(Last weekend, while doing some late night walking to clear my head, I encountered the same old man I met one night on an overpass in Sarnia. We fell into conversation and didn’t take long to pick things up somewhere around where we left them five years ago. I’ve tried to record some of what he said here.)
God, he said with a blink and a nod, is always playing catch up with the devil. All these people talking about the miracle of god taking on flesh, of god becoming one of us, of god being with us, two thousand years ago in the hill country of Galilee, they forget a lot. They forget that, thousands of years before Galilee, the devil walked into a garden and crawled out on his belly. Not the belly of an angel or a demon or a spirit or a god, but a belly with flesh and meat and blood—a belly that rose and fell like the tides, like the stars, like civilizations. And where were the people? They were hiding because they could not bear to be in the presence of a god who came to them like a god. God came in all god’s glory and the people hid. The devil came in flesh and blood – as one creature among others – and the people spoke and ate with him. It was the devil who taught god that you had to take on flesh if you want people to listen to you, if you want people to believe in you, if you want people to love you, instead of fear you. This is why people who dream of becoming gods become monstrous—lightning bolts on their collars and “Gott mit uns” on their belt buckles. Don’t aspire to godliness. Become demonic. God still has a lot of learning to do. And when god does catch up, he usually gets it wrong anyway. The devil came to us with the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil – that’s some good eating there – but god comes fumbling around a few thousand years later trying to get in on the show and asks us to mouth his body and suck his blood. Fuck off, man. God is like a child abuser who expects his grown up children to toast him at his birthday party every year. Merry Christmas and all that shit.
Besides, so far as I can tell, god comes and goes—the devil abides. Here’s the proof of this: people call the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, the comforter and counselor, but, who is it is that is always there for us when we are frightened and afraid and angry and sad and desiring and longing and hoping and wondering? It’s always the devil. When you are most alone and vulnerable and unsure of what to do, it’s the devil who is with you. And it’s the same when you’re at the highest points, when you are elated, when you feel most alive, when you are standing on the mountaintop—it’s the devil who is at your elbow ready to celebrate with you. God? Give it a couple centuries or millennia and god might show up for the funeral or the party, and come busting in with some kind of shitty gift he picked up on the way, and when he gets there he’ll be confused and not understand why there is a desert where the city you lived used to be.
He paused to drink the rest of his beer. But, look, I said, don’t you think you’re being a bit harsh? Isn’t all of this a little too jaded? Aren’t these games we play with god and the devil just the expression of an impotent cynicism? I’m tired of being cynical. I want something more innocent.
Innocence, he said. Let me tell you about innocence. Innocence is the one thing I can think of that you gain only in the act of losing it – and most of us lost it before we were even born. I could argue that I lost mine when my father was abused as a child but, really, we could trace this back to the beginning of time. We all lost our innocence as soon as we – us, all of this – came into being. The fall didn’t take place in the garden. That’s just god’s way of blaming the devil. The fall took place as soon as god said “let there be.” We can never go back to being innocent. The dream of innocence is the dream of inexistence, it is a memory we carry with us from the time before time, the time when we were not. It’s what our bodies, our cells, our genes, remember of the nothingness we used to not be. You can never go back to being innocent because being is not innocent. And once you are, you cannot not be. Even the dead are not innocent. As Euripedes said, “Never that which is shall die.” Which is why, of course, our rituals around death are premised upon the need to try and ensure that the dead rest in peace.
What do we know of the dead or death or what comes after?
We are the dead. We are what comes after.
Death, he said pulling another beer from his bag, is not the kind of thing about which one can speak cleverly. Or at all. But here’s another thing, the devil died before god. First, the devil was demoted from the Lord of Hell to being the prosecutor in god’s law court or a transient demon without any final resting place. The Nazis said the devil was gassed in a shower at Auschwitz and the Americans said the devil ate three bullets with his forehead in a compound in Pakistan, but I think he died long before that. I think the devil died at Golgotha. God has yet to follow suit. He’s that kind of bastard. Even when he dies he fucks it all up and resurrects himself and turns even the suffering of the oppressed into some kind of road to glory and wealth and conquest. Streets of gold and rivers of blood. Hallelujah.
But you said before that the devil is always there for us – for better or for worse – and now you say the devil is dead.
Some dead do not rest in peace.
And the difference between this and a god who resurrects himself?
Is the difference between those who wish to ascend to heaven and those who choose to remain in hell. Heaven is for the selfish. Hell is for lovers. And that’s why god can fly away into the clouds after flirting with our suffering, and it’s why the devil, even though he is dead, continues to haunt us.