Ruth Nanda Anshen: The Reality of the Devil: Evil in Man. (03/02/2001)
A curious phenomenon, and one which may apply in a universal sense, concerns the fact that people who believe in the reality of the devil, people who attribute the existence of evil to a being with more power and force than ordinary human beings, almost always tend to believe that the natural, material world is morally degenerate and corrupt. There are probably exceptions to this rule, as there always are to most things that approach universality, but finding examples that conform to the rule is much easier than citing ones that contradict it. I refer to the coupling of these two ideas as a curious phenomenon because I fail to see why belief in the one makes the other necessary.
The origin of the coupling is not obscure, since most mystical religions of the Near and Middle East described the creation of the world as being the result of a war between good and evil, light and darkness, in which "Satan" overpowered "God" and buried or encased the dismembered pieces of His body of light in the darkness of material reality. Hence, nature is necessarily evil because the world impedes the spirit or soul of goodness by locking it inside a heavy and ponderous shell of matter and darkness. Christianity appropriated the image even if it also rejected the validity of the idea that a second creative power ("Satan") existed who had the capacity first to overpower the all-powerful God and second to create the world out of the debris left behind after the war for dominance was decided. This is probably a first case of having your cake and eating it too, since the early Fathers accepted the notion of the world's evil but rejected the cause for how it came to be that way. This creates a fundamental contradiction in Christian dogma; that is, if God is absolute goodness, how did He manage to create a world that is essentially evil? Since God is also omnipotent, and apparently in control of His own actions, the question becomes one of why He created an evil world when He could have done otherwise?
Christianity has generally avoided the problem of this illogical construct in its ideology by saying that God is beyond mere human comprehension, that we, individually and collectively, simply cannot understand why God did what He did in the past or why He does what He does now. The issue of Good and Evil is a mystery of God's making and another powerful sign meant to compel us to accept our subservience to His divine will even as it functions as yet another proof of His undeniable and everlasting existence. Exactly why the absence of logical structures in the essential nature of the world demonstrates the existence of a benevolent Creator is yet another argument that baffles more than it reassures one who seeks to find reasonable ground for belief. But, of course, finding a reasonable ground for belief in the mythology of any religion is precisely the kind of action that indicates a fundamental rebellion against mythological belief systems in the first place. Rebellion against a belief system is the first sign, even the only one, that demonstrates evil as an active force for Satan in the world at large and in general. Hence, if you question the myth because it is illogical, you define yourself as being in a state of evil rebellion against God.
Ruth Anshen (The Reality of the Devil: Evil in Man) makes the case for the primacy of myth over reason and logic where religious ideology is concerned by stating that
"Myth is neither right nor wrong, logical nor contradictory. It has its birth in another sphere where consistency, truth, and reality are measured by other standards. This sphere is intuition and experience. . . . [which] does not mean that myth is ambiguous, equivocal, or deceptive. The incompatibility of contradictory meanings is characteristic of logic and reason, not of intuition and experience. The myth conceals many meanings, the interrelations of which may vary and appear difficult to understand. This is due to the fact that the myth stems from strata of the soul deeper than consciousness and therefore beyond the reach of our thought." (19-20)
Anshen goes on from here to ask an obvious question: "why in our search for understanding should we knock at the door of the temple of myth in this age of science and sophistication" (20). Her answer suggests that the kind of questions involved in evaluations of religious ideology must be put in ways that are consistent with the fact that we have "lost the power and capacity to ask the primordial and eternal questions with the innocence and directness that are the very conditions for the answers. For both questions and answers must transcend pure theory as well as the limitations of a particular place or historical epoch" (20). Put differently, since an a priori determination has been made that the question is "eternal" (What is the nature of the universe and mankind's place in it?), the answer cannot be bound by a particular time and place because such an answer would not rise to the level of the strictly "eternal." Hence, Einstein's answer that the universe is bounded by the principle that E = MC2 cannot be taken seriously, or literally at all, as an answer to the question of the nature of the universe because it was given in 1905 and not at some indeterminable date in the distant and unapproachable past.
Another way to look at this same issue, though admittedly not the way Christians anywhere would prefer or embrace, would be to recognize the fact that the people in the distant past, even the ones who invented the myths in question, were not particularly knowledgeable about the nature of the universe and simply made the best answer they could at the time. While no one can say so for certain, if those same people were brought forward into the first year of the 21st Century and shown that their perceptions of reality were still being embraced as absolute truth, they would probably be rendered speechless by the sheer absurdity of that fact. The point that seems important here is that attributing a truth-preserving quality to myth because it arises from "strata of the soul deeper than consciousness" probably obscures the more fundamental reality that people 500 or 5,000 years ago thought they existed in a cosmos that bears almost nothing in common with the nature of the universe as it actually exists. Calling ignorance of material reality truth because it is "soulful" serves no philosophical purpose other than to preserve the misconceptions that religious ideology has always used to project its bigotry against people perceived as differing from the normal terms of its orthodoxy. Galileo is one such victim of that practice.
Put in more concrete terms with regard to cosmology: Ptolemy argued that the planets and fixed stars revolved around the earth on solid spheres and always maintained the same distance from the center of the whole. Christians added the idea that the spheres were turned in place by angels. Copernicus shifted the center of that universal structure from the earth to the sun but retained the notion that the spheres were both solid circles and moved by angels. Kepler and Galileo demonstrated that there were no solid spheres and that the orbits of the planets were not circular but elliptical in shape. Neither included the notion that angels turned the ellipses. Newton, with his discovery of gravity as the force that both held the planets in place and caused their motion, managed to explain why the planets and fixed stars did not fall from the sky in the absence of angels holding their spheres or ellipses in place. Newton's calculations, however, contained an irresolvable anomaly, which gave great hope to Christians, I suppose, that science was wrong and they were right to insist on solid spheres and angels as the cause of everything that happened in the universe. Einstein, in his General Theory of Relativity (1905), if I recall correctly, resolved the anomaly in Newton's calculations and successfully predicted Mercury's periodicity with virtually perfect timing and exactitude. Gone was the hope, then, that angels were turning solid spheres.
The point here is that E = MC2 states unequivocally, unambiguously, definitively, and wholly without deception that the universe has always existed as a material reality in either the form of energy (E) or mass (M) and has probably stood as equal (=) parts of both forever. Does this informed, scientific conceptualization of reality contradict the mythic idea that God created the universe out of nothing? The challenge to Christianity is not to think of ten thousand more ways to say that science is evil, that science destroys spirituality, that science is the true form and shape and guise of Satan in the modern world; the challenge is to prove and demonstrate that E = MC2 is false, that it is mathematically unsound, that it does not truly and accurately reflect the nature of the universe.
As inevitably happens whenever and wherever Christians begin to discuss evil and Satan, the perfect example of both enters the discussion. Anshen is certainly not an excpetion:
"Among all primitive and half-primitive peoples, the shaman lives apart from the community. Various reasons make this isolation not only desirable but imperative. The people themselves fear that the shaman's mana, or supernatural force, might be harmful to them. And the shaman himself has every reason to avoid the routine of ordinary life. Such intimacy could only diminish his prestige and profane his work by allowing an easy access to his art and its paraphernalia. . . .Thus his isolation is . . . an expression of his mysterious powers, a protective measure and an inner necessity. The shaman, the witch doctor, the medicine man are the ancestors of a long line of successors, magicians and alchemists, conjurers and faustian figures . . . .[who] imitate-unconsciously, of course-their overlord, the Devil. For the Devil, as we said before, is enthroned in utter loneliness." (39)
Apart from a few inconsistencies, like explaining exactly what a "half-primitive" person might be (say a native American with a graduate degree from Harvard perhaps?), and then again why the shaman needs to protect himself from exposure to people who are too terrified of his magical power to ever approach him/her directly, everything here is completely consistent with the view that Europeans have always expressed about the nature of shamanistic culture, especially that the shaman is a con-artist in league with the Devil whose only purpose is to gull, cheat, manipulate, and deceive the foolish members of his/her tribe. This statement is so overburdened with religious bigotry, with blind ignorance of fact, that the only thing it does justice to is demonstrating precisely how and why dependence on "knowledge" gained from the deep strata of the soul generates a willingness in otherwise decent people to commit acts of genocide against the other. How wrong would it be, even now, even today, to kill a shaman, to burn a person who is nothing more nor less than an accomplice of the Devil?
The shaman's isolation, the only link Anshen uses to prove his/her complicity with Satanic objectives, as if such things existed in the real world at all, has its origin in the fact that native and tribal people draw a firm and inviolable line of separation between the world of human reality and the world of the spirits. This is not done out of fear but out of respect for the profound difference between one thing and the other. The shaman's power is not supernatural. To say so is to completely distort the relationship that exists between living things and the spirits that animate them. Spirit is inseparable from the nature of things. A thing without spirit is inconceivable. While true that spirits are always in the natural world, they also exist simultaneously in a world of their own, in a world where they are purely spirit and nothing else. Spirits are always, and by definition, in two places at once. Anyone who understands the nature of harmonic geometry, which category includes no one of European descent anywhere in the known universe, cannot be troubled by the claim that a material object can be in two places at once because the nature of harmony itself is to banish forever and absolutely the possibility of opposition, say the opposition between here and there for instance. The shaman's role is to go and to stay. Whenever there is an imbalance between this world and the world of the spirits, the shaman travels to their world while simultaneously remaining in this one. He does this in order to discover how to repair the imbalance. This is a function of harmonic geometry, not a practice performed in the service of Satan. The isolation of the shaman, and for a tribal person a sacrifice of such unimaginable suffering that it would kill an ordinary person, as it has also done to many shaman, happens because the shaman lives his/her life in two places at once. For those who choose isolation, and not all do, it is simply what must be done to survive the stress of going and staying at the same time every day of the shaman's life. The fact that Europeans do not perceive the existence of the spirit world and always denigrate native claims about its being there does absolutely nothing to change the nature of reality. Sad to say Europeans are simply blinded by their religious bigotry and will probably always miss the point and the line and the shape of the real world.