When President Bush delivers his State of the Union speech this week, he will describe America firmly in step on the march of freedom while ascending to the sunlit slopes of prosperity situated at the very foot of heaven.

As he speaks under the great dome, the esteemed members of Congress, their cheeks flushed with excitement, will sing hosannas to the president like so many cherubim around the golden throne, excepting, of course, certain Democrats, who will sit on their hands and make faces as if suffering from gastric distress.

All this you know. What you don’t know is that in another place, where the central heating is very hot, the Prince of Darkness (no, not Bill O’Reilly) will deliver an alternative address to the citizens of that grim abode. This will be his annual State of Disunion address, relating how America fared in the Seven Deadly Sins department in 2004.

You may wonder how I got an advance copy of this speech, which is usually damnably hard to find.

Well, in 38 years in journalism, I have met many rogues who have since become handy contacts in the nether regions.

These lost souls were not just politicians, but also people from my own impious business, and they inhabit all parts of hell, including the very last circle, which is reserved for copy editors doomed eternally to put commas into sentences and take them out.

Here is an abridged version of the speech to be delivered by Evil Inc.’s CEO, and please spare me any observation about the devil being in the details:

My fellow evildoers,

It is my low honor and privilege to be speaking to you tonight and to report that the Seven Deadly Sins are deadlier than ever, and, as a result, disunity is flourishing like never before.

(Pause here for the clapping of cloven hooves and the banging of pitchforks).

Some of you may doubt my words in light of the current president of the United States using his office as a bully pulpit for his moral values and dedicating his every waking moment to committing faith-based initiatives. And I’ll be the first to admit that this has led to much gnashing of teeth in the demon community.

But, as we say down here, the tar pot is always blackest before it comes to the boil. We have long sponsored a program to send false prophets into their midst to aim bile at convenient scapegoats – liberals, gays, you name it – while ostensibly preaching a gospel of love. It has worked a charm. These accomplished villains actively embrace politics, an enterprise so unholy as to make the likes of us shrink away in horror.

To be sure, many saintly priests, pastors and lay people remain to vex us with their wretched insistence on practicing what they preach (shudder), but, thankfully, religion for many Americans has become an excuse to be judgmental and sanctimonious at the expense of others.

As they might say in Texas, these pious buckaroos are all bishop’s hat and no compassionate cattle.

In this hypocritical environment, the Seven Deadly Sins have recorded outstanding growth. Take pride, for example, one of our ancient favorites.

I do not have to tell you how much it cheers my cold heart to see America’s rulers so puffed up with pride that they can barely admit – or even think of – a single mistake they have made. Even now, their arrogance is spurring them to undermine the Social Security system, which will be a great thing for us down here, of course, in that it will break the faith of the elderly on that happy day when they are destitute and forced to take in laundry.

As for envy, the whole country is envious of celebrities, whom Americans have set up as their new gods. Of course, envy goes hand in hand with greed, a sin for which we can thank the corporate community for having set such sorry standards. Fortunately for us, Americans are too slothful to demand a change.

And let’s hear it for gluttony! Need I say more? By the way, diabolically delicious doughnuts are available in the back of the hall for those feeling peckish. Some are a bit toasted.

As for anger, just turn on any talk-radio station. Whoa! They are going to be talkative and angry when they finally get down here.

My only regret is in the area of lust. Unlike his predecessor, the current occupant of the White House is not setting the wrong example. Americans seem to be sinning quite well without his guidance, but a little leadership would be appreciated.

Otherwise, I am happy to report that the road to hell is again paved with good intentions.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com)