“If the Devil is Six, then God is Seven”


March 30, 2012

Oh, Frankie boy, you have certainly written your fair share of odd little ditties. That’s why you’re such a genius. The particular song in question (the lyrics referenced in the title of this post are from The Pixies song Monkey Gone to Heaven) reminds me of so much that probably has nothing to do with this song. Apparently, it deals with the “human interaction between the divine and the environment” (both words being so thoroughly vacant that they can mean anything you want them to mean) as well as toying a bit with Hebrew numerology.

Do what you like with that, too.

Earlier in the song we learn than “man is five.” Of course, gender inclusive language begs that we use the term humanity, unless, however, he was being purposeful with his designation of man, making, what could be, woman ‘eight’. (Go Team Paglia! Just kidding, I’m pretty sure that was not Black’s intention. But I would say, Go Team Kristeva!)

Nevertheless, this song does provide ground for a bit of theological musing. Leaps and bounds may be necessary, but when has that ever stopped a theologian?

First, this piggybacks (I hate that term, I need a different one), on a previous post where I question the existence of evil, ‘free-thought,’ and the intelligibility of a Kantian Ayn Rand. I’m sort of interested in how the concept of free will either does or does not play a role in the relationship between God, humans, and one crafty serpent (think of a reticulated python with legs and a penchant for speaking Hebrew–that would be one smart asp! Ah, sorry.). In the previous post, I referenced Milbank’s claim that free will is an invention of the fall, not the cause of it. The claim goes, according to Christian orthodoxy, something like this (and forgive me, or don’t, for plagiarizing a bit of myself from The Devil Wears Nada):

Satan is a creation of God. And everything God created was created good, so for Satan to fall there must have been an option of choosing to disobey God, which means that evil is optional prior to Satan choosing it–that is, before Satan fell. Yet, this would assume there is evil to choose prior to the choosing of it. Is such a thing possible in a creation yet to be marred by disobedience? Also, as with Adam and Eve, how is it possible for Satan to fall if Satan is created good? Satan should only be able to will the good. The response of free will only makes sense after the fall. Free will, to paraphrase John Milbank, is a fiction created as a result of the fall. It is a story created after the fall that makes sense of disobeying God after our nature is no longer good, but it cannot make sense of how, when our nature was good and we could only will the good, we could somehow choose the non-good (unless the non-good is existent prior to the fall and if it is who created it?). It is understandable how we are capable of choosing to disobey God now that we reside in a post-lapsarian world, for we are, as scripture says, “wicked from birth” (so much for being optimistic), but how was it possible for us to fall prior to the fall, when, at that point, we could only desire the good? It only makes sense that we could fall after the fall. Even Augustine, the church’s most influential theologian, admitted that on this particular point we must pass with darkness and silence:

The truth is that one should not try to find an efficient cause for a wrong choice. It is not a matter of efficiency but of deficiency; the evil will itself is not effective but defective. . . . To try to discover the causes of such defection—deficient, not efficient cause—is like trying to see darkness or to hear silence.’ (The City of God, Book XII, 7)

We cannot, of course, see darkness nor hear silence, but we are aware of them through the absence of perception. Augustine is claiming that since God creates ex nihilo evil cannot exist, that is, it has no tangible reality. Evil is without substance, therefore we cannot claim that evil exists. Whatever evil is, if it is anything, is simply a lack of good (privatio boni).

And I just fell . . . again.

For Augustine, looking for an effective cause that led to the fall is akin to attempting to see darkness. It cannot be done. To make the matter slightly more confusing Augustine states,  “No one therefore must try to get to know from me what I know that I do not know, unless, it may be, in order to learn not to know what must be known to be incapable of being known!”

Thank you, St. Augustine. I can now proceed with my intellectually confusing antics only because you were the master at it.

So, if ‘man’ is five and if the devil is six, making God seven, who is eight? And why is there not a ‘one through four’? Perhaps knowledge of these antecedents would have kept Augustine from being reduced to silence, as I’m sure you’re ready for me to take a vow of silence right now.

All of this rambling due to one little Pixies tune? Not so much. Eh, maybe a little. It’s because I got to hang out with my favorite squirrel monkeys yesterday. And, you know, we’re both primates, incredibly spastic, and, I would like to think, fans of The Pixies.

I’m begging the keepers to let me to test my theory on the latter. One day it’ll happen.