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So, punch someone in the gut and then accuse him of overreacting. Make fun of what people hold sacred and then accuse them of being overly sensitive. Make a show of virtues, which implies that your opponents are hypocrites.

Diabolically shrewd. It’s why cultural radicals deploy videos with ants crawling across a crucified Christ and then call the devout “censors” when they object to their tax dollars being used to promote blasphemy and immorality. It’s why liberals quote the Constitution selectively in order to thwart that document’s clear meaning. It’s why atheists quote Scripture out of context in order to attack scriptural authority. “Judge not” is their favorite verse when they’re calling someone a bigot, for instance.

When these more subtle tactics fail, there’s always an old standby: violence. In Iraq, Egypt and other Muslim countries, there is murderous persecution. In the West, the attacks are usually symbolic.

In Great Britain in early December, vandals chopped up the Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury, whose roots are said to go back 2,000 years to the crucifixion of Christ. The legend says Joseph of Arimathea (who took Jesus’ body and buried it in his own tomb) journeyed to Britain, planted his staff on the hillside, and it sprouted as a tree. Over a rocky history, its roots have been replanted, and for the past 100 years, sprigs of “holy thorns” from the tree have adorned the royal family’s Christmas table.

It’s extrabiblical, meaning the legend has no scriptural foundation. No Christian is obliged to believe the story, with the Holy Grail thrown in it as well, but it can’t be denied that the tree is a symbol of Christianity (as are Christmas trees) and that the attack is widely regarded as an assault against Great Britain’s founding faith.

The devil’s best work is done with an unseen hand, when people don’t realize they are being manipulated. In 2 Corinthians 11:14, we’re warned that Satan “transforms himself into an angel of light.”

In his preface to “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis notes that the kingdom of hell employs whatever it takes to fool humans:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

When Christians see either delusion employed to tear down belief, the natural response may be anger. But knowing that we are all sinful creatures prone to error, Jesus commanded his flock to pray for its antagonists, who may yet find their way.

Saul Alinsky died in 1972. We don’t presume to know his spiritual mindset at the time of his departure from this earth, and we can only hope that he had a divine encounter beforehand. Otherwise, a clue to his ultimate fate may lie in his foreword to “Rules for Radicals,” in which he saluted “the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom - Lucifer.”

No wonder his advice is so devilishly clever.

Robert Knight is senior writer for Coral Ridge Ministries and a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.