Friday, February 15, 2008

The Mephisto Irony

For 500 years, the Mephistopheles story has depicted a man (usually named Faust or some version of that name) who sells his soul to the devil (usually Mephistopheles as the devil or a representative of the devil) in exchange for riches and/or happiness. Of course it always has a bad ending because the soul is what they’re trying to make happy and yet they’re selling it off. Pretty nasty Catch-22
Christians can get into high unction in the telling of this parable (usually to those who live “too much” in this world) or in some modern or ancient statement that plays on the story: “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” “What profits a man to gain all the riches of the world if he loses his soul?” “It’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle, then for a rich man to go to heaven.” (Ouch!) “Money is the root of all evil.”
Blah-de-blah-de-blah. Do these people EVER tire of being dark and ominous? God, I’d hate to be in their heads!
The irony in all of the above is that religion itself is a metaphorical Mephisto. It is mystical people’s desire to sell their rational mind so they can allegedly get riches: eternal life and all its accoutrements: fireside chats with Jesus, yellow-brick roads, gilded lilies, galaxy-size flat-screen TVS, popcorn that’s out of this world, extra time with long-lost grandpa, etc. (Sounds pretty good actually, except for the monotonous chats with the tiresome ne’er-do-well from Nazareth.)
The religious are told they must adhere at all costs to the F-word: Faith. Say the faith-mongers: “Simply blow up your rational faculty and believe our nonsense and make a cud-chewing obsequious cow of yourself and we promise eternal life with the father, the son, the holy ghost, a planet of virgins, a billion infants who died at birth, et al – and don’t you DARE think that you should try to make any sense of this nonsense or you’ll GO STRAIGHT TO HELL.” I forget which early Christian “father” (Ambrose maybe) said Christianity is true BECAUSE it is ludicrous. (And I thought Jesus would be tiresome to talk with!) His point was that Christianity is so fricking crazy that nobody could’ve possibly made it up and so many people couldn’t possibly have believed it. So it must be true. You just gotta love the “logic” of Christians.
Here’s the bargain, in a nutshell, that Christians and their mystic friends have made with devil-religion. “Yes, we’ll give you our minds and we’ll look the other way when you make outlandish claims and we’ll even get on our knees and pretend that somewhere out there must be a god-man-woman-person-thing-whatever, even when we can’t hear or see or touch or smell or taste it, if you promise to give us all that we desire here and, especially, in the afterlife that you swear is real, even though you haven’t told us what that’s going to look or feel or sound or smell and taste like and even though I haven't yet had one certifiable contact aforesaid being.”
Talk about a Mephisto bargain: pawning your rational faculty – the one magnificent thing that separates us humans from the lower animals and gives us not only consciousness but also conscientiousness, which constitutes our soul – for a preposterous dupe. The mystics have bought into the mental method (faith) that is diametrically opposed to rationality, which is the only human means for survival, happiness and self-esteem.
They’ve bought into the method that implies: “You are not capable of judging properly, of living properly, of handling money properly, of finding out what you do well and doing it with moral force, of being honest all of the time, of determining for yourself what is right and wrong.” They have bought into the philosophy of skepticism, which is what religion is all about, after all, isn’t it? Its presumption is all of the above: humans aren’t CAPABLE by themselves of handling their own lives, discovering the proper ethics and being satisfied with this life – so they need religion to give them alleged comfort and guidance. Talk about another irony: the morality actually lies OUTSIDE of religion -- not in commandments, but in a rational method and construct. On another ironic note, those who are rational are actually the MOST spiritual since they understand what it is and cultivate it purposely and thoughtfully.
What this Mephisto bargain has created on Earth is hopelessly lost souls – literally. Billions of people have no idea WHO they are or of the potential power of their own mind and do not have the concomitant self-esteem to feel like they have the right to live for themselves, for their own happiness here and now. You see it in their eyes. You hear it in their frustration in not knowing what to do in many situations. You flinch at their self-satisfied forgiveness of wrong-doing instead of the proud man’s insistence on justice. You discover it in their repetitive “white” lies and frequent big lies that they justify by the fact that they are fallen and are simply expected to do such things and can’t help themselves. You notice it in their wish to have government become bigger and more ominous and allegedly do for them on Earth what they want done in their make-believe heaven: take care of them because they can’t do so themselves. Religion always equates to oppressive government. After all, the mind has already surrendered to a tyrant. “Please, sir, may I have another?”
But, indeed, humans are capable. We are efficacious. We can define and live by “honesty,” “justice,” “pride,” “integrity,” “productivity,” Those of us who are confident in our rationality and have worked out what is right are truly the ones who understand what it means to be human, to want to live a fulfilled life, to feel the self-esteem of living efficaciously and rightly. We have no use for Mephistos of either kind. We’ve already got what the Fausts and mystics don’t have: a love of THIS life and a knowledge that we’ve already got everything we need between our ears to live happily and richly, if we so desire. We need no desperate bargain to give us fulfillment.


J said...

Excellent post. You make the right connection between religion and its substitute in the State: both have followers who are lacking in self-esteem, the value that makes the pursuit of happiness and life meaningful and possible.

David Elmore said...

Yes, indeed, J. Thanks!