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.

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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.

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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.

Al Pacino:

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.

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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.

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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.

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14 Responses

  1. Spectre says:

    There is no such thing as good or evil but only from the perspective of man. Much like Time is a construct of man, it does not exist either. Whatever happens in our future will have to happen the way that it does, so it is already written. The Devil is nothing more than an Avatar for our selfish/natural ways. A child must be taught to share and not horde personal items, including the mother, selfishly.

    The Problem of Evil and proving its existence in nature, not through the lens of the human subjective experience, but pure objective evil, severely limits the ability of religions to have any sway over me. Only an imperfect God could have created an imperfect world. Man’s desire to create Utopia will ultimately fail as well for Man is imperfect in his ways and yet God and the Church are mere tools for Man to gain power through the promise of said Utopia.

  2. Hey, it's that one guy! says:

    In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
    Judges 21:25 (NASB)

  3. Spitty says:

    A while back I remember watching a documentary series called “Monarchy” which covered the history of monarchy in England, and there was one incident that really struck me. There was an English king who ruled some years before 1066, I don’t remember which, who had a nasty grudge against an earl who served an enemy of his in the past. So he declared war on him. However, before the armies of the king and the earl were to meet in battle, the lords on each side got together and brokered a truce, and told the king and the earl they needed to hash out their differences on their own. The Vikings were still a threat, and they realized that fighting each other would simply weaken England and leave them vulnerable to invasion.

    Imagine if something like this had happened during the First World War!

    In the feudal system, where people would consciously swear an oath to a lord seems a lot more honest than our current “social contract” where people are simply born into the system through no choice of their own. It boggles my mind that today you are considered more free by being an unwilling member of a social contract by birth, than someone who were to voluntarily place themselves in the service of a liege-lord in medieval Europe.

    True, if you were born a serf you didn’t have a choice either. However, with the modern idea of a social contract it looks like we abolished the feudal oath system and simply extended serfdom to everybody, when we could have instead extended some sort of voluntary oath system to everybody.

  4. RMO says:

    MODERN humanism. Thanks for that distinction at the bottom of the brothers karazoz. I would think that just from what I’ve seen Aurini that you would be a rabid fan of renaissance humanism.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance_humanism

    Also I think the al Pacino speech is a flagrant plagiarism of George Carlin, even the delivery.

  5. Joe Shipman says:

    The evidence for the Devil is pretty good, because evil is more coordinated than one would otherwise expect. Bug if the Devil exists, then God exists too.

  6. Joe Shipman says:

    Argh, stupid typo :p

  7. John Galt says:

    A monarchy is simply unacceptable to me, Aurini. When Nietzsche observed that god was dead, it was 1882. It is now 2013. God is a rotting and dessicated corpse and we’re breathing in the very last fumes his corpse is emitting. Although it’s probably healthier to live in a religious society than an atheist one, we are well past this as a sustainable possibility. Already on the fringes of our species, in the countries packed with the evolutionary pinnacle of man, we see religion all but wiped out. Without divine right or the belief in god, I don’t see a monarchy being anything more than an oligarchy wherein power is justified by man’s dominion over man. John Milton’s quote made me realize something; it IS better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. Even if Somalia was the ultimate fate of Libertarianism (despite Africans being a questionable model), I would accept it instantly over an Oceania where even the proles lived in luxury. Do you not think death and suffering is a fair price for freedom?

  8. Spitty says:

    I don’t think a traditional monarchy is feasible today, and it did have serious flaws, which is why monarchy today is almost totally non-existent. Psychologists have spoken about a situation that occurs in large groups called “diffusion of responsibility.” What this means is, when a problem occurs an individual will act differently when in a group than he would when alone. In a group individuals consider themselves less responsible than they would if they faced the problem alone. There was a case where over thirty people watched a man rape and murder a woman, and none of them called the police. They all assumed somebody else would take care of it.

    I am sure that the congressmen know very well just how fucked our country is, but I doubt any of them feel in any way responsible for it. And even if we rose up and tried to hold them accountable, who does the blame lie with? After all, we voted these guys into office. When everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible.

    The beauty of a monarchy is that when things go to hell, you know damn well just who to blame for it.

  9. David says:

    A book I’ve been reading lately loosely relates to this. It’s called the Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. Essentially, the premise is about Being, about accepting the moment. And by doing so, experiencing intrinsic internal joy and peace. That the mind is a tool but does not define us. That in any phrase like “I am alive”, “I am human”, “I am intelligent” is the premise “I am”.

    It’s not about thinking or feeling that our fellow man deserves “blah blah blah” so we should give them “blah blah blah” (humanism), it’s about being at peace with ourselves and using that as a base for the human spirit rather than trying to constantly pursue pleasure and avoid pain as we so often find ourselves doing.

    As a very analytical guy, this was tough for me to do, but after being more present I’m finding myself have far more joy and honesty with myself about what matters than I ever have before. I also find I’m better able to focus my mind on tasks in the present moment. It also really put Vegas in perspective on my recent Southwest US road trip – so many unhappy people there, like rats in a cage constantly pushing the “release pellet” button except that the cage has an open door which they don’t acknowledge.

  10. jay says:

    @Spectre

    The problem of evil is the problem of free-will. What is good without the potential for evil? What is Obedience without the potential for disobedience?

    Second your definition of perfect may not the the definition of perfect from the viewpoint of the creator. How can a pot decide that the potter did a poor job of it?

  11. jay says:

    38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said:

    2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel
    with words without knowledge?
    3 Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

    4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
    5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
    6 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
    7 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

    8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
    9 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
    10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
    11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?

    12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,
    13 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?
    14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment.
    15 The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken.

    16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
    17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
    Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death[b]?
    18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know all this.

    19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
    And where does darkness reside?
    20 Can you take them to their places?
    Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
    21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
    You have lived so many years!

    22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
    23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?
    24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
    or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
    25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
    26 to water a land where no man lives,
    a desert with no one in it,
    27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass?
    28 Does the rain have a father?
    Who fathers the drops of dew?
    29 From whose womb comes the ice?
    Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
    30 when the waters become hard as stone,
    when the surface of the deep is frozen?

    31 “Can you bind the beautiful[c] Pleiades?
    Can you loose the cords of Orion?
    32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons[d]
    or lead out the Bear[e] with its cubs?
    33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s[f] dominion over the earth?

    34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
    and cover yourself with a flood of water?
    35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
    Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
    36 Who endowed the heart[g] with wisdom
    or gave understanding to the mind[h]?
    37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
    Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
    38 when the dust becomes hard
    and the clods of earth stick together?

    39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
    and satisfy the hunger of the lions
    40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in a thicket?
    41 Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry out to God
    and wander about for lack of food?

    39 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
    2 Do you count the months till they bear?
    Do you know the time they give birth?
    3 They crouch down and bring forth their young;
    their labor pains are ended.
    4 Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
    they leave and do not return.

    5 “Who let the wild donkey go free?
    Who untied his ropes?
    6 I gave him the wasteland as his home,
    the salt flats as his habitat.
    7 He laughs at the commotion in the town;
    he does not hear a driver’s shout.
    8 He ranges the hills for his pasture
    and searches for any green thing.

    9 “Will the wild ox consent to serve you?
    Will he stay by your manger at night?
    10 Can you hold him to the furrow with a harness?
    Will he till the valleys behind you?
    11 Will you rely on him for his great strength?
    Will you leave your heavy work to him?
    12 Can you trust him to bring in your grain
    and gather it to your threshing floor?

    13 “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
    but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork.
    14 She lays her eggs on the ground
    and lets them warm in the sand,
    15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
    that some wild animal may trample them.
    16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
    she cares not that her labor was in vain,
    17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
    or give her a share of good sense.
    18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
    she laughs at horse and rider.

    19 “Do you give the horse his strength
    or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?
    20 Do you make him leap like a locust,
    striking terror with his proud snorting?
    21 He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength,
    and charges into the fray.
    22 He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;
    he does not shy away from the sword.
    23 The quiver rattles against his side,
    along with the flashing spear and lance.
    24 In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground;
    he cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
    25 At the blast of the trumpet he snorts, ‘Aha!’
    He catches the scent of battle from afar,
    the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

    26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
    and spread his wings toward the south?
    27 Does the eagle soar at your command
    and build his nest on high?
    28 He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
    a rocky crag is his stronghold.
    29 From there he seeks out his food;
    his eyes detect it from afar.
    30 His young ones feast on blood,
    and where the slain are, there is he.”

    40 The Lord said to Job:

    2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
    Let him who accuses God answer him!”

    3 Then Job answered the Lord:

    4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
    I put my hand over my mouth.
    5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
    twice, but I will say no more.”

    6 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:

    7 “Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

    8 “Would you discredit my justice?
    Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
    9 Do you have an arm like God’s,
    and can your voice thunder like his?
    10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
    and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
    11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
    look at every proud man and bring him low,
    12 look at every proud man and humble him,
    crush the wicked where they stand.
    13 Bury them all in the dust together;
    shroud their faces in the grave.
    14 Then I myself will admit to you
    that your own right hand can save you.

    15 “Look at the behemoth,[i]
    which I made along with you
    and which feeds on grass like an ox.
    16 What strength he has in his loins,
    what power in the muscles of his belly!
    17 His tail[j] sways like a cedar;
    the sinews of his thighs are close-knit.
    18 His bones are tubes of bronze,
    his limbs like rods of iron.
    19 He ranks first among the works of God,
    yet his Maker can approach him with his sword.
    20 The hills bring him their produce,
    and all the wild animals play nearby.
    21 Under the lotus plants he lies,
    hidden among the reeds in the marsh.
    22 The lotuses conceal him in their shadow;
    the poplars by the stream surround him.
    23 When the river rages, he is not alarmed;
    he is secure, though the Jordan should surge against his mouth.
    24 Can anyone capture him by the eyes,[k]
    or trap him and pierce his nose?

    41 “Can you pull in the leviathan[l] with a fishhook
    or tie down his tongue with a rope?
    2 Can you put a cord through his nose
    or pierce his jaw with a hook?
    3 Will he keep begging you for mercy?
    Will he speak to you with gentle words?
    4 Will he make an agreement with you
    for you to take him as your slave for life?
    5 Can you make a pet of him like a bird
    or put him on a leash for your girls?
    6 Will traders barter for him?
    Will they divide him up among the merchants?
    7 Can you fill his hide with harpoons
    or his head with fishing spears?
    8 If you lay a hand on him,
    you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
    9 Any hope of subduing him is false;
    the mere sight of him is overpowering.
    10 No one is fierce enough to rouse him.
    Who then is able to stand against me?
    11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
    Everything under heaven belongs to me.

    12 “I will not fail to speak of his limbs,
    his strength and his graceful form.
    13 Who can strip off his outer coat?
    Who would approach him with a bridle?
    14 Who dares open the doors of his mouth,
    ringed about with his fearsome teeth?
    15 His back has[m] rows of shields
    tightly sealed together;
    16 each is so close to the next
    that no air can pass between.
    17 They are joined fast to one another;
    they cling together and cannot be parted.
    18 His snorting throws out flashes of light;
    his eyes are like the rays of dawn.
    19 Firebrands stream from his mouth;
    sparks of fire shoot out.
    20 Smoke pours from his nostrils
    as from a boiling pot over a fire of reeds.
    21 His breath sets coals ablaze,
    and flames dart from his mouth.
    22 Strength resides in his neck;
    dismay goes before him.
    23 The folds of his flesh are tightly joined;
    they are firm and immovable.
    24 His chest is hard as rock,
    hard as a lower millstone.
    25 When he rises up, the mighty are terrified;
    they retreat before his thrashing.
    26 The sword that reaches him has no effect,
    nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
    27 Iron he treats like straw
    and bronze like rotten wood.
    28 Arrows do not make him flee;
    slingstones are like chaff to him.
    29 A club seems to him but a piece of straw;
    he laughs at the rattling of the lance.
    30 His undersides are jagged potsherds,
    leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.
    31 He makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron
    and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.
    32 Behind him he leaves a glistening wake;
    one would think the deep had white hair.
    33 Nothing on earth is his equal—
    a creature without fear.
    34 He looks down on all that are haughty;
    he is king over all that are proud.”

  12. Reprobus says:

    Jeremiah 17:5

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