Democratic Devils in a Rival Universe

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“I suppose if anybody had a desire to start a new and rival universe, or to incorporate the plan of salvation, he could get a charter in New Jersey with full powers” – Judson Welliver

Just a pinch of thermodynamics, a little gravity, and maybe we should go with a little magic...

Just a pinch of thermodynamics, a little gravity, and maybe we should go with magic…

Creating the universe is not for the faint of heart.  The gods expect a little gratitude.  After all they made us this nice little world, turned on the lights, and added a few critters with fin, fur, and feathers for our amusement.  Sure they drown us collectively for failing ethics class now and again, but the least we can do is make a few propitiatory sacrifices at the temple or sing some hosannas on Sundays in recognition of their accomplishments.  Or rather, we could reasonably be expected to form the celestial cheering squad if we had actually been given a choice about which universe we wanted to live in.  The democratization of universes has never been popular with the gods.  It’s hard to maintain one’s omnipotent reputation with other upstart divinities trying their hand at a second genesis, and all mythological indications are that your average high god reacts to such experimentation with extreme prejudice.  Now, protesting the circumstances of our existence smacks of the disgruntled teenage rejoinder, “I didn’t ask to be born”, elevated to the level of theology, but one is forced to wonder why creatures with serious divine mojo are so fearfully jealous of a little good-natured competition.  There ought to be some sort of ontological anti-trust laws.

The Romani, traditionally referred to as “Gypsies” were believed to have originated in northern India, but starting roughly 1000 years ago, migrated into the Balkans and Europe.  Unfortunately, our knowledge of their dispersion pattern is largely based on linguistic analysis (the Romani language seems very closely related to Hindi/Punjabi), and more recently, genetics; and their apparent forced itinerancy for much of history seems to have lent a certain agglutinative flavor to their mythologies, borrowing a little here and there when certain aspects of Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, or Christianity seemed reasonable.  The Romani version of the origins of the historical antagonism between God and the Devil centers on the Devil’s attempt to create a competing universe.

A gypsy near Edinburgh gave me his version of the combat between God and Satan as follows. ‘When God created the universe and all things in it, Satan tried to create a rival universe. He managed to match everything pretty well except man. There he failed; and God to punish his pride cast him down to the earth and bound him with a chain. But this chain was so long that Satan was able to move over the whole face of the earth!’ There had got into this wanderer’s head some bit of the Babylonian story, and it was mingled with Gnostic traditions about Ildabaoth; but there was also a quaint suggestion in Satan’s long chain of the migration of this mythical combat not only round the world, but through the ages (Conway, 1879, p121).

In short, Satan tried to offer some options in terms of universes – very democratic of the old fellow – and God went nuclear on him.  Obviously doesn’t like others playing in his sandbox. Rajagopalachari’s retelling of Valmiki’s 5th Century B.C. Sanskrit poem, the Ramayana, one of the central epics of Indian literature, along with the Mahabharata, paints a picture of slightly less dire consequences to dabbling in the creation of a competing universe, but the gods are still clearly miffed at the gall of some people.

Viswaamitra was a king who attained sainthood through terrible austerities. He had long ago exhibited his spiritual powers by starting to create another Brahma and a rival universe: he had gone as far as the creation of new constellations, but was prevailed upon to stop by the entreaties of the alarmed gods (Ramayana, Rajagopalachari version, p19).

This is no doubt why our conception of evil is wrapped up in the notion of free will and choice, and clearly why we use so much paper and ink ruminating on why reportedly all-powerful, just, and loving supreme beings allow evil to exist in the world, when in fact they could simply snap their fingers and usher in an earthly paradise.  Conscious beings quickly come to the conclusion that everything dies.  This does not sit well.  Achieving immortality through your notable exploits is all well and good, but most of us would prefer to achieve immortality, as Woody Allen said, by simply not dying.  As this is ultimately unavoidable, we append all sorts of afterlifes to human existence.  Our initial invention of the blissful afterlife must have annoyed divinity, as it sounded a little too much like we were getting uppity about the universe fate handed to us.  My suspicion is that this is when the whole eternal damnation bathed in sulfurous hellfire emerged, that is, as a sort of “screw you” to the presumptiveness of finite beings assuming an infinite eternity of bliss awaited us, once we’d finished suffering the slings and arrows of this mortal coil.

The standard theological argument in favor of the eternal life of the spirit is based upon the following syllogism: (1) There is a universal desire for immortality; (2) The mind of man cannot entertain an object of desire the means for the attainment of which are not somewhere in existence. Conclusion: Man is necessarily immortal. Now, if these premises were demonstrably correct, we might safely rely upon the conclusion. But they are not correct. The first may be assumed to be practically true, for the sake of the argument; but the desire for continued life beyond the grave may be explained upon other grounds, namely, upon the instinctive desire to prolong life. This instinct is shared with man by all the animal creation, and pertains, primarily, to the preservation of animal existence. Man soon learns that continued animal existence is impossible. He sees that all must die; but, as “hope springs eternal in the human breast”, he conceives the lowly hope that he may, somehow, live after the death of the body. The existence of the desire for eternal life is, therefore, traceable directly to the purely animal instinct of self-preservation. The second premise is intrinsically absurd. It is obvious that man as a nucleus of consciousness may conceive of many objects of desire which are manifestly impossible of realization, as well as non-existent. In the Christian mythology of Milton the idea is developed of a rival power, Satan,—in heaven almost, but not quite equal to God. In the struggle which ensued from a rebellion, Satan was cast out, and set up a kingdom of his own on this earth. Now, a strictly orthodox person might say that this was merely an allegorical representation of an existent fact. But suppose the poet had gone a step further, and had represented Satan as going outside the universe and setting up a rival universe of his own. Would that conception have proved that an outside universe is possible or existent? (Rogers, 1946, p94-95).

Basically, whenever us finite meat sacks in the corporeal world get to thinking about expanding our existence, it rubs the gods the wrong way and they start talking about evil, sin, and damnation.  Bad sportsmanship if you ask me.

Is evil, when regarded from a higher point of view, seen to be a necessary element in the good, or does it still retain its alien and disorganizing character? It is obvious that a defect may have this character just as much as an effect. Evil as a willful defection from the good may as justly be regarded as the rebellion of the finite spirit against the Infinite, as if the finite were credited with the creation of a rival universe (D’Arcy, 1899, p183).

And the creation of a rival universe suggests imperfection in the existing universe.  Most artists take it personally when you criticize their art, thus the notion that we can create the universe anew or in opposition to what we’ve been handed is labelled as pure hubris or insanity.  I mean, after all, we’ve been given this charming little reality, and our need to reimagine it must seem like looking a gift horse in the mouth, a perspective that goes something like, “A man who has from the first been heaped with benefits—whose debt of obligation is past his power to calculate, affects disinterestedness as though he were self-originated self-preserved,—the creator of some rival universe. Or, if it be not pride which affects the sublimity of an impossible virtue, a perverse irrationality alone can lay down such a proposition” (Vaughan, 1858, p159).  Yet, our hankering for another universe persists and we secretly do a little dance every time the string theorists add another dimension.  And the gods frown, knowing that our imagination is undoing all their hard work.

While it may be true that a law of the universe cannot be broken, “its limits may be transgressed, and consequently an attempt made by man to make himself into a small, but rival universe (Beatty, 1887, p311).  Humans are truly sorry for all you old creator gods.  We had some good times.  We never meant to diminish your work.  It’s just that, as Pablo Picasso said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction”.

References
Beatty, J.H.  “Correspondence”.  Lucifer v.1 (September), 1887.
Conway, Moncure Daniel, 1832-1907. Demonology And Devil-lore. London: Chatto & Windus, 1879.
D’Arcy, Charles Frederick, abp. of Armagh, 1859-1938. Idealism And Theology: a Study of Presuppositions. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1899.
Vālmīki. Ramayana. 26th ed. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1989.
Rogers, William, 1870-1952. Plain Christianity. Boston: The Christopher publishing house, 1946.
Vaughan, Robert Alfred, 1823-1857. Essays And Remains of the Rev. Robert Alfred Vaughan. London: J. W. Parker and son, 1858.
Welliver, Judson.  “The Story of Sugar”.  Hampton’s Magazine v.23, 1909.

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