Friday, December 28, 2012

Getting God and Satan wrong, from Voltaire to Dostoyevsky

Voltaire, the French Enlightenment's man of belles lettres, bon mots and more, once said:

"If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

Meanwhile, Dostoyevsky, in his Grand Inquisitor story, would have us believe similar, but in a more existential vein.


Mark Twain, in "The Mysterious Stranger," got nearer the truth, though he wasn't headed in that direction.

Contra Simon Critchley's take on Dostoyevsky, the truth is staring him, Doystoyevsky, Voltaire and others in the face.

Metaphorically speaking, if one wants to be religious, and with any sort of world religion, whether monotheistic or not, it's Satan you have to invent, at least as much as God.

It's Twain's Satan the nephew of Satan who chides humans for belittling animals because they allegedly don't have "the moral sense," for example on how Twain is headed down the right pathway. Whether Satan in western monotheism, Kali for Hindus, maya for Buddhists or whatever, concretizing an evil principle seems to be a necessity once a religion reaches a certain point.

After that, of course, in the Western monotheistic position, things get more fun. It's only after that point of development that the vengeance of god, and the tag-along thirst for vengeance of his believers, really gets to take off.

The perfect example of this is Dante.

Everybody reads the Inferno. Those who are more intrepid move on to the Purgatorio and usually sputter out about halfway through. NOBODY reads the Paradiso.

Well, almost nobody. I forced my way through it the first time I read the Inferno and then moved on to the Purgatorio.

So, sorry, Voltaire and others. For entertainment value and more, we'd find ourselves, at least metaphorically, compelled to invent Satan if more people didn't think he metaphorically (or still really, for monotheistic/dualist fundamentalists) exists.

No comments: