What does the devil get out of the Paris massacre?

Mankind is perfectly capable of wreaking horrible evil anytime it chooses. But that does not imply that the devil is uninterested in human evil or that he derives no perverse pleasure from it.

(Some non-canonical thoughts, if I may, on the atrocity committed in Paris last week.)

One need not invoke the devil to explain most moral evils in the world. Mankind is perfectly capable of wreaking horrible evil anytime it chooses. But that does not imply that the devil is uninterested in human evil or that he derives no perverse pleasure from it. Evil deeds echo his original Non serviam and render him (in his mind at least) a twisted homage. Three things about the massacre in Paris, I think, the devil finds agreeable.

First, the terrorists died by their own hands. Because suicide is gravely evil, and because this form of suicide (vest-bombs) leaves no time for possible repentance between one’s final willed act and resultant physical death, suicide bombers die, by definition, in an state of unrepented, objectively grave, sin. Granting that psychological disturbances, etc., might diminish one’s subjective culpability for self-murder (CCC 2282-22283), nevertheless, death in unrepented grave sin means eternity in hell (CCC 1033-1037). The devil would welcome more humans to his eternal misery; suicide bombers seem high on the list of prospects.

That said, though, I caution against hoping that damnation is ever, however justly, visited on a human being—and not just because I want everybody to be happy forever (although I do want that). No, my dissuasion from wishing for anyone’s eternal damnation, even for that of suicide bombers, arises differently.

Consider: in his Passion, Christ paid fully the debt of every human sin. Included in his suffering was, therefore, the price of the very sins to be committed by suicide bombers in Paris some 2,000 after Calvary. Now, Christ cannot “unsuffer” the pain he felt for those offenses and he cannot retroactively slake the anguish he experienced for those sins. Instead, the only question now is whether the suffering that he underwent for these sins will be rewarded by the sinners seeking and accepting his forgiveness. If they do, Christ will rejoice in their return. But if they do not, his suffering for them will be, in a sense, forever wasted. To wish, therefore, that another person to go to Hell is effectively to wish, I think, that, in regard to that particular person, Christ suffered for nothing. And who wants that?

Second, most of the victims of this sort of terrorism die what the Catholic tradition calls an “unprovided death” or an “unforeseen death”. None of the 130+ people who died in Paris last week planned to die at dinner or at a sporting event or a concert, but dozens in these venues were dead before they even knew a terrorist attack was underway, and many others must have been physically or emotionally unable to turn their thoughts toward the Particular Judgment that was just seconds or minutes away (CCC 1021-1022). Everyone will die someday and we should strive to live each day in a state ready to meet God; still, the Church prays that, when death is at hand, we actually be able to avail ourselves of the sacraments—at the very least, that we have sufficient awareness and time to offer a prayer of contrition and an appeal to the mercy of God (CCC 1014, and numerous provisions making sacraments, blessings, and indulgences available as death approaches). Terrorist attacks make unprovided deaths more likely, not less, and anything that keeps people from turning to God in times of greatest need is, as above, fine by the devil.

Third, the Paris terrorists loudly and repeatedly invoked God’s name in their slaughter even though, as is well-known, God is a God of life, not death. To use God’s name while performing grave evil is, therefore, to mock him. Insults take nothing away from God’s glory or holiness, of course, and Jesus has already defeated sin and death forever. Still I suppose that, in his impotent way, the devil enjoys hearing God’s name invoked by murderers. In my mind, it’s a sort of “I hate you!” being forever shouted by Satan as he plummets to Hell. He might feel better screaming it, but his words change nothing.

There are other things about the Paris massacre that I suspect the devil finds agreeable (say, the disorder these attacks introduced into society, for the devil is a spirit of disorder) but these three—suicide by those committing grave evils, death sprung unexpectedly on scores of persons, and mocking the divine name—seem uppermost.

[Editor’s note: This essay was originally posted on Dr. Peters’ “In the Light of the Law” blog and is reprinted with permission.] 

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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.