Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Walter Kaufmann-How to go to Hell-Satan and an Atheist

This is the third of three dialogues written by Walter Kaufmann in his book Critique of Religion and Philosophy. The first half of the book focuses on critiques of philosophy while the second half focuses upon religion. I will say the dialogues fit perfectly within the flow of the book and as such can be best understood within the context of the whole work but they can stand on their own and are definitely worth reading. Each dialogue features Satan as the main character. There is one with a theologian, one with a Christian and one with an atheist. This dialogue is between Satan and an Atheist. It creates a fun game in which Satan and the atheist agree about many things but then the atheist finds he is far less wise and in far more danger then he had previously thought

I believe all the dialogues are fun reads because they are written to be both serious and humorous and in many ways that is how issues of religion really need to be approached; with a serious sense of humor.

Go here to read the dialogue with the Theologian
Go here to read the dialogue with the Christian

Dialogue between Satan and an Atheist

Atheist: You look so content. Have you grilled another theologian for breakfast? Or did you heat up a Christian for your lunch?

Satan: Both, my friend.

Atheist: I have often wondered how you catch Buddhists. After all, they do not believe the sort of thing Christians believe, so you can’t undermine their faith.

Satan: I get them to fall in love with the world.

Atheist: By dangling beautiful women in front of ascetics?

Satan: Not necessarily. Their aim is to fall out of love with the world. I try to show them that suffering is worth while.

Atheist: That’s what I said: women.

Satan: That works only in the least interesting cases. The others I try to interest in some cause, some task, some mission. I may even persuade them to spread their knowledge to as many men as possible. As soon as I have kindled some ambition I generally do not find it too hard to involve men in all sorts of compromises. But there are other ways.

Atheist: Just name one more.

Satan: Sometimes I try to lead them from detachment into callousness and indifference to the sufferings of others. But that works only in the early stages. Once a Buddhist has developed his peculiarly detached compassion he represents one of the hardest cases that I know. A Christian theologian is child’s play compared to that.

Atheist: Who else gives you trouble?

Satan: For a long time the Jews did. I took the wrong approach. I argued about Scripture with them and got nowhere. They knew the texts as well as I did, made connections from verse to verse across a hundred pages much more nimbly than I did, and were never, absolutely never, fazed by anything I said. I could not shock them. Usually they produced some rabbi who, more than a thousand years ago had made my point and been given some classical answer. They considered the whole thing a game even more than I did: after all, for me it was business, too. For them, talking about Scripture was a sheer delight. It was their favorite pastime which allowed them to forget their business and all their troubles. Where a Christian might have blenched they laughed, told stories to refute me or make fun of me, and I wasted my time.

Atheist: But couldn’t you show them that their interpretations were untenable?

Satan: I tell you, they considered the whole thing a game, and they played it according to special rules: by their rules, their arguments were tenable. They never claimed that Moses had meant all the things they put into his mouth. Of course not. But according to the rules of the game it could be argued that an interpretation of the words of Moses was correct in spite of that—even several conflicting ones. What mattered was that you played well; and compared to some of their rabbis I didn’t.

Atheist: So what happened?

Satan: I tried to get them to speak irreverently about God. Sometimes they did, but then it turned out to have been humor, and so it did not count. Threats, on the other hand, stiffened their backs, and most of them would rather be martyred than blaspheme under pressure. As long as the Christians martyred so many of them, there was a real dearth of Jews and Buddhists in hell, and the place began to fill up with Christians and Muslims. It got terribly stuffy, and there began to be talk of discrimination. I was even accused of having adopted a quota system. But now things have changed.

Atheist: Did you change your policy of admission?

Satan: Not at all. But when the Christians stopped persecuting the Jews, I began to be phenomenally successful with a new approach. I told them that their way of life was dated, that their laws were not made for the modern world, that freedom was the big thing now, and that their ancient laws interfered with their freedom.

Atheist: Do you mean to say that all Jews who eat pork go to hell?

Satan: Of course not. But once they give up their laws, their old way of life goes by the board, and they no longer study Scripture as they used to. By now many of them know the Bible as little as Christian youths.

Atheist: And does everyone who doesn’t know the Bible go to hell?

Satan: No, certainly not. But when they get to that point I ask them what right they have to call themselves Jews, religiously speaking. And that does make a dent. Then they begin to worry. And whether they worry or not, their religion has become a social affair for most of them, just as for the Christians.

Atheist: I am glad to hear that. More and more people are beginning to see the light. I have been joking with you, asking about people going to hell. I don’t really believe in hell. So far as I am concerned religion is bunk.

Satan: Just what do mean by saying that? Bunk?

Atheist: I mean, it is a lot of nonsense which isn’t worth bothering about. There are sensible things like science, especially psychology and anthropology, which are much more profitable. Religion is a stupid waste of time.

Satan: Oh, I don’t think so at all. There is nothing that interests me more. Religion is one of the most fascinating subjects in the world. I suppose you don’t like poetry and art either.

Atheist: You are wrong. There are some painters and poets whom I like, Picasso, for example, and a lot of modern art. I like Tolstoy, too, before he became a Christian, or tried to become one. And Dostoevsky, in spite of his crazy religious ideas. I am interested in their psychology.

Satan: What about the Book of Genesis?

Atheist: I don’t read stuff like that. Next you will ask me if I say Psalms. I must have been exposed to things like that as a child. But I have mercifully forgotten it.

Satan: Have you read no religious scriptures at all?

Atheist: I have only an amateur’s interest in anthropology. I have read a bit about primitive religions. But I have never followed it up. There are all sorts of handy cheap editions now; perhaps I’ll try some of them next time I travel by train. Usually I drive.

Satan: But these things were not written for a quick dip on the train between a crossword puzzle and a whisky sour.

Atheist: And why not? You would not want me to go to church to catch up with the Upanishads?

Satan: Of course not? You don’t go to church to catch up, as you call it, with Lear; but at least you take off an evening for it and give it your whole attention and let it do something to you.

Atheist: And what should these scriptures do to me? At most I should want to fill a gap in my education. I don’t want to be converted.

Satan: Well, these are not things merely to know about or have handy for a dinner conversation. The Bible and the Buddha, the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, Lao-tze and the Tales of the Hassidim, these are not things about which one is informed or not informed: what matters is that they speak to you and in some way change you.

Atheist: Have you become a preacher, Satan?

Satan: I am merely shuddering at the prospect of having to spend an eternity with you. I should rather like to make a human being of you before you settle down in my place. I don’t agree with the people who accept these scriptures, but I can talk with them and, to be frank, I rather enjoy talking with them. But you! I wish you’d go to heaven.

Walter Kaufmann-How to go to Hell-Satan and a Christian

This is the second of three dialogues written by Walter Kaufmann in his book Critique of Religion and Philosophy. The first half of the book focuses on critiques of philosophy while the second half focuses upon religion. I will say the dialogues fit perfectly within the flow of the book and as such can be best understood within the context of the whole work but they can stand on their own and are definitely worth reading. Each dialogue features Satan as the main character. There is one with a theologian, one with a Christian and one with an atheist. This dialogue is between Satan and a Christian. It addresses the problem of evil and defining who God is as well as scriptural issues. Of the three dialogues this one will likely be the most interesting to any typical Protestant Christian.

I believe all the dialogues are fun reads because they are written to be both serious and humorous and in many ways that is how issues of religion really need to be approached; with a serious sense of humor.

Go here to read the dialogue with the Theologian
Go here to read the dialogue with the Atheist

Dialogue between Satan and a Christian

Satan: God is not a person but a panacea, like love. This invalidates all the psychological theories that would explain belief in God in terms of one or two needs. God gratifies man’s self-respect in easily a dozen ways and allows man to feel humble, too; he gives strength and permits weakness; he is the great symbol of hope and yet justifies despair; he signifies the reality of all that one could wish for, and yet allows the outcry: what is man? He is someone to address when one is utterly alone, someone to praise, thank, implore, complain to, and accuse. He explains everything, even why one can explain things, and why one cannot. He backs up laws and morals, guarantees the existing social order, listens to the oppressed, is the safety valve for the slave’s resentment, leads revolutions (rarely), gives man a surpassing sense of power, can be thanked for victories, and sends defeat as a long-deserved punishment. He can be blamed for man’s inadequacy-not necessarily outright-and as long as he figures in the drama, a man’s sordid condition is at least not despicable: “I amount to nothing not because I am abject but because Adam defied God.” Is any further explanation needed why men cling to him?

Christian: But God exists.

Satan: What does that mean? What does “God” mean? And what “exist”? Surely you do not believe that there is an old man with a long white beard up in the sky?

Christian: God is love

Satan: When you say that God exists, are you merely asserting that there is love in the world?

Christian: I assert that the world was fashioned by infinite love.

Satan: Infinite but impotent?

Christian: Infinite and omnipotent.

Satan: Why does a god who is omnipotent and loving permit men to suffer? Could it be that eternity is so frightfully long? Could it be boredom? Surely, he must have some weaknesses if he saves only those who eat his son.

Christian: Atheist!

Satan: Am I then unanswerable?

Christian: God is perfect. He has no weaknesses.

Satan: The problem of evil has occupied your best minds for two thousand years; and it depends on your claim that God is perfect. But in other contexts you do not hesitate to ascribe to God what in human beings would be called not merely imperfections but downright perversions.

Christian: Impious villain! What do you mean?

Satan: He metes out eternal punishments, damns the unbaptized, and could save men from the hell that he created only by sending his son to be crucified, by persecuting for thousands of years the descendants of those who did not believe all the words of his son (and who today believes all the words of his son?), and he saves only those who eat and drink on regular occasions what they themselves consider his son’s flesh and blood.

Christian: That is a caricature of Christianity.

Satan: Are you denying that this is what Christians have believed for nearly two thousand years?

Christian: You must not judge a religion by its worst adherents.

Satan: Is not that exactly how you have always judged every religion except your own? But this is not what I have done” I have taken my clue from St. Paul and St. Augustine, from St. Thomas, Luther, and Calvin, from the dogmas and the sacraments which almost all denominations have in common.

Christian: The God in whom I believe is not like the god you impugn.

Satan: The God I impugn, I understand; indeed, he resembles the popular misconception of me. But what does the god do in whom you believe?

Christian: He has made you and me.

Satan: Why did he make us?

Christian: He created you as an angel, but you rebelled and fell.

Satan: When your children rebel, do you punish them eternally?

Christian: You were an angel and should have known better.

Satan: But apparently I did not know better, and it was, you say, God that created me. Tell me, do you really believe in angels?

Christian: No

Satan: But there are angels in your Scripture.

Christian: I do not take them literally.

Satan: Do you take me literally?

Christian: No.

Satan: I am glad; so I can be blunt. Do you take God literally?

Christian: What do you mean?

Satan: You believe in God, and you believe that atheists are very wrong. What exactly is it that you believe and they deny? What exactly are you saying when you say that God exists?

Christian: God exists-that means: life is bearable, the reality of everyday life is not the only reality; our dreams are not mere dreams; our ideals, whatever they are, have authority; the passion for justice, however conceived, is no mere quixotism; reason is not a capricious quirk of evolution; I am made in the image of one who is infinite and eternal and perfect, who fashioned the heavens, the stars, suns without number, planets and plants, whales, tigers, snakes, and whatever is frightening-it was all made by him in whose image I was created; I that seem small am greater than anything else in the universe; beware oppressors: my avenger lives; he sees my enemies even now; he hears me if no one else does; he love me if no one else does, and what I do has infinite significance.
God exists-that means: I that am made of dust am all that I say of God, only less so; I, worm that I am, shall judge the angels; that am of no account and never shall be, am not what I seem, and that great are not what they seem: we are equal, and if they do not bow before me, I shall yet behold their damnation from heaven; the world has a purpose, and I am part of that purpose, exalted above the sun and the moon which stop in their tracks or are blackened on my account; and the center of the universe with its glittering milky ways is in my heart.
God exists-that means: I shall not want, I will fear no evil, the ocean and the mountains hold no terror for me, nor does man; for me the whole world is the footstool of God’s glory; my enemies are his instruments, and he cares for me; I am in good hands; and though life be agony, I shall endure.

Satan: Is not that just what I said in the beginning, though you have, no doubt, said it more beautifully-or at least with more feeling?

Christian: I believe that God exists.

Satan: I can see that this statement means a great deal to you, and you have expressed very well what it means to you. But while I understand how you feel, I still do not understand what it is that, you think, exists, or in what way it exists. Does God take up space as you do?

Christian: Of course not.

Satan: Why, the, do you say that he exists?

Christian: Surely, many things exist that do not take up space.

Satan: Name three.

Christian: Does a dream take up space? Or a feeling? Or a thought?

Satan: Is God a dream, a feeling, or a thought?

Christian: Certainly not.

Satan: Try again.

Christian: What of justice?

Satan: What of justice indeed? Does it exist? Is it not an idea, or if you prefer, an ideal? Something towards which men aspire? Injustice exists, but justice is a name for what does no exist.

Christian: You admit that injustice exists. Does that take up space?

Satan: Injustice is a word that sums up a complex state of affairs together with the speaker’s reaction to it. It is not an entity.

Christian: Love exists.

Satan: Love is another word that does not designate an entity but a highly complicated pattern of feeling, thought, and behavior.

Christian: I never said that God was an entity.

Satan: But when you speak of God, you do not mean a mere concept or a pattern of human feeling, thought, and behavior. And I do not know what exactly you do mean. And I think you don’t know yourself.

Christian: If you do not know what I mean when I speak of God, read Scripture.

Satan: You know that I can cite Scripture to my purpose.

Christian: You must not take verses out of context-

Satan: Like preachers and theologians?

Christian: You must consider the over-all picture of God in the Bible.

Satan: Especially in the New Testament?

Christian: Yes.

Satan: Beginning with the Holy Ghost and the Virgin?

Christian: Read the words of Jesus.

Satan: Jesus himself said that he spoke in parables to ensure that, except for his twelve disciples, men should “not understand, lest at any time they should be converted and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:12). And at times the very same parables are understood differently by the evangelists, and Julicher and Bultmann, among others, have argued that the evangelists themselves have often misinterpreted the parables. Certainly, you can read the whole New Testament, including all the letters, too, and still have no clear idea what you, my friend, might mean by “God.” Believe me, I have read it many times and found all sorts of curious superstitions as well as all kinds of moral ideas, but I still do not know what you mean when you say that God exists.

Christian: Have you read our theologians and philosophers?

Satan: Read? I have talked with many of the best of them for centuries. They discuss the attributes of God as if they knew to begin with who it is that has these attributes. They argue whether he is in time, conscious, separate from the world, as if they knew whom they are discussion.

Christian: God is the Supreme Being.

Satan: Thank you. That is a great help. What do you mean by “supreme”?

Christian: Highest.

Satan: But he doesn’t take up space?

Christian: The most powerful and perfect.

Satan: Oh, that again! We are back at your contradictory idea of a being who damns the unbaptized in all eternity, save those-

Christian: Stop it! Leave out perfection for the moment. By “God” we mean the most powerful being.

Satan: Have you done research to find out which being is most powerful? What is more powerful-a virus or an elephant? That a most powerful being exists is as true as that a smallest being exists, though, of course, in both cases there might be several that are neck and neck. The contest would turn on definitions: what you mean by “powerful” and what is, and what is not, a being. And who else is admitted to the class of beings that do not take up space?

Christian: Your facetiousness is insufferable. God is the Creator.

Satan: That’s no help. As long as the assertion that there is a Creator was held to exclude the truth of scientific theories like Darwin’s, for example, one had some idea what was meant. But if you accept science, what are you saying when you claim that the world has been created?

Christian: Never mind your subtleties. The point is: God exists.

Satan: “God exists” is not a statement but a shibboleth: those who utter it, belong; those who refuse to, do not deny anything in particular but refuse to conform. The philosophers who speak of God do not agree with each other or with the man in the street: they make their obeisance to conformity. They use a traditional term for untraditional ideas and make the most of the fact that the word conveys no precise meaning.

Christian: Are you making excuses for atheists?

Satan: “Atheist” is a label that covers up more than it shows. Atheism can be aggressive nonconformism, but in certain countries it may be timid or unthinking conformism; it may be the protest of the maladjusted or an expression of ultimate serenity; it may be inspired by the desire to shock or hurt, to be grown-up, enlightened, sophisticated, or honest. And theism is equally protean. Let us not generalize about such vague labels!

Christian: But theism is true, and atheism false.

Satan: No doubt, some atheists are very wrong, and so are some theists. Theism is a language, a way of speaking, rather than a claim of fact.

Christian: What do you mean?

Satan: Look at it this way. At the end of your prayers you say: “This we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Need God be told? Must he be approached through proper channels? Protestants find fault with Catholicism on similar grounds? What is moral?

Christian: Christ’s word concerning mote and beam.

Satan: Rather: Protestantism strikes agnostics just as Catholicism strikes Protestants. And an infidel is simply a man who agrees with Catholics about Protestants and with Protestants about Catholics. All religions look quaint from the outside but are all things to the believer. That is true of atheism, too: it looks impious from outside and honest from the inside. And this is applicable to all religious rites and phrases: viewed with sympathy, they all seem odd. Take even a service of your own denomination: as soon as it is conducted according to another tradition or in a different language, it immediately becomes problematic and usually seems all wrong.

Christian: There is some truth in that. People have that attitude confronted with translations of the Bible to which they are not used. But what does that prove?

Satan: Religion can be a matter of habit, and it can be intense through and through; but it is incompatible with detached scrutiny.

Christian: Religion is like love: for him that experiences it, nothing else matters so much.

Satan: For those who observe its manifestations without sympathy, it seems madness.

Christians: That is no objection to religion any more than it constitutes a criticism of love. Religion, like love, has inspired generosity—

Satan: As well as wars—

Christian: It has inspired sacrifices—

Satan: Especially of others—

Christian: And works of art.

Satan: To be sure, religion has had good fruits as well as foul ones; and where would I myself be without it? But all this does not establish the truth of its claims. And it is in no position to dispute the results of any of the sciences.

Christian: The quarrels of religion and science belong to history.

Satan: Nor is it clear what religious statements mean.

Christian: They remind us that scientific attitude toward the world is not the only one.

Satan: Every artist knows that, and whoever loves art, and every lover.

Christian: Art and love are intimations of Christianity.

Satan: Christianity signifies the emasculation of love and art, the triumph of the fig leaf over classical beauty, the maculation of conception, and the vilification of love both between men and between men and women.

Christian: You are mistaking the prudery of certain ages for the doctrine of Christianity.

Satan: Is it not written in the New Testament: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Neverthless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” Is it not written: “Come together, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I wish all men were like myself.” And Paul, whose words are as sacred to Protestants as they are to Catholics, concludes: “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows: It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”

Christian: Has not Christianity modified these words of the First Epistle to the Corinthians? Did it not survive by modifying them?

Satan: The teaching of the New Testament has remained authoritative. To avoid fornication, permission has been given for properly regulated conjugal love. But what is done to avoid fornication is no longer the consummation of love: it is an unclean bodily function, coupled with a sense of sin. Even at best, married love is only considered a lesser evil. “it is better to marry than to burn.”

Christian: You stress those words too much.

Satan: The words of Paul are the clue to Catholicism as well as Protestantism. They permit us to understand the Catholic saints and the Catholics’ veneration of the saints; they explain monasticism and the fear of hell.

Christian: Is there the least evidence that these words were taken as seriously as you suppose?

Satan: “St. Jerome’s words are epoch-making and are passed from generation to generation of medieval writers as a classical commonplace: ‘Marriage peoples the earth, but virginity peoples heaven’” (Coulton 444)

Christian: That is a mere mot.

Satan: Here is another mot, my friend, a bon mot, also from St. Jerome, There was, he said, a place for matrimony no less than for virginity: est crater ad bibendum, et matula ad secretiora naturae (ibid).

Christian: Would you mind translating that?

Satan: Not at all: “There is a cup for drinking, and a chamber pot for the secretions of nature.” Isn’t that a lovely view of love between the sexes? A Christian view, perhaps? And Jerome was not fastidious. It was one of his maxims that “when a man has once been washed in Christ, there is no need that he should wash again” (Coulton, 554). And this precept was highly honored by medieval monks. You should contrast these attitudes with Jewish marital ethics and rules about bodily cleanliness and with republican Rome.

Christianity: Surely, Jerome was an exception.

Satan: No doubt, he was. He was a great scholar and translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Latin. His achievements could not be copied widely, but the precepts I quoted were adopted by large masses of people. St. Bonaventura does not equal Jerome’s erudition, but “St. Bonaventura decides that there is no aureola in heaven for the married folk” (Coulton 445).

Christian: I am sick of your medieval lore, Luther broke with monasticism and the saints.

Satan: Because he read Paul and concluded that “it is better to marry than to burn.” He considered it sinful to try and please God by works. But far from considering love divine, as the Jews and the Greeks had done, Christianity considered it sinful; and being sinful, man must believe in Christ and hope for salvation by grace. Today, of course, many Protestants agree with me, not with Luther.

Christian: Christianity is the religion of a higher love.

Satan: Christianity is the religion that made love a sin. But how could it face the world without some subterfuge? It could not openly declare war on man’s noblest passion. So one talked as if one were opposed to one kind of love only, and as if there were another kind.

Christian: But there is: love of the neighbor, love of one’s enemies, charity.

Satan: What religion is less charitable than Christianity? What other religion has as much as conceived of eternal damnation? What other sacred book contains as much venom as the New Testament? What great religious figure breathes vengefulness like the Jesus of the Gospels? How different is all this from the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, not to speak of the teaching of Buddha!

Christian: You mistake prophetic wrath for vengefulness.

Satan: The threats of the Old Testament prophets are clearly intended to change the hearts of those who are addressed; and a whole book is given over to the instruction of a prophet who is slow to understand this: Jonah. But even he has no wish for revenge in the first place, though he is sent into the capital of the enemy, Nineveh. In the New Testament a new note is struck: personal revenge and eternal damnation.

Christian: But Christianity introduced a note of hope: glad tidings.

Satan: Precisely. The glad tidings of the turning of the tables in the world to come.

Christian: The glad tiding is salvation through Christ.

Satan: Precisely. The Christian jubilates that he will be saved-in a world in which, unfortunately, the mass of mankind will be damned. The idea of salvation was not new. The idea of eternal damnation was.

Christian: You talk as if the Christians had invented these notions. In fact, it was through Christianity that the truth was revealed.

Satan: What truth?

Christian: The truth is that those who believe in Christ and partake of the sacraments may be saved, while those who don’t are damned.

Satan: What exactly do you mean when you say “saved” and “damned?”

Christian: Those who are saved see God.

Satan: Is God visible? I thought you said he did not take up space?

Christian: He doesn’t, and he is not visible.

Satan: Then those who are saved do not see him?

Christian: They are near him.

Satan: Near? But not in space?

Christian: You are being stupidly literal.

Satan: The fact is that I still don’t understand what you mean by saying that some are saved. And I think you don’t know yourself what you mean. You are repeating words that once designated very understandable superstitions. Now you denounce these superstitions but cling to the same words and believe that you are still saying something. And the less sure you feel of yourself, the more you want others to agree with you, and the more you resent or pity those who don’t.

Christian: Those who are saved escape everlasting torture.

Satan: In hell?

Christian: Yes. But of course hell is no place; it is a name for alienation from God, for being far from him-but not in space.

Satan: I suppose, God is like a father, and the saved are those who after death feel secure in his love, while the damned feel excluded and labor, as it were, under a bad conscience.

Christian: Yes.

Satan: Any loving father would go out of his way to make his children feel that they have not been excluded from his love, and that he loves them no less because they have rebelled against him or disappointed him.

Christian: That is why God sent his son down to earth.

Satan: What would you think of a father who gave a few of his children a single chance, and the rest of them none at all?

Christian: You always harp on hell.

Satan: There is no place like home. And you might as well get used to the idea: haven’t you been told that I enjoy the company of those who cannot answer me any better than you?

Christian: But I don’t understand at all. Only hysterics think of going to hell themselves.

Satan: I know: Good Christians consider hell a place for others. But don’t you realize that if you are right about everything, you, and those like you, are undoubtedly headed for hell? Don’t you see how immeasurably you stand to gain if Christianity is untenable? It is I that bring you glad tidings. Believe me and you are saved. That God exists, that is a ritual phrase, charged with emotion and a thousand connotations: some sheer superstition, some myths, some true, some false, and most of them vague. But here is the truth that shall make you free: I do not exist.

Christian: If Satan does not exist, I must have dreamed. So I might as well go on believing what I have always believed. But what exactly do I believe? That is the question.

Walter Kaufmann-How to go to Hell-Satan and a Theologian

This is the first of three dialogues written by Walter Kaufmann in his book Critique of Religion and Philosophy. The first half of the book focuses on critiques of philosophy while the second half focuses upon religion. I will say the dialogues fit perfectly within the flow of the book and as such can be best understood within the context of the whole work but they can stand on their own and are definitely worth reading. Each dialogue features Satan as the main character. There is one with a theologian, one with a Christian and one with an atheist. This dialogue is between Satan and a Theologian. It is, by far, the densest of the three dialogues dealing mostly with philosophical concepts though the second half of it does move past pure philosophy and deals with issues concerning ethics and scripture.

I believe all the dialogues are fun reads because they are written to be both serious and humorous and in many ways that is how issues of religion really need to be approached; with a serious sense of humor.

Go here to read the dialogue with the Christian
Go here to read the dialogue with the Atheist

Dialogue between Satan and a Theologian

Satan: I just had an argument with a man who tried to rehabilitate metaphysics as a kind of poetry.

Theologian: How ridiculous! Judged as poetry, Spinoza’s Ethics and Hegel’s Logic would be worse than ever.

Satan: Of course. And in poetry inconsistency is permissible, while in metaphysics, once you commit yourself to what is sometimes called a root metaphor, you have to stick to it. The whole point of the game is to see how far you can get with it.

Theologian: But it is not meant to be a metaphor.

Satan: How true! The metaphysician claims that his metaphors are no metaphors—or at the very least that his metaphors are the only ones in terms of which everything that is at all understandable can be understood. Hegel and Spinoza are not proposing one way among many others: each claims that his own metaphysic is the most rational yet, Homer, Shakespeare, and Goethe made no comparable claims for their creations.

Theologian: Still, one can see why people might compare metaphysics and poetry.

Satan: Sure. Metaphysics is a kind of lyrical chess—a game in which a man’s feelings about the world are expressed in quasi-mathematical fashion. But the metaphysician wastes his life playing a single game without ever realizing that it is a mere game. And when he sees another man playing a similar game he is sure that the other fellow is wrong. He mistakes his own tactic for the truth.

Theologian: Are you in earnest? A metaphysic is not an episode begun at pleasure. Metaphysics is an epic, and the metaphysician is a bard who wants to correct mistakes made by his predecessors. It is against them that he pits his skill in an effort to hear the true melody. And chess and other such games are metaphysics deprived of dimension, meaning, and consequence. They are pale substitutes for man’s proper vocation, which they reduce to the level of pleasure without profit and rivalry without risk. No wonder that these petty games can never satisfy and that the quest of satisfaction leads from game to game in an endless but futile search for what really can be found only on a different plane: in metaphysics—or eventually in theology.

Satan: I don’t like the twist you have given to my line. But I can afford to lose an argument about metaphysics, which, after all, interests me only as a snare for theologians and others who, but for its fatal lure, would probably have gone to heaven. But losing an argument about theology might cost me my job.

Theologian: Do you consider theology a game, too?

Satan: Would you deny its playfulness?

Theologian: What could be more serious?

Satan: That, my friend, is a spurious alternative. Play and seriousness do not preclude each other. Think of King Lear.

Theologian: Are you punning on the word “play”?

Satan: No. There is something playful about a play, even about a tragedy: it gives free play to the imagination and yet follows certain rules; it has its life in a world of its own, a world of leisure and fancy; it is its own reward and requires no justification in terms of expediency; it offers suspense and is yet repeatable, and the suspense does not evaporate with repetition.

Theologian: I remember having read something similar in Huizinga’s little book, Homo Ludens; but he did not extend these ideas to theology.

Satan: Yet he shows how they are applicable to philosophy. He points to the play element in the performances of Sophists; he emphasizes the origin of Greek philosophy in leisure and the similarity of philosophic puzzles to non-philosophic puzzles; and he cites Plato in his own behalf.

Theologian: The Sophists, of course, were playing; but Socrates and Plato were not. Plato was as serious a thinker as ever lived, and Socrates even paid for his ideas with his life.

Satan: Your spurious alternative again! Of course, they were serious; but unlike most theologians they had a sense of humor: they realized that they were playing a game of sorts. And Socrates’ childlike delight in his own clever moves and his frank laughter at the clumsiness of his opponents infuriated his fellow Athenians. One by one he challenged them to engage in a contest with him, and one by one they lost, not in the privacy of a study but in the market place where other men of leisure came to watch the game and see the greatest reputations bested by the witty Socrates with his inimitable irony.

Theologian: Well, if that is what you mean when speaking of a game and playfulness, I suppose you find a contest of sorts in the dialogues of Plato, too. Certainly, the Greater Hippias and Protagoras are playful in a way, and the Symposion is cast in the form of a contest.

Satan: The whole form of the dialogue is playful. The dialogue is a kind of a play—certainly serious, but no more so than King Lear. The trouble with most later philosophers was that they accepted the same false alternative which you have urged against me: being serious, they thought that they could not be playful, and soon little laughter was heard among philosophers.

Theologian: I suppose the time has come for me to say that I can afford to lose an argument about metaphysics, while losing an argument about theology might cost me my job. You are quite right: the philosophers are merely playing around with petty puzzles, trying to best each other and to win an argument. But theology is very different.

Satan: Was Abelard a theologian?

Theologian: One of the greatest.

Satan: You will remember that he started out as a philosopher. Do you also recall why he first turned to the exegesis of the Bible?

Theologian: To win a bet. You are coming back to Huizinga. Yes, Abelard admitted that he liked the arms of dialectic better than the arms of war, and he enjoyed triumph after triumph till at last he encamped his school upon a hill to “besiege” his rival who held the chair in Paris. And Huizinga says that the same mixture of rhetoric, war, and play can be duplicated in Muslim scholasticism.

Satan: All right, if you admit that, we can forget Huizinga. Just let me quote him once: “In the whole development of scholasticism and universities the agonal element is as crucial as possible. The long popularity of the problem of universals as the central topic of philosophic discussion, and the division into realists and nominalists is certainly connected with the primary need to form parties over some issue.” Surely, Huizinga is right that there is a playful element in polemics. And with that I am quite willing to leave him.

Theologian: Are you admitting no difference at all between theology and philosophy?

Satan: In theology the stakes are higher—and people used to get burned on them. Not only that: one was threatened with eternal damnation. The game had a Roman touch and for centuries never quite lost the odor of the arena. And the forcible disputes with rabbis in the Middle Ages were not altogether unlike a bullfight.

Theologian: Let bygones be bygones! The modern theologian does not participate in contests or besiege his adversaries.

Satan: He composes monologues, alas! And most of them are quite unreadable.

Theologian: I suppose you prefer to read Gibbon and Voltaire, Nietzsche and Freud. But surely that is quite beside the point. What matters is that the modern theologian is a highly serious person, much more similar to a professor of history or science than to a Sophist or a gladiator.

Satan: Surely, more similar to a Sophist!

Theologian: I wish you would be serious for once. Some theologians are fine historians.

Satan: You mean that “theology” is often very loosely used to embrace any study of religion. Indeed, according to one of the definitions in Webster’s—“the critical, historical, and psychological study of religion and religious ideas”—The Decline and Fall and The Future of an Illusion would be classics of theology, and Gibbon, Nietzsche, and Freud would qualify as theologians. But that is surely ridiculous. Nor should we call every scholar who happens to be teaching at a seminary a theologian. Or would you insist on calling atheistic church historians theologians?

Theologian: Of course not. But some outstanding theologians have been, and are, good historians.

Satan: A theologian who is also a candid historian is like the author of Alice in Wonderland who was also a mathematician—and even more like Penelope who unraveled at night what she had woven by day.

Theologian: Let us forget about theologians and discuss theology.

Satan: Theology is a contradiction in terms: there can be no “science of God,” comparable to geology, biology, or physiology. A god who could be studied scientifically would be no god.

Theologian: Theology is the queen of the sciences and older than they are.

Satan: Theology was founded by Plato and Aristotle, who eulogized their highest principles by calling them divine. Theology is an impertinence perpetrated by a couple of philosophers.

Theologian: How preposterous! There are good scholarly books on the theology of the pre-Socratics and of the Old Testament.

Satan: Their titles are glaringly anachronistic. To be sure, the pre-Socratics spoke of “gods”; but they did not pretend to speak of them scientifically. Heraclitus spoke of the divine in veiled aphorisms; Parmenides, in poetry. Nor can you find in them the least trace of apologetics for traditional religion. They have only one thing in common with theologians.

Theologian: What is that?

Satan: They often used the word “god” in the strangest ways.

Theologian: And what of the Old Testament?

Satan: That certainly did not purport to offer nonpoetic discourse about God.

Theologian: What, then, do you make of the Book of Job?

Satan: I have mixed feelings about it. I like it because it is one of the very few places in the Old Testament in which I am mentioned. What I don’t like is that I am given such a pitifully small part. In never even occurs to anyone that the problem of evil might be explained by giving me some credit. And that goes for the author as well as the characters.

Theologian: That only shows the profundity of the book. The author wisely realized that crediting you would not solve the problem. The next question would have been: And why did God allow you to have your will? But what I meant with my question was whether the Book of Job was not theological?

Satan: In the first place, it is poetic and not scientific discourse; in the second place, the book probably owes its final form to Hellenistic times; and in the third place, it is the most anti-theological treatise ever written.

Theologian: You take too narrow a view of theology.

Satan: It is in Plato that we first encounter the word; but that of which he and Aristotle furnished a science, or a pseudoscience was not God.

Theologian: You mean that it was not the Christian God?

Satan: It was neither the God of Abraham and Job nor the God of Jesus; it was not the Brahma of the Upanishads and not the Tao of Lao-tze.

Theologian: Of course not. Who said they wrote about Brahma or the Tao? You are being ridiculous.

Satan: About the God of Abraham, Job, and Jesus there can be no connected nonpoetic discourse any more than about the Brahma or the Tao; and the God of Job says so outright. In Athens, Socrates had been sentenced to death for not believing in the gods and for corrupting the youth of Athens. Plato and Aristotle did not believe in the old gods either, but they called their own highest principles divine and escaped the fate of Socrates. Even so, Aristotle had to flee in old age, “lest the Athenians sin twice against philosophy.”

Theologian: What you insinuate about their motivation is ridiculous.

Satan: Their motivation does not matter. The road to my home is paved with splendid motivations. What is important is that “theology” was a fantastic misnomer from the beginning. Plato and Aristotle were most generous with the epithet of divinity and freely accorded it to principles and to physical objects like the stars. Aristotle wrote a Physics and a Metaphysics but spoke freely of “God” and “theology.” And the early Christians failed to see this.

Theologian: That is a stupid point! You are just peeved because Plato no sooner mentions that there must also be an evil soul or god than he forgets about it. But you must not take things so personally. You see, the early Christians were not interested in Aristotle.

Satan: My point is that the early Christians conceived of God in terms of the Greek or Hellenistic Logos. Right in the New Testament, too. That is the beginning of Christian theology. It was a fantastic misunderstanding, the worst mismarriage on record. At first the theologian tried to wed the God of Abraham and Jesus to Hellenistic philosophy; then, in Augustine’s time, to Plato’s; still later to Aristotle’s; and finally Luther went back to the Hellenism of the Fourth Gospel and of Paul. To think that the God of Job could be identified with Aristotle’s magnetlike attractive god!

Theologian: In the first place, the New Testament was not Hellenistic but profoundly Jewish, as W.D. Davies and David Daube have shown, and as the Dead Sea Scrolls prove beyond a doubt. And in the second place, there was a profound humility in the admission that the Hebrew Scriptures did not contain all the wisdom of which man was capable; the men you deride were modest enough to be willing to learn from Greek philosophers.

Satan: First, it was not Greek, and secondly it was! Both your points are untenable. The first depends on a fallacious alternative which you wrongly attribute to your authorities. It is neatly exposed by two brief quotations from Albright: “Greek ways of thinking undoubtedly affected Ecclesiastes about 300 B.C. or a little later” (20) and “The New Testament arouse in a Jewish environment which had been enriched by Hellenic and Iranian elements” (23). And as for your second point: only today I read a reference to “the Apostle Paul, the man who became Christianity’s greatest salesman.”

Theologian: What does that have to do with my point?

Satan: Did he really learn humbly, or was he trying to sell a bill of goods to the Gentiles? He simply found that he could not sell it unless he dressed it up in accordance with the latest fashions of Hellenistic thought. “If I do this thing willingly, I have a reward,” he frankly tells the Corinthians (1:9); and then he explains his strategy: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to those under the law, as under the law…to those outside of the law, as outside the law…that I might gain those outside the law. To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak.” And Paul himself sums up his approach: the point is to be “all things to all men.” Surely, Amos and Jeremiah had not been “all things to all men.” They had defied all men. But John, the Evangelist, went even further than Paul. Before long they had thrown in a good dose of Gnosticism as well as the sacraments of the Greek mysteries and some talk of the Logos. Others added a story how Jesus was begotten in the manner made popular by Zeus; Matthew copied some details from the birth of Moses; and Luke added a few sentimental touches. No effort was spared, and their exertions were crowned with success. They offered almost everything that any other religion offered—and heaven, too. What you call humility was really unprecedented brass.

Theologian: I refuse to engage in debate on that level. The early Christians surrendered the haughty exclusiveness of the Jews and—

Satan: Followed the example of less exclusive Jews, like Philo, who had spoken of the Logos in a similar vein a few generations before John.

Theologian: Have it your way: a few of the Jews already had been willing to learn from the Greeks, and the early Christians followed their example rather than the isolationism of the Pharisees. They were willing to concede that the ideas implicit in the poetry of Scripture could be clarified by the wisdom of the Greeks.

Satan: They were merely trying to ingratiate themselves with their audience. Look at John! He writes at a time when the Jews were proscribed by the Romans, and so he goes to absurd extremes to dissociate his religion from that of the Jews by denouncing them on every turn while he fawns on the Romans and turns the hardy Pontius Pilate, who in fact crucified Jews by the hundreds, into the incarnate milk of human kindness.

Theologian: Surely, your facts are questionable.

Satan: Bultmann, who doubts that Jesus ever considered himself the Messiah, concedes that “the movement he sparked among the Jewish people may and must be designated as a messianic movement, for it was inspired by the faith that the messianic expectations would now be fulfilled, and that the kingdom of God was at hand…The Roman procurators resorted to bloody suppression of such movements, and Jesus, too, fell victim to the intervention of the procurator Pilate, When he entered Jerusalem with his followers, his bearing evidently struck the procurator as politically dangerous…In no case may one suppose that Jesus’ ethical teaching so infuriated the Pharisees and scribes that he finally fell victim to their hostility. The constant opposition of the Pharisees and scribes rest upon the schematic imagination of the later Christians” (34f.). But I admit that Bultmann and his colleagues hesitate to draw the inescapable conclusion about the motivation and the moral character of the evangelists and the early Christians.

Theologian: I don’t want to argue about people’s motives. Do you or do you not admit the humility of the early Christians toward Greek thought?

Satan: You can hardly blame me for being fascinated by people’s motives. That is part of my business, you know. But as for your question, the answer is an emphatic No. The attitude of the Book of Job, in which I am mentioned and, as you may recall, make a great point of motivation—that attitude is humble. It humbly admits the impossibility of all theology. But the pontifical dogmatizing of the Christian theologians from Paul and John down to the present is anything but humble. It is arrogant to the point of being ridiculous.

Theologian: You seem to feel that the Old Testament was enough—

Satan: After all, it invented me.

Theologian: The Jews took you over from the Persians; so by the same token you could stop with Zoroastrianism, which also assigns you a far bigger role than the Old Testament ever did.

Satan: But the Old Testament gave me my name. And the Zoroastrian Ahriman had to fight all the time against the god of light. You should not confuse him with me, really. I am much more civilized. I do not like to fight. I like to talk.

Theologian: What I meant to ask you was this: Do you think that the early Christians could not learn anything at all from the Greek philosophers?

Satan: They could have learned a lot, but they learned the wrong things. They might have learned critical thinking; and there was humor in Greek philosophy, too. But there is little of either in the New Testament.

Theologian: You should not complain: it makes a great deal more of you than the Old Testament.

Satan: In the Old Testament I have a small role, but I like it. In the New Testament I play a big role, but I am the subject of endless calumny, and my home is represented as if it were all fire and brimstone and howling and gnashing of teeth.

Theologian: You have a genius for getting away from the subject. I don’t want to talk about you, I want to talk about myself—or rather about theology. Your objections depend on understanding theology too narrowly as a kind of science.

Satan: First, you objected that I call it a game when it really was a science; and now you object that I call it a science. What is it?

Theologian: Theology is the Logos of God, the word concerning God.

Satan: The word concerning God is poetry and may be found in the Tao-Teh-Ching and the Upanishads, in Genesis and Job. Theology is a misguided attempt to make poetry scientific, and the result is neither science nor poetry.

Theologian: Theology is a noble attempt to understand and give a systematic exposition.

Satan: To understand poetry one does not give a systematic exposition of it. That is precisely your mistake. You should study the poetry in its historical context, give attention to its form and to the weight of the words, and in the end re-experience it. That is the most important thing: everything else is merely preliminary.

Theologian: How do you re-experience poetry?

Satan: You try to get at the experience which has found its way into the poem.

Theologian: What do you mean? In the case of the Old Testament alone that would mean hundreds of experiences.

Satan: To get the most out of the Old Testament, you can’t do less. And anyone who has not recaptured these experiences and tries to explain the whole book by writing a theology of it is an imposter.

Theologian: Might there not be a few basic or central experiences, and one experience above all, the experience of God?

Satan: Perhaps what you call the experience of God was really a host of very different experiences all of which have been lumped together under this one label. But be that as it may, you cannot lead people to recapture an experience by giving a systematic exposition of what you take to have been its contents, let alone by threatening with damnation all who disagree.

Theologian: You said that if you lost an argument about theology, that might cost you your job. Now it would seem that if you win your argument you face the same prospect.

Satan: Would I be Satan if I were prudent? Or egotistical? What could be more satanic than to bite the hand that feeds me, regardless of the consequence to me? Is not that how I became the Lord of Hell? Let the pious be prudent! What else is their piety, in nine cases out of ten, but enlightened selfishness? What is satanic is not egoism but the love of truth at the expense of happiness—to find one’s happiness in truth, to oppose illusion, to value integrity above God, and character above salvation.

Theologian: But isn’t Satan a materialist?

Satan: The materialists who want to go to heaven say materialism is the devil, and the egoists who want to go to heaven say that egoism is satanic. But can you imagine a materialist or egoist who would not want to go to heaven?

Theologian: Heaven is for those who love God above riches, and their neighbor as themselves, if not more.

Satan: At most—and even this is rare—they renounce small sums for huge gains, which is hardly renunciation, and they give their neighbors what they themselves have come to feel is not worth having, which is hardly love. They distribute unto the poor what moth and rust corrupt to gain treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust corrupt.

Theologian: That is a complete perversion of Christianity.

Satan: What, then are the words in Luke 18:22 that follow upon “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor”? What are the very next words?

Theologian: “And you will have treasure in heaven.” But surely that is not the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.

Satan: Oh, isn’t it? That is just one of the favorite fables of the theologians. How the rhapsodize about unselfishness, obedient love, and all the rest, as if the Sermon on the Mount were not constructed around the theme of enlightened selfishness. Surely, this morality is not centered in the neighbor but in salvation. It is an otherworldly Lohnmoral.

Theologian: Not only theologians know how wrong you are everybody knows it.

Satan: What everybody knows is often untenable. Need I tell you that? The Sermon on the Mount opens with the so-called beatitudes, and each of the nine promises a reward, culminating in the conclusion; “For great is your reward in heaven.” In the Sermon that follows, promises of great rewards and threats of dire punishments alternate continually: “shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven:; “shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven”; “judgment”; “hell fire”; “your whole body should be cast into hell”; “for if you love those who love you, what reward have you?”; “otherwise you will have no reward”; “will reward you openly”; “your heavenly Father will also forgive you”; “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”; “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt”; “all these things shall be yours as well”; “that you be not judged”; “and the measure you give, shall be the measure you get.”; And in the end—the conclusion should not be ignored—the moral is stated quite explicitly; those who do not do what Jesus commands “will be like a foolish man,” while those who do as they are bidden are likened to “a wise man.” St. Thomas was quite right in agreeing with Aristotle that prudence was a virtue from the Christian point of view too. He forgot to add that it was the Christian virtue par excellence. You Protestant theologians are trying to assimilate to Kant what is basically anti-Kantian. You are embarrassed by any talk of prudence in ethics.

Theologian: You completely misunderstand Aquinas’ conception of prudence, and you forget that Calvin came centuries before Kant. Certainly, Calvin’s ethic was not prudential. And was Luther’s? Worst of all, you talk as if charity had no place at all in Christian ethics. Yet Christianity preached love and changed the morals of untold barbarians by inculcating a supreme regard for love.

Satan: A supremely hypocritical regard for love. Charlemagne sought to convert the Saxons to Christianity by threatening with death all who refused to become his loving subjects. You should read the article on slavery in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, written by one of your friends, not by a foe of Christianity. You will find that the captives taken by Charlemagne after his defeat of the Saxons “and by Henry the Fowler and his successors after the defeat of the Slavs were sold as slaves.” Most of the Saxons, of course, had preferred death and were butchered.

Theologian: Didn’t Christianity abolish slavery? Surely, you are falsifying the facts.

Satan: Read the article, my friend. Your apologist there admits that “the abolitionist could point to no one text in the Gospels in defense of his position”; and also that the church tended, “owing to its excessive care for the rights of the masters, even to perpetuate what would otherwise have passed away.” Face the facts: “Legislation forbade Christian slaves to be sold to pagans or Jews, but otherwise tended to recognize slavery as a normal institution.” And again: “The general tone of this legislation can hardly be said to favor the slave.” And did you really not know that the church itself “was a slave-owner”?

Theologian: You don’t expect me to stand up for the Catholic Church, do you? In the Reformation love became central.

Satan: Surely, you do not suppose that Luther was against slavery any more than the Catholic Church? Do I have to quote Luther to you? “There is to be no bondage because Christ has freed us all? What is all this? This would make Christian freedom fleshly!...Read St. Paul and see what he teaches about bondsmen…This claim, therefore goes straight against the Gospel and is criminal in that each robs his master of his body which is his master’s property. For a bondsman can be a Christian and have Christian freedom, even as a prisoner and a sick man can be Christians, even though they are not free. This claim aims to make all men equal and to make a worldly, external kingdom of the spiritual kingdom of Christ. And this is impossible. For a worldly kingdom cannot exist unless there is inequality among men, so that some are free and others captive.” (581).

Theologian: That is the late Luther, counseling the Swabian peasants to keep the peace. That was written under the stress of extraordinary events that were endangering the whole Reformation. If he had supported the peasants, he would have lost the crucial support of the princes.

Satan: The last Luther? In 1525, four years after the Diet at Worms! You admire Luther from breaking with Catholicism, but cease to admire him the moment he broke with it.

Theologian: There is nothing inconsistent in that.

Satan: But there is, assuming you agree with Luther that the right faith begets good works; and that without the right faith good works are impossible. For you believe that he did the right things as long as he clung to the wrong faith, and that he began to do wrong as soon as his faith became entirely right. You amuse me, but your conception of the “late” Luther won’t stand scrutiny. It hinges on the ridiculous assumption that the young Luther was a democrat, and that he later betrayed principles for the mere sake of expediency. But he never was a democrat, nor did he betray his principles any more than Paul whom he was following. Luther gave very similar advice to Christian prisoners of war who had been made slaves by infidel Turks: “You are robbing and stealing your body from your mater, your body that he had bought or acquired in some other way, so that it be no longer yours, but his property, like cattle or other goods” (581 f.).

Theologian: You are getting away from the subject. We were talking about love.

Satan: You mean to say that this has nothing to do with love? But actually it was you who changed the subject by introducing love. What I was talking about was prudence. Even when it stares you in the face, you simply ignore it. Yet Jesus himself concludes the Sermon on the Mount, which he began by harping on the theme of reward and which he continued with promises and threats, by saying expressly that anybody who does not obey is a fool while those who do obey are “wise.” Now if Satan were an egoist, as you suppose, he would not be at all satanic. There would not be a drop of wickedness left in him; he would simply be a wretched fool. Every pious soul would be much shrewder.

Theologian: What troubles me is precisely that you are not wicked. Wrong as you are in many ways, you seem full of decent, even noble, feelings; scholarly and gentle; and in places I feel closer to you than to many theologians.

Satan: If I had come to you with horns and tail, speaking of the delights of wine and sex, should I have got this far with you? Would I be Satan if I had not eye for my audience? After all, I am speaking to a decent, even noble, person, scholarly and gentle—

Theologian: False flatterer! Now I know you.

Satan: I do not worship numbers. Let the theologians learn from me, give up theology, and go to heaven. There are too many of them in hell as it is. For centuries they have been sending each other to me. What I want is less of the blind leading the blind and more who choose hell with open eyes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

If I Had God's Power, I Could Do Better

I think of the qualities we have ascribed to God, all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good, and the simple question remains, why is the world so messed up? Why is there so much suffering? I often imagine what I would do if I had those same qualities and while the means are not always the same the result is; I would make the world a better place. It's that simple and there is no way around it. I don’t even need to be all-good to say I want to improve people’s lives here and now on this planet and if I had those powers I could make the world a much better place then it is now. But I don’t think that makes me that special I think almost anyone given those powers would change this current world for the better. But is there someone out there who will actually say that if they had the power to change things on the earth that they wouldn’t? Does anyone think this is the best the world can be? Use any justifications for God you want but just tell me that there is not a single person you would help yourself (feed, clothe, shelter, health) if you had the power to and then I will know for sure you would use God’s powers the same way he does.

How do I know I could do better? Because my ways are not God’s ways.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Genesis 3-The Serpent was Right

Genesis 3 is a very important chapter in the bible. It has helped shape and re-shape Judeo-Christian views on human nature, the state of the world and the relationship between good and evil. It has affected and influenced philosophers, theologians, writers, politicians, historians, artists and the average person on the street. When I examine Genesis 3 I see a story that has been paramount in underwriting the conflict between faith and free thought, which has raged throughout history. This story serves as a precedent for religion’s continuous attempts to suppress reason among its followers and for its attack on anyone brave enough to examine God and their faith through the lens of rational thought.

Genesis 3 says:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say. ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate…Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-7, 22-23)

So in this story God creates humans without sin but also without knowledge of good and evil. Humans carry with them a sort of infantile innocence allowing them to be “sinless” simply by being ignorant. The one command God gives these naive creatures is to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil lest they die. (1) Adam and Eve appear fine with this command and neither of them seems to give the tree much thought until the serpent comes along. It is the serpent that gets Eve to question God’s command and see the value of what he was withholding from them. The serpent assures her she will not die but rather that her eyes will be opened and knowing good and evil she will become like God. Eve then displays one of the most wonderful qualities of humanity; curiosity, the desire to know more about the world around us and thereby better ourselves. Eve uses her senses to examine the tree and finds that the fruit would be good both as a source of food and to make one wise and so like any good scientist she tests it, she eats the fruit. And sure enough, just as the serpent had said, her eyes were opened and she became more aware of the world around her then she had previously been. God comes along looking for Adam and Eve. When he finds them he discovers that they have disobeyed him and then speaking to the other gods or himself says that humans have become like “one of us, knowing good and evil” and so he kicks them out of the garden to prevent them from also eating of the tree of life, which would allow them to live forever.

When examining this story and how it is usually taught to people in church what amazes me the most is the very thing that is never even acknowledged, which is the simple fact that everything the serpent said was true while what God said was in fact a lie. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they did not die as God had threatened but rather just as the serpent said their eyes were open and God himself admitted that they “have become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” I do not understand why this plain fact is so openly ignored? Not only did Adam and Eve not die after eating the fruit but according to Genesis 5:5 Adam lived for nine hundred and twelve years, so much for the trustworthiness of God. Now the reason anyone ever believes this god again after such an obvious lie is strange indeed but they do and throughout the bible this god persists in fighting against humanity’s purist of knowledge constantly calling them to forego their own reason and trust solely in him. This god seems intent on preventing humanity from growing in knowledge trying rather to reestablish humanity’s infantile mind so as to obtain humanity’s absolute submission and their continuous worship and sacrifice.

So why does the serpent get such a bad rap? Why, if you ask any normal person about the story will they say that the serpent lied when in fact he was correct? The serpent told the truth whereas God lied and yet the serpent is the one cursed and God continues on in history unblemished despite his clear sin. Robert G. Ingersoll, a great American orator and writer from the 19th century, astutely notes this and praises the virtue of the serpent. “If the account given in Genesis is really true, ought we not, after all, thank this serpent? He was the first schoolmaster, the first advocate of learning, the first enemy of ignorance, the first to whisper in human ears the sacred word liberty, the creator of ambition, the author modesty, of inquiry, of doubt, of investigation, of progress, and of civilization.” I say amen to that. The serpent has my gratitude for where God says “trust me” the serpent said “don’t trust me rather see for yourself”; where God says “listen to me” the serpent says “listen to reason”; and where God says, “fear me” the serpent says, “fear ignorance.” God demanded faith (ignorance) while the serpent offered reason (knowledge) and Eve wisely listened to the serpent. Truly, what parent desires their baby to remain a baby forever? Should not a parent nurture and teach their children so that they may one day stand upon their own two feet, make their own decisions and live a good life? Yet this god would have none of that rather he would have us all be intellectually barren living in diapers for all of eternity.

We live in a day when religious fundamentalism is growing worldwide at the expense of rationality and sound education. Dogmas and creeds are regaining the place they had lost as the dominate force in creating and controlling people’s morals, politics and over-all worldview. Reason is once again being viewed with hostility and suspicious in favor of mindless doctrines and ridiculous interpretations of archaic scriptures. Doubt is again a sin and faith is THE virtue. We are told one should have faith; faith in God, faith in you country and faith in your own unexamined beliefs. Sadly this unexamined faith endangers the world as it allows people to maintain their pathetic feelings of superiority over those who do not share their same unexamined beliefs.

Unfortunately, the fight against fundamentalism is one that is amazingly difficult. Fundamentalism has the advantage of being able to spread itself through birth, bribery, fear, laziness, coercion and violence whereas reason must rely solely on education. As we saw God demanded faith and relied on threats whereas the serpent demanded nothing and offered only information. So let us stand up against the faith of fundamentalism and evangelicalism by following the brave example of Eve. Let us continually take the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil through the process of education and learn to think for ourselves. Let us not waste the gift the serpent pointed us to by ceasing to examine and test the world around us so that we can make it a better place. God had millions of years to make the world a better place and yet has done nothing as far as I can see so I say it is our turn. It is time to stop starring at the sky waiting for a god that’s not coming and time to start looking one another in the eye, learning from one another and working together for a better future. And if knowledge makes us like the gods then I say let us dare to be gods.

(1)I’ve also always wondered, if Adam and Eve did not have the knowledge of good and evil how could they “know” that it was wrong to disobey God?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Antinomies by Jack Dann

Many people are honest seekers looking for what is true. Jack Dann is a writer who has spent his life looking for God and here is what he found.


Oh, I’ve looked for you…

As a child I intoned my prayers before bedtime with invocatory repetition (“Hear-ho-Israel-the-Lord-our-God-the-Lord-is-one”). I sat in moist, old-man-smelling synagogues on holy days beside my father (and still, even now, the phrase “May he rest in peace” echoes through my tunnels and labyrinths of memory). I dutifully searched for the elusive spirit, the divine presence, what kabbalists call the shekhinah. I searched other religions, meditated, and squatted in Native American sweat-lodges so hot that it cracked open skin. I’ve screamed for a vision, felt and heard eagles breathing me in and breathing me out in the edgy darkness that was so hot it felt cold. I’ve eaten raw heart, seen medicine men put hot coals in their mouths, learned ancient Hebrew, studied the Torah, practiced lucid dreaming, found my way into monochromatic hallucinations of height, and almost fell off those vertiginous psychedelic cliffs.

I knew then in the hot, hormonal summer of youth, just as I know now in the cooler and more comfortable winter of senior citizenship, that there was no eagle in that sweat-lodge, even though other men felt its presence as I did. I had rationalized the experience as consensual hallucination, but even while I felt the flapping and brushing of wings - even as the sweat-lodge itself became a huge bellows - I knew that the medicine man was shaking and waving an eagle’s feather, beating it against my skin. I knew that the bellows was my own breathing. I knew that the extreme heat, the complete darkness – the sensory deprivation – the searing hot/cold pain had put me into an altered state in which I imagined – and, yes, experienced – epiphanies. In those knife-edged instants I imagined that I grasped essential meanings (forgotten seconds after), felt the nominal presence of the shekhinah, and experienced the “word made flesh.”

Once, during a break from writing a novel, I paced through my house in upstate New York. The house had been built before the Civil War and the windows caught the light, which pooled in various rooms throughout the day. As I walked from room to room, window to window, I suddenly experienced a heightened focus, an existential moment. I felt that I was looking at the familiar with new eyes, and I realized at the time that this sense of euphoria, this realization of the enchantment of the mundane, was a gift that would last but a few minutes. Which it did, yet for those few moments “the house-roofs seemed to heave and sway, the church-spires flamed, such flags they had,” to borrow from Robert Browning.

Yet, I looked for you.

I looked for you in the shadows of grief and in the molten early-morning Sabbath light as I sat with friends in the synagogue. I looked for you as youth gave way to middle age and I called myself an agnostic. I was willing to follow the mystics’ “way of the fool”; and so the years passed. And only now that my hair has faded from gray to white, now that I see a stranger with a high-boned wrinkling face in the mirror, now that I am no longer a “warrior” lit by adrenaline and testosterone – and now that the ever-increasing weight of mortality is constant – I call myself an atheist. After all the sweat-lodges, synagogues, and churches, after all the study and meditation, after most of a life surrounded by books, by philosophy, theology, history, science, and that miraculous means of transport: fiction; I find myself alone with my thoughts. The “you” I desperately searched for was – me. How I yearned for moments of consuming bliss. I yearned for peace and security, and an intercessory God who could be propitiated with prayer and sacrifice. But as we witnessed in the Nazi concentration camps and the killing fields of Cambodia, all the prayers, spells, and supplications in the world can’t save us from the terrible deeds of our fellow men. Perhaps we might hope in education, technology, and science. Perhaps a rigorous rational exploration of our psyches and the universe might help us conquer the beast and evolve into more rational beings. But I suppose that, too is a prayer, a supplication. An irrational hope.

I’ve found some modicum of peace and security, but I just couldn’t push myself into belief. I’ve tried to expand my consciousness into altered states; I’ve tried to believe that those precious moments of heightened consciousness came from without rather than from within; and I’ve tried to find some evidence of a personal god. I can appreciate the complexity, beauty, dignity, and artful harmonies of the world’s great belief systems, just as I can enjoy the breathtaking architectural elegance of philosophical ideas such as Leibniz’s Monadology. Some of these systems are often almost mathematically consistent internally, but they all require leaps of faith I am not willing to make. And as I approach my own mortality, Pascal’s Wager and all the other anti-rational, anti-scientific rationalizing have come to ring more and more hollow.

I’ve had luminous moments when I can see more deeply – and hope to have more. I’ve seen the magic in the everyday – and hope to see more.

So herewith, tongue cleaving to cheek, is an atheist’s prayer:

I hope to explore all the demons, ghosts, angels, and hobgoblins of my psyche; I hope to explore the limits of thought and possibility; I hope to embrace humankind’s daily discoveries in art, science, and technology; and I will only blame myself and ourselves for the errors, petty cruelties, holocausts, wars, and killing fields of the past, present, and future. I will reject the safety of teleology. I will not pray for redemption. I will not rail at the gods. I will not beseech. I will not embrace superstition and irrationality to overcome my fears of death and uncertainty. And I will continue to peer into the deep well of mortality and try not to run because I am frightened.

About the Author
Jack Dann is an award-winning American author and editor, now based in Australia (his awards include the Nebula Award and World Fantasy Award). He has written or edited more than 70 books. His novels include The Man Who Melted, The Memory Cathedral, and The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How New Testament Mistakes Affect Moral Commands-The End of the World Never Came

Many of the moral instructions of the New Testament are based on a mistake; the mistaken belief that the world was about to end. Due to that clearly false belief Christians have had to, or gotten to reinterpret many of the more obvious commands of the New Testament, particularly those of Jesus and Paul, into whatever has suited them best.

Jesus preached of the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God. He said the sun would be darkened and stars would fall from heavens at the coming of the Son of Man, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” (Mark 13:30) Paul’s letters and instructions are a constant reminder to those listening to him that there isn’t much time before the end. The author of Revelations introduces his book saying that it is, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” These men all agreed; the end of the world was at hand.

This is a constant theme found throughout the New Testament; life as we know it is almost over, so stop planning for the future and get ready for what’s about to happen because God’s coming. Read in this light many of the commands of the New Testament make a great deal of sense and are, actually, fairly practical. Give (money) to all who ask of you; go and preach the kingdom taking nothing with you; rely solely on the generosity of those who you preach to; share everything in common; obey whatever government is over you; slaves obey your masters; wives obey your husbands and so on. These commands are quite clear and yet most of them are no longer followed, at least literally, because at the end of the day they are no longer realistic since the earth did not come to an end and isn’t going to anytime soon. Most Christians still say they believe the world could end soon yet they no longer act like they believe that. Instead they find ways to side step the commands of the New Testament through reinterpretation or various excuses. I don’t blame them and in fact did it myself. Looking back it would be easier to give away all your money when you thought God was about to show up and give you a big fat reward for doing it. It would make sense not to get involved in politics or upset established social structures when they where about to be destroyed anyway. And there would be no reason to get married or be overly concerned about your family relationships since they were not going to matter for much longer anyway.

Looking back I am quite amused by the different (often clever) ways I got around the obvious meanings of numerous New Testament passages or how many I just ignored. One of my favorites is in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul is discussing marriage. In directions to the unmarried he says it is best to stay unmarried because of the impending/present crisis (the end of the world) and then to the those who are married he tells them that they should act like they are not married, which means they should stop having sex. (1 Cor. 7:25-29) This was an important chapter to me in my youth and made me very resolute in not wanting to be married but once that phase passed and I got married I never even thought about listening to Paul and not having sex. I conveniently disregarded that part of the passage. What a funny world it would be if Christians followed Paul’s words here and stopped having sex with their spouses. But they don’t and they shouldn’t because Paul was wrong plus it would really hurt the church’s membership numbers if they stopped having kids.

A lot of the bible simply doesn’t work due to the fact that the world has continued on well past when it was supposed to according to the writers of the New Testament. I recently read an account by Delos McKown, the former chairman of the philosophy department at Auburn University that I believe illustrates this point well. Jesus. McKown writes,

On January 27, 1987, I was led as a lamb to the slaughter, having been set up to debate the Rev. Dr. Norman Geisler of Dallas Theological Seminary on the subject, "Humanism vs. Christianity." Dubbed by its promoters as "The Main Event," the debate was held in the ballroom at Auburn University, a room overflowing with perhaps 2,000 people, some of whom had been bused in, courtesy of local churches.

Geisler had trouble staying on the general topic, focusing rather on abortion, in the most grisly terms. Humanists, he tells, are right in there with the Nazis in disregard of human life. Their despicable deeds are made likely, if not inevitable, by their moral relativism. How much firmer is the ground under Christians, who stand on moral absolutes!

During rebuttal, I said that my favorite moral absolute in scripture was in Luke 6:30 where Jesus is reported to have said, "Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again." I then turned to the Rev. Dr. Geisler and asked him for his money. Since it was not forthcoming, I knelt on one knee and begged for it, trying to cover all spiritual bases.

With a pale look about his gills, he finally pulled out a dollar bill and waved it wanly at me to which I said, "No, not a dollar; I want all of your money. But I'm not mean; I won't keep your wallet or credit cards." Geisler did not, in fact, comply with the moral absolute in Luke 6:30 (also see Matthew 5:42 and Luke 6:35). If he had given me his money, I would have taken it and kept it. Thus, we would both have been blessed, I with extra cash and he with a clear conscience for having met the challenge of obeying a moral absolute of his lord. I fear his conscience still troubles him over this episode, something I would gladly have spared him by keeping his money.

McKown later noted that Geisler had yet to return to Auburn for another discussion. Maybe Geisler realized just how expensive that trip could be. Again, this displays that even those who claim to believe in a more literal interpretation of the bible only follow it selectively. Few things make a biblical literalist turn more quickly to the use of metaphor then the issue of money. Christians, just like everyone else, want to keep their money (most of it) because as is obvious the world didn’t end so they no longer act like it is going to. Jesus was wrong, Paul was wrong, and Revelations was wrong. It’s not complicated.

Of course the favorite response to why God is taking so long is 2 Peter 3:8, “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” There are times I think that it is this one verse that got 2nd Peter into the bible. It was one of the last books admitted into the cannon and it was obviously not written by Peter but I think the Church knew it need something somewhere to explain what the hell was taking so long. When I ponder this verse I can’t help but wonder why God is so bad at communicating his meaning clearly? It is obvious that Jesus, Paul and most of the writers of the New Testament expected the end of the world in the lifetime of their audience and if these men were supposedly inspired by the Holy Spirit why the heck wouldn’t God explain to them that the end of the world wasn’t coming quite as soon as they thought? One thing the history of biblical interpretation clearly demonstrates is that God is horrible at making his meaning clear. Now I used this verse in various contexts when I was a Christian and I can openly admit I always quoted it by itself and ignored the verses around it. I never even gave them much of a thought. In verses 5 through 7 the author says, “that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.” (2 Pet. 3:5-7) This author’s cosmology is quite interesting but also quite odd as he states that God created one earth out of water and that that earth was destroyed by water (Noah’s flood) but then God created a new heaven and new earth after the old heaven and old earth had perished (during the flood). So now this new earth and us are on it are just awaiting God’s judgment with fire, and yes that is going to happen soon. Now I don’t know any Christian who believes God created two earths and yet that is what the author of 2nd Peter tells us. So why believe one thing he says but not the other? The answer is because convenience allows us to. It would also be fun to see how creation scientists deal with these verses.

But even if one accepts 2nd Peter and believes that God is not slow in his coming but rather time is just different to him, one must still ask why Christians (especially of those who are oh so sure of the inerrancy and moral superiority of the bible) do not follow the literal interpretation of so many of the commands in the New Testament, particularly the ones that are the most explicit and easy to understand?

I don't think the answer's hard Christians just won’t admit it.