Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Devil's View of Human Nature and Religion


I'm currently reading Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I rarely read such classical literature, but a friend said good things about it and I had to check it out.

There is a compelling section toward the end of the book, where Ivan (the intellectual) has a nightmare and/or some sort of delerium. He begins to talk to a man who implicitly is understood to be a devil. The visitor doesn't necessarily identify himself outright, but there are many non-subtle clues as to his identity. At one point, the devil speaks on religion and his method within religion. Here I provide two excerpts that I found interesting.


"Now, I lead you in turns between belief and disbelief and, in doing so, I'm pursuing a certain goal....I already know you well enough--that is how I'll achieve my goal..you will long to join 'the hermits in the wilderness and the immaculate virgins,' because that is what you are really secretly longing for: to wander in the desert, feed on the locusts and save your soul" [at this point Ivan makes fun of the devil, questioning whether the devil knows how hard it is to tempt someone who feeds on locusts and prays in the desert, to which the devil replies...] "I've done practically nothing but that, my friend. One can forget this and all the worlds when one works on such a person, because he is really a gold mine: in some cases his soul may be worth a whole constellation, that is, of course in our special accounting system. A victory in such a case is priceless! And some of those fellows, I assure you, are in no way less sophisticated than you are and, although you may not believe it, they're capable of visualizing such depths of belief and disbelief at the same time that there are moments when it looks as if the fellow is within a hair's breadth of plunging head over heals into the abyss."


"As to the Jesuit confessional, it is, indeed, one of my sweetest distractions in the sad moments of my existence. Let me tell you of another instance that occurred only a few days ago. A blonde, twenty-year-old Norman girl comes to an old Jesuit father. A buxom, natural beauty...[I] was just about to leave when I heard the old Jesuit arranging, through that little grill of the confessional, to meet her later. Just think--that old man, hard as flint, and there he fell in the twinkling of an eye! The truth is, though, that nature took its due!"


These speeches given by the devil as portrayed in this fictional dialog point to some interesting truths.

1. Paul, in II Timothy 3:5, speaks of people who go about having "the appearance of godliness, but denying its power". And then Paul wraps up that statement in v9 with the following: "But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all". There are many people who outwardly appear very godly but turn out to inwardly be very different and in due time it will be evident who they really are. This is a two-fold warning. First, we need to examine ourselves as to whether our religion is only skin deep. Second, we need to be careful about what we assume about others just because they do some impressive thing.

2. Self-made religion, asceticism, and extreme instances of self denial may cause others to be impressed with our spirituality, but God wants our heart to bow to Him not just our body. In Colossians 2:23, Paul makes this clear when he wraps up speaking of the danger of being hindered by human teachings by saying the following: "These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

3. The final part of Colossians 2:23 also speaks to the fact that great displays of self-made religion or asceticism do not impart to us any sort of power. The greatest display of asceticism will not make us more resistant to Satan's onslaught, and the strictest Jesuit traditions and priestly concecration did not make the priest in the quote from Brothers Karamazov any more able to resist his temptation to use confession as a vehicle for his sinful desires.

What if our supposed spirituality and self-denial sometimes only leaves us wide open to crafty attacks from Satan? The aforementioned quotes really brought that thought to my mind.

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