

That last one is, I think, a joke.

G-d summarized His laws in the Ten Commandments. What are Satan’s laws?

Some might say the Thelemic law popularized by Aleister Crowley is the counterexample to the G-d’s Ten:

Do what Thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Having spent some time in pagan circles, I understand that command to be much less libertine than it sounds. The Wiccans I knew added a preface, to make it

An Ye harm none, do what Thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The devil probably wouldn’t issue a law requiring no harm. Crowley’s Thelemic ethics contemplates certain duties for the benefit of mankind and the world. Satan would get nowhere if he talked of consideration and responsibilities.

Beau was probably on the the right track. The devils laws would not require us to be evil or immoral. His would be laws which made it difficult for us to be virtuous. Satan would not have us cut down the laws like William Roper proposed. He would encourage us to grow the stand of laws ever thicker until it immobilized us.

For when everything is prescribed or proscribed, there are no choices. Our nature as Man, as moral agents with free will, is turned against us. The law which kept us from the devil metastasizes and keeps us from ourselves.

Satan’s endeavors to claim our souls is a means, not his end. The devil’s law would be constructed to destroy G-d’s creation.