Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Mystic London, by Charles Maurice Davies, 1875 - Chapter XXIII - Darwinism on the Devil

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    [-179-]

    CHAPTER XXIII.

    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.