Humanism: An Ethos of Death
The Devil’s Advocate VS. The Grand Inquisitor
There’s something compelling about movies with the Devil in them; The Devil’s Advocate is one of the best portrayals I’ve seen, and it leaves you with the sneaking suspicion that it’s not a metaphor; that at some point in the nineties this actually happened… only in the real world there was no happy ending.
The plot follows a small-town lawyer who’s never lost a case (played by Keeanu Reeves), being seduced to New York where he becomes a high-paid gun for the city’s corrupt and broken rich, while his wife slowly goes mad. He eventually learns that the man who recruited him (Al Pacino) is not only the Devil but his father as well, and that his plan to establish his kingdom on Earth requires the incestuous union between Reeves and his half-sister to birth the Anti-Christ.
Some of the major themes of the movie are the banality of evil, the omnipresence of corruption, and the emptiness of high-glamour and city life; but the thesis of the movie comes into point during this brilliant speech by Al Pacino:
The world’s greatest Humanitarian… we’ll get back to him in a moment.
The Grand Inquisitor is a chapter in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book The Brothers Karamazov; it’s a parable told by one brother (an atheist) to the other (a priest) of Jesus returning to the world, not as his second coming, but only as a reminder – a chance to reacquaint himself with the people. He arrives during the years of the Spanish Inquisition, and is quickly imprisoned by the Grand Inquisitor.
He’s no longer needed in this world, the Inquisitor explains – Jesus offered freedom to the people, a freedom that many were doomed to abuse.
And if in the name of heavenly bread thousands and tens of thousands will follow you, what will become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not be strong enough to forgo earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly?
It is the priests who will save mankind, not through freedom and forgiveness, but through succor; they shall take upon themselves the burden of freedom, and give man all that he desires.
Yes, we will make them work, but in the hours free from labor we will arrange their lives like a children’s game, with children’s songs, choruses, and innocent dancing. Oh, we will allow them to sin, too; they are weak and powerless, and they will love us like children for allowing them to sin. We will tell them that every sin will be redeemed if it is committed with our permission; and that we allow them to sin because we love them, and as for the punishment for these sins, very well, we take it upon ourselves.
While on the one hand this story could be interpreted as an Orthodox critique of the Catholicism, Dostoyevsky establishes that he’s critiquing all organizations which revert to – what we today call – Humanism, secular and religious alike.
I imagine that even the Masons have something like this mystery as their basis,’ and that Catholics hate the Masons so much because they see them as competitors, breaking up the unity of the idea, whereas there should be one flock and one shepherd…
Sectarianism is missing the point; Dostoyevsky is attacking all of modernity.
This is why two stories written a century apart contain the exact same message.
Let’s start by asking what is this Humanism? It certainly seems like an uncontroversial ideology – celebrate human achievement, and promote human well-being, right? And yet when the Devil speaks, he says:
I’ve nurtured every sensation man has been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him, in spite of all his imperfections! I’m a fan of man! I’m a Humanist; maybe the last Humanist.
And the Inquisitor would be in agreement:
No, the weak, too, are dear to us. They are depraved and rebels, but in the end it is they who will become obedient.
Oh, of course, in this you acted proudly and magnificently, like God, but mankind, that weak, rebellious tribe– are they gods?
I repeat, are there many like you? And, indeed, could you possibly have assumed, even for a moment, that mankind, too, would be strong enough for such a temptation?
In both cases we see not just an acceptance of human frailties, but the hint of celebration – Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, without the first or third of the tryptych. An eagerness to indulge in all physical pleasures, a celebration of addiction.. and a love of the broken people it spawns.
Think of the professional Grievance Advocates in our modern times – forget the theology for a moment, look at the practical world around us – our government, media, and institutions are run by these charlatans who scream and cry at any insult’to their flock of victims, and command prestigious salaries to teach sensitivity courses. Anything strong and good is derided, while the broken and aberrant are presented as heroes.
- The old, white male is evil, he is punished.
- The obese, black, lesbian, single mom is celebrated and subsidized.
While they claim to be defending the defenseless, their actions speak otherwise; their interventions to help save does nothing but teach dependence, and incentivize degeneracy. The creation of the black ghetto, the cartelization of homosexuality, the skyrocketing rate of single mothers – the easy pleasures of the earth, in exchange for desperate, hopeless lives.
The social Crusader pats themself on the back; their state apparatus has become become a mechanical god, perfecting and controlling their charges, who then becomes the ultimate slaves; for they think themselves free. They never raise their eyes above the mud which they crawl in, and would shun the offer of the summer sun.
Know, then, that now, precisely now, these people are more certain than ever before that they are completely free, and at the same time they themselves have brought us their freedom and obediently laid it at our feet.
Another common theme is the anger at God for his sense of humour; rather than responding with laughter at this absurd world we find ourselves in, they brim with rage and wounded pride.
God likes to watch. He’s a prankster – think about it. He gives man instincts, he gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does he do? I swear, for his own amusement, for his own private, cosmic, gag reel – he sets the rules in opposition.
The Grand Inquisitor:
But finally the foolish children will understand that although they are rebels, they are feeble rebels, who cannot endure their own rebellion. Pouring out their foolish tears, they will finally acknowledge that he who created them rebels no doubt intended to laugh at them.
Yet another trait that these two share in common, and are they so different from our present day social workers, our diversity trainers, our Modern Humanists? Does there exist on Earth a Feminist who’s ever laughed at a joke which wasn’t naught but sarcasm and snark? Humour’s become verboten in the modern workplace; it’s offensive, it’s privilege. The senseless gigglings of a pothead are lauded; the hearty guffaw of a patriarch are scorned.
So why do they so hate laughter so? It’s because its very nature screams freedom
All humour is about suffering: from the lowly pun – a breakdown of language which induces mental pain – to the jokes ridiculing the foibles and weaknesses of others. Humor can manifest as the sane response to tragic suffering, or it can be an act of derision, the bullying of an out-group member. But in all of its forms it’s predicated on the inequality endemic to freedom.
A man is walking down the street when he slips on ice, falling hard on his back – he looks around furiously, ensuring that nobody is there to see his shame. Internally he rages, that the city should allow the streets to be this icy – that there’s no sign, no guidance – that the Weather Network did not warm him – how is it fair that he suffer this bruising to his backside and his ego?
Somebody Ought To Do Something.
To reject humour is to reject freedom. They demand the tyranny of equality, the safety of slavery.
The lower caste is allowed pleasure, but not ambition; succor but not hope. They become objects, not people, and the hedonic treadmill is Death. The Inquisitor knows this well.
And everyone will be happy, all the millions of creatures, except for the hundred thousand of those who govern them. For only we, we who keep the mystery, only we shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in your name, and beyond the grave they will find only death. But we will keep the secret, and for their own happiness we will entice them with a heavenly and eternal reward. For even if there were anything in the next world, it would not, of course, be for such as they.
The Inquisitor is a technocrat; like Al Pacino’s Devil, he knows it is better to rule in Hell than to reign in Heaven. The people he saves, who are condemned to an empty death, become a multitude of mirrors reflecting his whims and his greatness. No longer people in their own right, they become the objects which glorify the generous sacrifice he’s making by controlling them all.
The Inquisitor thinks himself a great man, to command such obedience – yet he completely misses his own addiction the strings of power. Ruler he may be, but he’s no more earned his rulership than a crack addict has earned his high.
Contrast this to Christ; in the desert he rejected three temptations: to purchase consent by turning stones into bread – to induce their worship by casting himself off the roof of the temple – and to command their obedience with the armies of Satan. Jesus chose not to coerce – instead he let man choose for himself, earning the Inquisitor’s rage:
Had you accepted that third counsel of the mighty spirit, you would have furnished all that man seeks on earth, that is: someone to bow down to, someone to take over his conscience, and a means for uniting everyone at last into a common, concordant, and incontestable anthill– for the need for universal union is the third and last torment of men.
The anthill: what a perfect metaphor for Modernity. Running about our warrens pursuing chemical triggers, following the whims and dictates of pop culture and advertising, obsessing over nothing, with a Queen who flies but once during the mating season, to become a a producer of eggs, a Master utterly dependent upon her Slaves.
It seems an utterly absurd statement in these Modern times, to say that my love of Freedom makes me pine for a Monarch whom I could be subject to… but the more I learn of Libertarian “Rights” the more I start to feel like an ant.
Humanism: the worship of a mechanical god, and the death of the human soul.