Understanding “The Devil” Concept Through Contract Law

The point is: The Devil was created so you would take contracts seriously.

When asking, “Of what are we?” the day’s understanding shows a clearer, crueler picture. Not to give this a sickly morose taste, but our understanding of history has of late been more truthful, I say potentially fully indoctrinated; I accept. What I accept as truth could well be revisionist fiction—hear me out, regardless.

The enlightenment of our history—that is to say, the fuller picture presented through inclusion of voices and perspectives previously excluded or disregarded—has removed the power from mythical concepts that previously commanded our lives. From the Neolithic onward—though perhaps even before then—before our present enlightenment and era of inclusivity, we had texts. We had scribes. We had records, need of receipts and ledgers. If nothing else, we had long memories. We agreed on the writings of those then present. We agreed as to their message, for we agreed on our common language and ability to understand. How else could one structure a civilized living? The Gods then also had writing—of course they did since we got it from them! Since we are their reflection, the written words—agreements, pacts, concordats, and treaties—were to be honored. Broken pacts could lead to the destruction of worlds. It was crucial we understood the importance of agreements, later formalized as contracts oral or written. How many wars have broken out due to broken agreements?

So, fast forward a lot and you have Established Christianity. By this point, Christianity had become a mix of many things, including things it had sought to destroy, not the least of which being pagan concepts; and in that mix of everything lived a reverence to the written Word. Except this time, the Word was quite literal. Jesus, God Incarnate, was The Word! Quite the upgrade. The Greeks and their contemporaries had stories and that was enough—they were more naïve people. By established Christian times, we needed proof of holiness, committed to writing. And that proof was, in part, obtained by compliance with written words. Why should we not murder? Because God told us and we wrote it down.

Excuse me while I continue to lay the foundation. God, of course, cannot be properly understood unless in direct juxtaposition to—though previously featured in prominence to the side of—The Devil. When asking, “How would you describe The Devil?” one might be met by a response that first details his many different physical appearances, such as that of a man, or a businessman, a sexy She-Devil, a goat, a dragon, a reaper, a snake, eternal shapeshifter; which would eventually lead to the following inquiry: “Could one make a deal with The Devil?” You’re likely to be met with an answer in the affirmative.

The Devil, we know, transacts for the souls of Christians. This is his business. And even for The Devil, contracts are honored. That’s how important contracts are, that even The Devil accepts their validity. And it is a common comedic trope that you can’t really hate The Devil for seeking enforcement of his contract. Enough part of us feels for The Devil because we fully accept, as a society, the validity of contracts. Being a capitalist society built on the foundations of Christianity that seeks the stability and predictability that contracts are meant to provide, why not tie noncompliance with amoral behavior characteristic of The Devil?

The Devil plays a great role to the point of caricature as a being that cheats, potentially. Even if he doesn’t cheat, from the perspective of contracts law, he is a detestable being for imbuing contracts with ambiguity. At his very worst, The Devil does not abide by contracts at all, but rather dictates its meaning purely by caprice.

The Devil plays nice with the contract when it is in his favor. When the terms securing your stay in eternal Hell have been met, as stated, disclosed, agreed to, and signed in affirmation, it’s hard to argue against strict compliance. Indeed, in our civilized society, no matter how unfortunate this outcome, a court is likely to uphold the terms of this contract (save for arguments relating to unconscionability or of being against public policy). The Devil needs to be evil though, and his element of evil manifests on our holy contracts through arbitrary rules, executive fiat. The Devil, upon knowing that the terms are no longer in his favor, cheats. He makes the innocent party suffer; he forcibly seeks the innocent party’s revocation—which, from the perspective of contracts law, is absolutely diabolical. Our Christian society, seeking to guide behavior toward the holy (and conducive to capitalist enterprise) need only point to what The Devil does or might do as exemplars of what not to do, lest the association stick.

What does that mean? What am I trying to say?

I’m trying to say that when one understands the role of The Devil as nothing more than an adopted supernatural creation elevated to the realm of objective truth, to enforce the idea and absolute validity of contracts—well, The Devil ceases to exist. That’s quite the long game to be playing with civilization. Devils, demons, djinns, all are tricksters; all are creatures that lie with The Spirit Caprice; all are spoiled offspring of Corruption because they cannot be expected to agree to the terms of contracts when the terms are no longer in their favor. Any one of us who deals in that behavior, devilish behavior, has committed a grave ill. So much importance needed to be put on the importance of The Devil, because, of course, noncompliance with contracts would naturally only result in disorder. Toward this end, The Devil was to be found everywhere it suited us. In the eyes of natives; in the eyes of adversaries, territorial or religious; in the eyes of one another, to hold us true to the validity of contracts. The Law of Discovery is a great example of contract law being put to use, not only to legitimize astonishing land grabs, but to disregard protests to the contrary.

Shifty and beguiling is the bandit who displays disgusting behavior, that of disobedience to the contract. Should a Native suddenly try to fight the validity of a contract he never understood, simply brand him possessed, provide a notarized copy complete with countersigned seal, and send them on their way. This is how civilized society deals with that kind.

Knowing all this, surely by now we can acknowledge that perhaps there is not a nightmarish red serpent circling the planet in an unseen dimension. Maybe we could live without that fear. Maybe we could say, “Wow, so this concept of contract breaker as evil goes back this far, and for this reason—to never doubt the validity of a deal made, or to, in good faith, abide by its terms. And I am not making judgments about the value or lack thereof that came from such an acceptance; rather, I am saying The Devil is not necessary anymore. We can keep The Devil for reference, but with the present note that we, as a society, have made a proclamation in the way we understand it will be understood, that,

‘To Humankind We Remind You: The Devil is not real.’”

Surely we can do without The Devil. Our own history is more terrible than the most terrible stories our minds have committed to writing. Again, that is no judgment from me, but rather an objective observation of present circumstances, viewing each life as infinitely valuable. Rather than see The Devil as the embodiment of all that is evil, better to see The Devil as a necessary creation for a people who placed great value in superstition, and who, because of said superstition, needed a placeholder until logic and reason took hold.

You see, I was studying for the bar exam. The first review topic was: Contracts and Sales. I, in an effort not to reproduce a phrase that might be part of copyrighted material, read something to the effect of, “needing to be ensured that mailed material was sent to the correct address and carrying appropriate postage.” How posh, young Pip Gargery—how far indeed you’ve come on your journey to be a Gentleman. Hulu’s adaptation of Dickens’ work—I’m referring, of course, to Great Expectations—sees The Devil manifested in the life of Magwitch. But we also The Devil in Mr. Jaggers, who attained prominence in the legal profession through manipulation and dirty dealings. Our media can’t simply say evil is bad, but rather reinforces that evil is bad because The Devil is evil and being evil is bad.

The Devil has been kept alive throughout our times as we’ve needed to modernize, and facilitate, the formation of contracts. Technology permits instantaneous acceptance, and instantaneous revocation. Therefore, The Devil had to keep up, and so could be found in dirty websites. The Devil was in our email. The Devil makes phone calls. The Devil seeks to cheat you. Dishonest folk dishonor our entire civilization. But through contract law, in adherence to the written word, we can find our salvation. Just ask the natives.

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