Tuesday, September 28, 2010

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.

1 comment:

  1. I have always loved this particular bit from Kaufmann. The book as a whole is excellent too, and inspiring.