In 1964, our nation’s civil unrest looked a lot like it does right now. The country was in upheaval, our streets crowded with protesters and rioters in the heat of the civil rights movement.
Paul Harvey, a 20th century radio broadcaster who, at the height of his career, drew nearly 25 million listeners, was keenly aware of the division our country was facing. It was then that he wrote a particularly prescient broadcast, which he titled “If I Were the Devil,” and updated it periodically into the mid-1990s.
The following version was written in 1996:
If I were the prince of darkness, I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness. I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — thee. So, I would set about however necessary to take over the United States.
I’d subvert the churches first, and I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please.”
To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince the children that man created God instead of the other way around. I’d confide that what’s bad is good and what’s good is square. And the old, I would teach to pray after me, “Our Father, which art in Washington …”
Then, I’d get organized, I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves and nations at war with themselves until each, in its turn, was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.
If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellect but neglect to discipline emotions. I’d tell teachers to let those students run wild. And before you knew it, you’d have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door. With a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing and judges promoting pornography. Soon, I would evict God from the courthouse and the schoolhouse and then from the houses of Congress. In his own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I’d lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money.
If I were the devil, I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. What’ll you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?
I’d convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun and that what you see on television is the way to be. And thus, I could undress you in public and lure you into bed with diseases for which there are no cures.
In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.
Harvey’s prophetic broadcast has gone viral a number of times over the years, and it’s making the rounds once again, as the U.S. is gripped by intense division and much despair following the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a white man.
Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Mr. Floyd’s death — which came on the heels of the gruesome, racially charged killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia — has sparked peaceful protests and violent riots in major cities around the country, resulting in the destruction of numerous establishments, including many minority-owned businesses, and the deaths of several law enforcement officers, including the retired 77-year-old David Dorn in St. Louis, as well as protesters, like 22-year-old Italia Kelly.
There is no doubt Harvey’s decades-old words — an uncanny prediction of the place in which we now find ourselves — is just as applicable today as it was when he wrote it.
It’s critical for Christians to turn to prayer in this divisive and confusing time, as we emerge together from a months-long coronavirus pandemic that locked down much of society and awake to acute racial division.
More on that here.