Some track lighting, a few throw rugs...


Note: I am indebted to my freshmen honors seminar for the following insight:

In his essay A Confession, the Russian novelist turned guru Leo Tolstoy recounted his own spiritual mid-life crisis. He tells of his various searches for meaning: the turning toward pleasure and the arts, the several attempts to believe in rationality and progress, and even his efforts to sink himself back into the simple faith of the Russian peasants. Nothing worked, of course, and by middle age Tolstoy was near incapacitated with doubt and the feeling that life was an absurd, cosmic prank accompanied only by the inexorable enfeeblement of his faculties and vitality.

A Confession also outlined four attitudes one might have toward the absurdity of existence. First, Tolstoy noted, there is ignorance. If you are lucky, you may not yet have probed the notion of life's pointlessness too deeply. But if you have, well, you’re screwed, for it is impossible to reblind yourself once you have fully realized how completely inane life is and that there's no escape from death. You may try, say, with hedonism. And this is Tolstoy’s second response: sex, booze, success, art, luxury, friendship, marriage, whatever it takes to make the awareness of the absurdity of your position go away for a little while. But this response is not really a solution. It's just a way to pass the time before entering the abyss.

The third response he calls heroism: that is, you can take control of the situation, acknowledge the absurdity of your position and end it. Suicide is Anna’s Karenina's solution, and one Tolstoy strongly considered, even to the point of hiding rope in the barn to hang himself. But he didn’t end it all. Instead, he took the fourth response: cowardice -- fearfully clinging to his life in the hope that some solution to his predicament might present itself before it was too late.

So yesterday in class we were discussing Paradise Lost. One of the students asked about the debate in Hell that takes place in Book II. The fallen angels are trying to select a course of action now that they are damned. The class rehearsed the various arguments. Moloch chooses “open war” and argues they haven’t much to lose. He concludes

What fear we then? What doubt we incense
His utmost ire? Which to this highth enrag’d
Will either quite consume us and reduce
To nothing this essence… (III, 94-97)

In effect, he opts for death by cop, suicide. Let's become such a pest that God will annihilate us. This option doesn’t appeal to Belial, who counsels “ignoble ease” in hopes that God will forget about them. Belial, in other words, is a coward. Lastly, Mammon urges his fellow devils to ignore God altogether and bend their efforts to making the best of Hell. Who knows, some track lighting, a few throw rugs...? So Mammon counsels a form of hedonism. Let’s pursue what pleasure is available and forget about our troubles.

No sooner did the students lay out these positions than I was reminded of Tolstoy’s A Confession. Indeed, Tolstoy's four responses show up throughout literature. Time and again you can find them. A fella could write a pretty good little monograph on this recurring pattern. If nothing else, such a project would serve as a pleasant distraction.

Comments

Kate said…
Raphael relates the idea of a hierarchical chain of being by talking about the attributes that different creations possess. God creates things based upon what they need. Raphael says that plants are man's nourishment (V, 479-483). Spirits aspire to be an animal and they are considered to be intellectual (V, 484-485). The human soul receives reason so humans can start to understand (V, 486-487). He also describes humans as discursive and angels as intuitive (V, 488-489). Raphael finishes by saying that although this is the only difference between angels and humans, the angels are still submissive to God (V, 490).

KM
Taylar said…
Adam is extremely curious as to why God did not create mankind with the same amount of knowledge as he possesses. He does not believe that he can be truly obedient and love God without having an understanding as to why he cannot move up the hierarchy (V, 508-518). Raphael is sent to reassure Adam that God knows best and that he created him without certain knowledge for a reason. Adam's curiosity level starts to lower and he begins to realize that God is just and he knows best. As Adam's creator, he deserves mankind's obedience and love in return (V, 548-553).
Alex said…
In Eve's dream, a voice led her to the Tree of Knowledge. A creature that looked like an angel was standing by the tree then the angel took a taste of the forbidden fruit. The angel told Eve that she could be like the gods if she tasted the fruit. The angel then disappeared and Eve stopped dreaming before she could eat of the fruit. In order to comfort Eve after her dream, Adam told her that the dream was not a prediction of her future because she still had control over her actions. He told her she was created pure and pure she could still remain, "Evil into the mind of god or man may come and go, so unapproved, and leave no spot or blame behind" (V, 117-119).
Betsy said…
Abdiel responds to Satan's argument by explaining to him how great it of a thing it is to honor God. He also tells him that everyone should be thankful for what God and the Son has done for everyone. Abdiel tries to pursuade Satan not to tempt God's creations. Abdiel acts as if Satan still has a chance to recieve God's forgiveness. He says, "And tempt not these: but hasten to appease The incensed Father, and the incensed Son, While pardon may be found in time besought"(V, 846-848).
Raphael explains to Adam that since Adam is happy he owes it to God and himself to obey God. This is because God made him perfect but also capable of failing and making the wrong decisions. He also gave him free will because otherwise the angels and humanity would not be able to love freely. Without free love no real choices exist for either the angels or man. Raphael also explains that all the angels, himself included are happy because they are obedient to God and love freely and it is due to free love that they can stand or fall as well. Then he goes on to say that some have fallen as a hint to Satan. And not only do some fall, some have fallen beyond the point of return into the depths of hell.
Conny said…
Raphael says to Adam, that you are put put in this blissful garden of Eden by God. He states that Adam should contbe grateful for this and that he should continue to obey God, keep faith in him. Raphael also says, "God made thee perfect, not immutable" (V, 130). By this Raphael means that Adam is an image of God but he has the capability to be susceptable to falling. He wants Adam to continue to voluntarially pray and worship God. Raphael also states that, as his angelic state, Adam's state will continue to be if he always obeys God willingly. He states, "freely we serve, because we feely love" (V, 131). This means that Adams should willingly, not forced to believe, have faith, in God. Raphael tells Adam that if he doesn't do so then he will fall, he explains breifly the example of Satan. In this passage Raphael repeats and repeats to obey God and that it should be pure faith in him.
heather.banker said…
He commands to Raphael to go converse with Adam. Raphael is to tell Adam that Satan has escaped and plans to ruin all mankind. He is to explain how great he has it now and how free he is. But tells him to beware and not be too secure for the enemy is plotting against him. The enemy will not do it by ways of violence but by ways of deceit and lies.

HB
JP said…
God said that he and his only son were as one, and every one in the land shall bow and confess that the is the one and only Lord. Whoever disobeys shall be cast away into darkness without redemption(V, 600-617).
This made Satan mad because it was not him sitting beside God with al lthe power. He was stuck in hell.

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