Monday, 20 August 2007

If You Love Satan, Raise Your Hand Re-reading Mark Twain's Letters from Earth (1909) provides a bracing reminder of why they turned me into an atheist all those many years ago. The Letters are from Satan to his fellow angels, and they document humanity's idiotic attempt to understand the God who created them, i.e. The Bible. Reading it now, two things immediately strike me: The Letters presuppose the existence of God and His Heavenly Host, they simply insist that humans have got the story all wrong. Satan may not be the most reliable of narrators. These facts overlap invidiously in terms of audience: people who would consider Satan a reliable narrator are not people who presuppose the existence of God. Short of members of the Church of Satan—not founded until sixty years after the Letters were written—it's not entirely clear who Twain imagines his audience to be within the fiction's framework. Beyond it, his intent is obvious: he employs Satan as a narrator because it galls those he mocks and delights sympathetic atheists. But obvious as it is, the text contravenes it at all turns. For you to buy the legitimacy of Satan's critique, you have to accept that there's an actual Heaven to which the absurd creation of humanity compares. Quick example: I recall to your attention the extraordinary fact with which I began. To wit, that the human being, like the immortals, naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys—yet he has left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites him; opportunity sets him wild; in this state he will risk life, reputation, everything—even his queer heaven itself—to make good that opportunity and ride it to the overwhelming climax. From youth to middle age all men and all women prize copulation above all other pleasures combined, yet it is actually as I have said: it is not in their heaven; prayer takes its place. They prize it thus highly; yet, like all their so-called "boons," it is a poor thing. At its very best and longest the act is brief beyond imagination—the imagination of an immortal, I mean. In the matter of repetition the man is limited—oh, quite beyond immortal conception. We who continue the act and its supremest ecstasies unbroken and without withdrawal for centuries, will never be able to understand or adequately pity the awful poverty of these people in that rich gift which, possessed as we possess it, makes all other possessions trivial and not worth the trouble of invoicing. Satan knows from profound coitus, so silly humanity err twice-over: once, for the paltry quality of mundane intercourse; then again, for even leaving its meager attendant joys out of its conception of heaven. The whole work is thus structured around Satan's knowledge of the True Heaven from which he's been temporarily expelled. But his knowledge of God's mind isn't even what he implicitly claims it to be. Consider this bit from the opening narration: "Yes," said Michael, "and He said He would establish Natural Law—the...

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