Skip to main content

Free Association

Image result for satan

I was binge-watching THE WIRE recently, but the theme song "Way Down in the Hole," kept causing my mind to wander to theological questions.

The lyrics end as follows,

"Don't pay heed to temptation, for his hands are so cold,
"You gotta help me keep the devil, Way down in the hole."

Within post-biblical Christian theology, the role of the devil in cosmology is very ambiguous. Is he a servant of God, or is he an adversary? Is he sort of a frenemy?

If, with Dante, you see Satan chiefly as a prison warden of hell, then Satan would seem to be a servant of God. He rules over a "kingdom" only in the sense that a warden does. He superintends the punishment that the higher authority has decided should be meted out. God is the Governor and the legislature, the judges and juries, all in one Being. Satan is the humble obedient prison warden.

Yet Satan's presence there too is a punishment. The "warden" analogy falters here. You can suppose that for a particular warden the job is a punishment. You can write a drama in which a once-promising young man, once a law clerk to a prominent judge perhaps, dreaming plausibly of a high judicial position for himself, makes a terrible mis-step that ends up with his assignment as warden of a prison as a career dead end.

Still, you could also write a drama in which a warden is somebody who wanted to be a warden, who perhaps idealistically believed he could help lower recidivism, see that valuable skills are taught to down-and-out criminals, etc.  So he got into a correctional career and the job of warden was the crowning conclusion of that career.

The analogy really doesn't help us place Satan.

On the whole, as the song suggests, the general view is that the devil serves a valuable purpose in the divine economy so long as he is where he is supposed to be, "down in the hole," but that he could be a dangerous adversary -- if not of God, at least of the godly -- were he to escape.


Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …