Paul Harvey’s ‘If I Were The Devil’ has been heard by millions. One of my favorite essays, I now hear it often in my own mind as I am out and about observing our world. Harvey’s words have an undeniable truth; although, they may not be as prophetic as some would like to believe.
Paul Harvey, a conservative American radio broadcaster for the ABC Radio Networks, originally wrote ‘If I Were The Devil’ in 1964. A broadcast of the essay aired in 1965, but it is still popular today. However, the current rendition that circulates the internet was updated by Harvey to reflect current events throughout his life, which sadly ended in 2009.
The oldest genuine Paul Harvey version of this piece we’ve found thus far appeared in his newspaper column in 1964:
If I Were the Devil
If I were the Prince of Darkness I would want to engulf the whole earth 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.
So I should set about however necessary, to take over the United States.
I would begin with a campaign of whispers.
With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whispers to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.”
To the young I would whisper “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that “man created God,” instead of the other way around. I would confide that “what is bad is good and what is good is square.”
In the ears of the young married I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution them not to be “extreme” in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct.
And the old I would teach to pray — to say after me — “Our father which are 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, uninteresting.
I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies, and vice-versa.
I’d infiltrate unions and urge more loafing, less work. Idle hands usually work for me.
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 would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions; let those run wild.
I’d designate an atheist to front for me before the highest courts and I’d get preachers to say, “She’s right.”
With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography.
Thus I would evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, then from the Houses of Congress.
Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science.
If I were Satan I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg
And the symbol of Christmas a bottle.
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. Then my police state would force everybody back to work.
Then I would separate families, putting children in uniform, women in coal mines and objectors in slave-labor camps.
If I were Satan I’d just keep doing what I’m doing and the whole world go to hell as sure as the Devil.
Harvey’s 1996 newspaper version kept the concept and structure of the essay, but evolved the content to include the current events of that time:
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 are 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 them 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.
Paul Harvey’s ‘If I Were The Devil’ was not intended to be prophetic, which is the mistake made by most when hearing the 1996 version and mistakenly believing it was from the 1965 broadcast. As the last line indicates, “I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing,” Harvey was reflecting on the current state of our society, not predicting things to come, hence the reason for the present tense.
Although not prophetic, Harvey’s words are not any less powerful. It is a warning to our nation that we should heed.
Listen to the 1996 version here:
Harvey, Paul. “If I Were the Devil I Would Pray, Our Father Who Art in Washington.” Gadsden Times. Oct 13, 1964 (p.4).
Harvey, Paul. “If I Were the Devil.” Reading Eagle. July 1, 1996.