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DARWINISM ON THE DEVIL.
IT has been said - perhaps more satirically than
seriously - that theology could not get on without its
devil. Certain it is that wherever there has been
a vivid realization of the Spirit of Light, there, as if
by way of antithesis, there has been an equally clear
recognition of the Power of Darkness. Ormuzd - under
whatever name recognised - generally supposes
his opponent Ahriman; and there have even been
times, as in the prevalence of the Manichean heresy,
when the Evil Spirit has been affected in preference
to the good - probably only another way of saying
that morals have been held subordinate to intellect.
But I am growing at once prosy and digressive.
The announcement that the "Liberal Social Union" would devote one of their sweetly heretical evenings at the Beethoven Rooms, Harley Street, to an examination of the Darwinian development of the Evil Spirit, was one not to be scorned by an inquirer into the more eccentric and erratic phases of theology. Literary engagements stood in the way - for the social heretics gather on a Friday - but come what might, I would hear them discuss diabolism. Leaving [-180-] my printer's devil to indulge in typographical errors according to his own sweet will (and I must confess he did wander), I presented myself, as I thought in good time, at the portals of the Harley street room, where his Satanic Majesty was to be heretically anatomized. But, alas ! I had not calculated aright the power of that particular potentate to "draw." No sooner had I arrived at the cloak-room than the very hats and umbrellas warned me of the number of his votaries. Evening Dress was "optional;" and I frankly confess, at whatever risk of his displeasure, that I had not deemed Mephistopheles worthy of a swallow-tailed coat. I came in the garb of ordinary life ; and at once felt uncomfortable when, mounting the stairs, I was received by a portly gentleman and an affable lady in violent tenue de soir. The room was full to the very doors ; and as soon as I squeezed into earshot of the lecturer (who had already commenced his discourse) I was greeted by a heterodox acquaintance in elaborate dress-coat and rose-pink gloves. Experience in such matters had already told me - and thereupon I proved it by renewed personal agony - that an Englishman never feels so uncomfortable as when dressed differently from his compeers at any kind of social gathering. Mrs. T- asks you to dinner, and you go clad in the correct costume in deference to the prandial meal, but find all the rest in morning dress. Mrs. G-, on the contrary, sends you a rollicking note to feed with a few friends. [-181-] - no party; and you go straight from office to find a dozen heavily-got-up people sniggering at your frock coat and black tie. However, as I said, on this occasion the lecturer, Dr. Zerffi, was in the thick of what proved to be a very attractive lecture; so I was not the observed of all observers for more than two or three minutes, and was able to give him my whole attention as soon as I had recovered from my confusion. Dr. Zerffi said :-
Dr. Darwin's theory of evolution and selection has changed our modern mode of studying the inorganic and organic phenomena of nature, and investigating the realities of truth. His theory is not altogether new, having been first proclaimed by Leibnitz, and followed up with regard to history by Giovanni Battista Vico. Oken and Goethe amplified it towards the end of the last, and at the beginning of the present century. Darwin, however, has systematized the theory of evolution, and now the branches of human knowledge can only be advantageously pursued if we trace in all phenomena, whether material or spiritual, a beginning and a gradual development. One fact has prominently been established, that there is order in the eternal change, that this order is engendered by law, and that law and order are the criterions of an all-wise ruling Spirit pervading the Universe. To this positive spirit of law a spirit of negation, an element of rebellion and mischief, of mockery and selfishness, [-182-] commonly called the Devil, has been opposed from the beginning.
It appeared, till very lately, as though God had created the world only for the purpose of amusing the Devil, and giving him an abundance of work, all directed to destroying the happiness of God's finest creation - man. Treating the Devil from a Darwinian point of view, me may assert that he developed himself from the protoplasm of ignorance, and in the gloomy fog of fear and superstition grew by degrees into a formidable monster, being changed by the overheated imaginations of dogmatists into a reptile, an owl, a raven, a dog, a wolf, a lion, a centaur, a being half monkey, half man, till, finally, he became a polite and refined human being.
Man once having attained a certain state of consciousness, saw sickness, evil, and death around him, and as it was usual to assign to every effect some tangible cause, man developed the abstract notion of evil into a concrete form, which changed with the varying impressions of climate, food, and the state of intellectual progress. To the white man the Devil was black, and to the black man white. Originally, then, the Devil was merely a personification of the apparently destructive forces of nature. Fire was his element. The Indians had their Rakshas and Uragas, the Egyptians their Typhon, and the Persians their Devas. The Israelites may claim the honour of having brought the theory of evil into a coarse and [-183-] sensual form, and the Christians took up this conception, and developed it with the help of the Gnostics, Plato, and the Fathers dogmatically into an entity.
I shall not enter on a minute inquiry into the origin of this formidable antagonist of common sense and real piety; I intend to take up the three principal phases of the Devil's development, at a period when he already appears to us as a good Christian Devil, and always bearing in mind Mr. Darwin's theory of evolution, I shall endeavour to trace spiritually the changes in the conceptions of evil from the Devil of Luther to that of Milton, and at last to that of Goethe.
The old Jewish Rabbis and theological doctors were undoubtedly the first to trace, genealogically, the pedigree of the Christian Devil in its since general form. If we take the trouble to compare chap. i. v. 27 of Genesis with chap.ii. v. 21, we will find that two distinct creations of man are given. The one is different from the other. In the first instance we have the clear, indisputable statement, " So God created man in his own image :" and to give greater force to this statement the text goes on, "in the image of God created he him ; male and female created he them." Both man and woman were then created. Nothing could be plainer. But a though no creation of man had taken place at all, we find, chap. ii. v. 7 : " And the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." This was evidently a second man, [-184-] differently created from the first, who is stated to have been made "in the image of God himself." This second creature was entrusted with the nomination and classification of all created things ; that is, with the formation of language, and the laying down of the first principles of botany and zoology. After he had performed this arduous task it happened that "for Adam there was not found an help meet for him" (verse 20), and chap. ii. v. 21 tells us, "The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh instead thereof ;" and verse 22, "And of the rib which the Lord God had taken from man made He a woman, and brought her unto man." Adam then joyfully exclaims (verse 23), " This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh." This cannot but lead to the conclusion that this woman was an altogether different creature from the first. The contradiction was most ingeniously explained by the learned Jewish Rabbis, who considered the first woman the organic germ from which the special Hebrew-Christian devils were evolved. The Rabbis discovered that the name of the first woman was "Lilith" * [* The word is found in Isaiah xxxiv. 14. Translated in the Vulgate as "Lamia;" in Luther's translation as "Kobold;" in the English version as " screech-owl;" and in others as "an ugly night-bird."] (the nightly) ; they knew positively - and who can dispute their assertion? - that she was the most perfect beauty, more beautiful than Eve; she [-185-] had long waving hair, bright eyes, red lips and cheeks, and a charmingly finished form and complexion; but having been created at the same moment as the first man, and like him, in the image of God, she refused to become man's wife; she objected to being subordinate to the male part of creation - she was, in fact, the first strong-minded woman, claiming the same rights as man, though a woman in body and form. Under these circumstances the existence of the human race was deemed to be an impossibility, and therefore the Lord had to make good his error, and He created Eve as the completing part of man. The first woman left her co-equally created male, and was changed into an enormous, most beautiful, and seducing " She Devil," and her very thoughts brought forth daily a legion of devils - incarnations of pride, vanity, conceit, and unnaturalness. Happily these devils were so constituted that they devoured one another. But in their rage they could take possession of others, and more especially entered little children - boys under three days old, girls under twenty days - and devoured them. This myth, by means of evolution and the law of action and re-action, engendered the further legend about the existence of three special angels who acted as powerful antidotes to these devils, and whose names, "Senoi, Sansenoi, and Sanmangeloph," if written on a piece of parchment suspended round the neck of children afforded certain protection against them.
[-186-] The origin of the Devil may thus be traced to the first vain contempt for the eternal laws of nature. The woman, refusing to be a woman, engenders devils; the man, trying to be a God, loses paradise and his innocence, for the element of the supernatural intruded upon him and abstracted his thoughts from this earth. These were the half idealistic and half realistic elements from which the three greatest spiritual incarnations of the Evil Spirit sprung up. Luther took the Evil Spirit as a bodily entity, with big horns, fiery eyes, a reddish, protruding tongue, a long tail, and the hoof of a horse. In this latter attribute we trace at once the Kentaur element of ancient times. Through nearly one thousand three hundred years from Tertullian and Thaumaturgus down to Luther, every one was accustomed to look upon life as one great battle with tens of thousands of devils, assaulting, harassing, annoying, and seducing humanity. All fought, quarrelled, talked, and wrestled with the Devil. He was more spoken of in the pulpits of the Christian Churches, written about in theological and scientific books, than God or Christ. All misfortunes were attributed to him. Thunder and lightning, hailstorms and the rinder-pest, the hooping cough and epileptic fits were all the Devil's work. A man who suffered from madness was said to be possessed by a legion of Evil Spirits. The Devil settled himself in the gentle dimples of a pretty girl with the same ease and comfort as in [-187-] the wrinkles of an old woman. Everything that was inexplicable was evil. Throughout the Middle Ages the masses and the majority of their learned theological teachers believed the Greek and Latin classics were inspired by Evil Spirits; that sculptures or paintings, if beautiful, were of evil; that all cleverness in Mathematics, Chemistry, or Medicine proved the presence of the corrupting Evil Spirit working in man. Any bridge over a chasm or a rapid river was the work of the Devil ; even the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals, like those of Cologne and St. Stephen at Vienna were constructed by architects who served their apprenticeship in the infernal regions. The Devil sat grinning on the inkstands of poets and learned men, dictating to the poor deluded mortals, as the price for their souls, charming love-songs or deep theological and philosophical essays. It was extremely dangerous during this period of man's historical evolution to be better or wiser than the ignorant masses. Learning, talent, a superior power of reasoning, love for truth, a spirit of inquiry, the capacity of making money by clever trading, an artistic turn of mind, success in life, even in the Church, were only so many proofs that the soul had been sold to some dwarfish or giant messenger from Lucifer, who could appear in a thousand different forms. Man was, since his assumed Fall, the exclusive property of the coarse and vulgar conception of the Evil Spirit. Luther was full of these ideas, he [-188-] was brought up in this belief, and though he unconsciously felt that the Devil ought to be expelled from our creed, he did not dare to attempt the reform of humanity by annihilating the mischief-maker: he could not rob man of his dearest spiritual possession ; had he thought of consigning the Devil to the antedilavian period of our moral and social formation, he never could have succeeded in his reform. The Devil, in fact, was his strongest helpmate ; he could describe the ritual of the Romish Church as the work of the Evil Spirit, produced to delude mankind. The Devil had his Romish prayers, his processions, his worship of relics, his remission of sins, his confessional, his infernal synods ; he was to Luther an active, rough, and material incarnation of the roaring lion of the Scriptures in the shape of the Romish Church, walking about visibly, tangibly, bodily amongst men, devouring all who believed in the Pope, and who disbelieved in this stupid phantom of a dogmatically blinded imagination.
The Evolution-theory may be clearly traced in the two next conceptions: Milton's Satan and Goethe's Mephistopheles. They differ as strongly as the periods and the poems in which they appear. Milton's Satan loses the vulgar flesh and bone, horn and hoof nature - he is an epic character; whilst Goethe's Devil is an active dramatic entity of modern times. Milton's representative of evil is a very powerful conception - it is evil in abstracto ; whilst Mephistopheles is evil [-189-] in concrete - the intelligible, tangible Devil, evolved by the power of selection from an antediluvian monster, and transformed through a civilizing process of at least six thousand years into its present form. Milton's Satan is a debased intellect who in his boundless ambition is still a supernatural being. Mephistopheles is the incarnation of our complicated modern social evils, full of petty tricks and learned quotations; he piously turns up his eyes, he lies, doubts, calumniates, seduces, philosophizes, sneers, hut all in a polite and highly educated way; he is a scholar, a divine, a politician, a diplomatist. Satan is capable of wild enthusiasm, he sometimes remembers his bright sinless past; "from the lowest deep," he yearns, "once more to lift himself up, in spite of fate, nearer to his ancient seat;"-he hopes to re-enter heaven, "to purge off his gloom ;" some remnant of heavenly innocence still clings to him, for, though fallen, he is still an angel! Mephistopheles in his real nature is without any higher aspirations, he argues with a sarcastic smile on his lips, he is ironical with sophisticated sharpness. Satan has unconsciously gigantic ideas, he is ready to wrestle with God for the dominion of heaven. Mephistopheles is perfectly conscious of his littleness as opposed to our better intellectual nature, and does evil for evil's sake. Satan is sublime through the grandeur of his primitive elements, pride and ambition. Mephistopheles is only grave in his pettiness ; he does not refuse an [-190-] orgie with drunken students, indulges in jokes with monkeys, works miracles in the witch's kitchen, delights in the witch's "one-time-one ;" distributes little tracts "to stir up the witch's heart with special fire." Satan has nothing vulgar in him : he is capable of, melancholy feelings, he can be pathetic and eloquent. Mephistopheles laughs at the stupidity of the world, and at his own. Satan believes in God and in himself, whilst Mephistopheles is the " Spirit that denies ;" he believes neither in God nor in heaven nor in hell ; he does not believe in his own entity - he is no supernatural, fantastic being, but man incarnate : he is the evil part of a good whole, which loses its entity when once seen and recognised in its real nature; for Mephistopheles in reality is our own ignorant, besotted, animal nature, cultivated and developed at the expense of our intellectual part.
Luther's devil is the outgrowth of humanity in long-clothes. Man, ignorant of the forces of the Cosmos, blinded by theological dialectics and metaphysical subtleties, incapable of understanding the real essence of our moral and intellectual nature, philosophically untrained to observe that evil is but a sequence of the disturbed balance between our double nature - spirit and matter - attributed all mischief in the intellectual as well as in our social spheres to an absolute powerful being who continually tormented him.
Milton's Satan is the poetical conception of man [-191-] developed from an infant in long-clothes into a boisterous but dreamy youth, ascribing to every incomprehensible effect an arbitrary, poetical cause. Goethe's Mephistopheles, lastly is the truthful conception of evil as it really exists in a thousand forms, evolved from our own misunderstood and artificially and dogmatically distorted nature.
Goethe in destroying the Devil as such, consigned him to the primeval myths and legends of ignorance and fear, and has shown us the real nature of the evil. What then is the Devil?
The Devil took, as I said in the beginning, his origin in our blinded senses, in an undue preponderance of that which is material in us over that which is intellectual. The moment we look the Evil Spirit in the face, he vanishes as an absolute being and becomes-
A portion of that power
Which wills the bad and works the good at every hour.
After having been exposed during several periods of generations to new conditions, thus rendering a great amount of variation possible, the Devil has developed from a monster into a monkey, and from a monkey into a man endowed with the nature of a monkey and the propensities of a monster. In the State and in the Church, in Arts and Sciences, the Devil is the principle of injustice, hypocrisy, ugliness, and ignorance. Goethe has annihilated the ideal poetical grandeur of Milton's Satan; he has stripped [-192-] Luther's Devil of his vulgar realism; Goethe has driven Satan from an imaginary hell, where he preferred to rule instead of worshipping and serving in heaven, and with the sponge of common sense he wiped the horned monster, drawn by the imagination of dogmatists, from the black board of ignorance. In banishing the Evil Spirit into the dominion of myths, Goethe showed him in his real nature. Darwin displaced man from the exalted pedestal of a special creation, and endeavoured to trace him as the development of cosmical elements. Darwin enabled us to look upon man as the completing link in the great chain of the gradual evolution of the life-giving forces of the Universe, and he rendered thus our position more comprehensible and natural. Goethe, in proving that the Evil Spirit of ancient and Hebrew-Christian times was a mere phantom of an ill-regulated fantasy, taught us to look for the real origin of evil. What was a metaphysical incomprehensibility became an intelligible reality. The Demon can be seen in "Faust" as in a mirror, and in glancing into it we behold our Darwinian progenitor, the animal, face to face. Before the times of Goethe, with very few exceptions, the Evil Spirit was an entity with whom any one might become familiar - in fact, the "spiritus familiaris" of old. The Devil spoke, roared, whispered, could sign contracts. We were able to yield our soul to him ; and he could bodily enter our body. The Devil was a corporeal entity. The rack, [-193-] water, and fire were used to expel him from sorcerers and witches, and to send him into all sorts of unclean animals. Goethe, in unmasking this phantom, introduced him not as something without, but as an element within us. The service rendered to humanity in showing us the true nature of evil is as grand as the service rendered by Mr. Darwin in assigning to man his place in nature, and not above nature. It is curious that those who have most of the incorrigible and immovable animal nature in them should protest with the greatest vehemence and clamour against this theory. They think by asserting their superiority, based on a special creation, to become at once special and superior beings, and prefer this position to trying, through a progressive development in science and knowledge, in virtue and honesty, to prove the existence of the higher faculties with which man has been endowed through his gradual development from the lowest phases of living creatures to the highest. In assuming the Devil to be something absolute and positive, and not something relative and negative, man hoped to be better able to grapple with him. Mephistopheles is nothing personal; he can, like the Creator himself, be only traced in his works. The Devil lurks beneath the venerable broadcloth of an intolerant and ignorant priest; he uses the seducing smiles of a wicked beauty; he stirs the blood of the covetous and grasping ; he strides through the gilded halls of ambitious emperors and ministers, who go [-194-] with "light hearts" to kill thousands of human beings with newly-invented infernal machines ; he works havoc in the brains of the vain. The Devil shuffles the cards for the gambler, and destroys our peace whether he makes us win or lose on the turf; he sits joyfully grinning on the tops of bottles and tankards filled with alcoholic drinks; he entices us on Sundays to shut our museums and open our gin-palaces; to neglect the education of the masses ; and then prompts us to accuse them with hypocritical respectability of drunkenness and stupidity. It is the Devil who turns us into friends of lapdogs and makes us enemies of the homeless. The Devil is the greatest master in dogmatism ; he creates sects who, in the name of love and humility, foster hatred and pride; the Devil encloses men in a magic circle on the barren heath of useless speculation ; drives them round and round like blinded horses in a mill, starting from one point, and after miles and miles of travel and fatigue, leading us to the point, sadder but not wiser, from which we set out. The Devil makes us quarrel whether we ought to have schools with or without bigoted religious teachings ; he burns incense to stupefy our senses, lights candles to obscure our sight, amuses the masses with buffooneries to prevent them from thinking, draws us away from common-sense morality, and leads us, under the pretext of a mystic and symbolic religion, to the confessional, the very hothouse of mischief. Satan in all [-195-] his shapes and forms as he rules the world has been described by Goethe as Egotism. Selfishness is his element and real nature. Selfishness not yet realizing the divine, because so entirely humane command- "Do unto others as you wish that they should do unto you." Selfishness is the only essence of evil. Selfishness has divided men into different nations, and fosters in them pride, envy, jealousy, and hatred. Mr. Darwin has shown that one animal preys on the other, that the weaker species has to yield to the stronger. Goethe again has shown us how the Evil Spirit drags us through life's wild scenes and its flat unmeaningness, to seek mere sensual pleasures and to neglect altogether our higher and better nature, which is the outgrowth of our more complicated, more highly developed organization. Were we only to recognise this, our real nature, we should leave less to chance and prejudices ; were we to study man from a physiological, psychological, and honestly historical point of view, we should soon eliminate selfishness from among us, and be able to appreciate what is really the essence of evil. The more nearly we approach Darwin's primitive man, the ape, the nearer do we draw to the Mephistopheles who shows us his exact nature with impudent sincerity in Goethe's " Faust."
That which changes our Psyche, that is our intellectual faculty with its airy wings of imagination, its yearnings for truth, into an ugly, submissive, crawling worm, is heartless selfishness. Not without [-196-] reason is poor guileless Margaret horrified at Mephistopheles. She shudders, hides herself on the bosom of Faust, like a dove under the wings of an eagle, and complains that the Evil Spirit-
. . . . Always wears such mocking grin,
Half cold, half grim.
One sees that nought has interest for him ;
'Tis writ on his brow, and can't be mistaken,
No soul in him can love awaken.
When all goes wrong, when religious, social, and political- animosities and hatred disturb the peace; when unintelligible controversies on the inherited sin, the origin of evil, justification, and transubstantiation, "grace and free will," the creative and the created, mystic incantations, real and unreal presences, the like but not equal, the affirmative and the negative natures of God and man confuse the finite brains of infinite talkers and repeaters of the same things ; when they quarrel about the wickedness of the hen who dared to lay an egg on the Sabbath ; when the glaring torch of warfare is kindled by the fire of petty animosities, then the Evil Spirit of egotism celebrates its most glorious festivals.
What can banish this monster, this second and worse part of our nature? To look upon it from a Darwinian point of view. Goethe saves his fallen Faust through useful "occupation," through honest hard work for the benefit of mankind. The more we make ourselves acquainted with evil, the last remnant [-197-] of our animal nature, in a rational and not mystic dogmatical sense, the less we exalt ourselves as exceptional creatures above nature, the easier it must be for us to dry up the source of superstition and ignorance which serves to nourish this social monster.
Let our relations to each other be based on "mutual love," for God is love, and selfishness as the antagonist of love, and the Devil as the antagonist of God, will both vanish.
Let us strive to vanquish our unnatural social organization by a natural, social, but at the same time, liberal union of all into one common brotherhood, and the roaring lion will be silenced for ever.
Let us purify society of all its social, or rather unsocial, iniquities and falsehood, of all ingratitude and envy, in striving for an honest regeneration of ourselves, and through ourselves of humanity at large, convincing one another that man has developed by degrees into earth's fairest creature, destined for good and happiness, and not for evil and wretchedness, and there will be an end of the Devil and all his devilries.