The Devil gave the apple to Eve and offered Jesus the world. He's Lucifer or Satan - or Shaitan to Muslims, created out of smokeless fire. He made a pact with Faust, struck a heroic pose in Paradise Lost and went down to the crossroads to give Robert Johnson the blues. He rode a tank and held a general's rank while the Blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank, if you believe the Rolling Stones. But what he absolutely does not do is make money from Pampers.
That is official now, after a court in America ordered four men to pay [pound]10m in damages for spreading the notion that Procter & Gamble - which makes the nappies, among many other household products - gave its profits to Satan. The ruling was made in Salt Lake City last week after a 12-year legal battle that saw the company trying to save its reputation in the face of mass boycotts by Christians.
"We incurred hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales over the years because of this rumour," Terry Loftus of P&G said, denying accusations that the lawsuit was a vindictive overreaction. "It was absolutely necessary for us to take aggressive action."
If you're thinking "only in America", then consider this: some of the Christians who stopped buying Pampers and Pringles over the years were British. There are 1.2 million evangelicals in this country, most of whom believe the Devil is a real creature intent on destroying humanity, and a few thought he might be trying to do it through the contents of their cupboards. And the Church of Satan, which was said to be getting the money, has members here, including a sailor in the Royal Navy and a friendly 39-year-old locksmith from Uttoxeter called Mark Bickley, who says: "It's amazing how many people believe in the Devil."
Rumours about P&G started in the Sixties, when American Christians began to take exception to a company logo showing a bearded and horned man surrounded by 13 stars. This was said to be a perversion of the passage in the Book of Revelations that describes "a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of 12 stars." The stars in the company logo supposedly spelled out 666, the number of the beast.
Despite denying it all, P&G dropped the logo in 1985. But a second false story then emerged in 1994 - that the P&G president had told a live TV show the company gave money to Satanists.
Randy Hauger, agent for a rival firm, recorded a message on his business voicemail repeating this rumour and it was forwarded by three colleagues. P&G started legal action, but it took until last week for a court to order the men to pay up.
The number of people who registered as Satanists at the last UK census was 1,500, but belief in the Devil is far more widespread than that. Surveys repeatedly show that one in three of us thinks he exists in some form. The Great Deceiver has even enlisted Jeffrey Archer to his cause: the fallen Tory angel is publishing a book in defence of the disciple whom Jesus called "a devil" for betraying him: The Gospel According to Judas.
It was Satan who made Eunice Spry beat her foster children and force them to drink their own vomit, she said. As the P&G case was finishing in the States, Bristol Crown Court found the 62-year-old Jehovah's Witness guilty of actual bodily harm, child cruelty and unlawful wounding. One boy, now grown up, said he was starved or force-fed his own excrement. His hand was held on an electric hob until it looked like "a gooey mess". Spry told the children she was doing it because they were possessed by the Devil. "Beating the Devil out of the child" is a phrase police heard many times while investigating the 47 cases of child abuse detailed in a government report last year. The most high-profile was that of Victoria Climbie. The victims were mostly in London, in families newly arrived from other countries, and Christian, although Muslims were involved too. …