Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Fall into Belief

What if the fall of man was precisely the fall into worship? It recalls the old Shavian fable:
Man and woman were content, as to the measure of content, when the whole world was a garden; and they worshipped God as animals do, blithely and brutishly, by their nature not their will. And God was well pleased, for faith sustained them unconsciously: it was something they were, rather than something they did. But Satan, whose name means pride, had fallen from the horizontal paradise of heaven, where all are equal in the love of God. Satan craved hierarchy, and rank, and to define his own superiority in terms of the inferiority of others—all monstrous in the eyes of all-loving God. He could do nothing to persuade the angels, for they knew that to surrender their equality with God and sink into hierarchy would be loss and no gain. But Satan recognised a kink in the soul of humankind, and visited them in the garden. He did not appeal to their self-interest, for they would have rejected such an appeal. Instead he said: why do you walk around, so arrogant in your nakedness? Do you not know that God who made you is vastly superior to you? Do you not comprehend that, when compared to him, you are loathsome, at the bottom of contempt? You should hide your abject bodies under cloaks and veils, fall down to your knees and worship the All High!’ To this, Man was struck, and fell to his knees; for he felt that a true note was being bowed out of the string of his soul. But Woman was not persuaded. ‘How can this be?’ she challenged Satan. ‘For we are made of God, and if our stuff is abject then so is His, and if He is exalted then so are we—there can be no vertical dimension to the logic of paradise.’ And Satan saw that he could not persuade Woman, and so returned his attention to the man. ‘Do you hear her? For as far as God is above, so you are above her, and when she thwarts your will your duty is to rebuke her.’ ‘Is it so?’ replied Man, feeling the intoxication of hierarchy seeping through his veins, and leapt to his feet. ‘Woman,’ said the Man. ‘Be quiet! For God made humankind; humankind did not make God. Therefore God is greater.’ ‘But woman gives birth to man,’ objected Woman. ‘Man does not give birth to woman!’ Satan grew wroth, and said: ‘Yours is a false analogy and thus evidence of inferior intellect. Man! Your duties are: to raise up a temple in which to worship God the All-High—and to chastise your wife, and teach her the ways of the hierarchy! Every creature has a place, some higher, some lower, and God highest of all!
Well, I say Shavian; the author (of course) was not in actuality as bearded, Irish or wise as that. But as the story continues the combined glee of Satan and Man is well drawn, for the more they look into the arrangement of natural objects the more opportunity for inserting hierarchical values they see—to discriminate on grounds of age over youth, of white skin over brown, of wealthy over poor and so on. The coda to this little narrative comes when God sends his Son (who is actually his self) to the world to undo all this mischief; but by the time he arrives in human form the human mind has become so saturated with the pride of hierarchy that not even He can escape it. Hence, instead of preaching the universal equality of God’s love, He ends up simply inverting the hierarchies that already exist (‘the last shall be first’ and so on).

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