The Echoes of a Great Shake

The one thing about this story that really bugs me is that I don’t even believe in the Devil. I mean, I love him as a folkloric motif, but I just don’t think that I’m really wired to believe in angels and demons and kings of demons. It’s a kind of weird gap in understanding between my parents and me, too, because they do believe that the Devil is a real thing. So, it’s not like they failed to raise me right. I could just never get into it. And then I met more interesting Folks and that was that.

When I was younger, my dad used to frequently say that the Devil couldn’t have more power than what you gave him. I’m not sure how orthodox that belief is, but that was my dad’s belief. If you could resist the temptation of the Devil, then there wasn’t anything he could do to you. This always seemed not right to me, because, of course, evil shit happens to people all the time, and sometimes that evil seems so much larger and unmoored from the people who came up with it.

Not to always bring up the Nazis–but my story is set in 1938, so, even though there’s no mention of them in the story, it’s heavy on my mind that this is going on in the background–but it’s easy to see how what they did was wholly thought-up and perpetuated and supported by people. It would be a hilariously awful cop-out, especially with all the bureaucratic evidence left behind, for people to say “It was the Devil who made me do those things” or “The Devil was truly in charge of Germany.” And yet, I feel like, if you’ve ever been to a rock concert or a sporting event, if you’ve ever been swept up in the frenzy of the crowd and had that feeling that you were not quite yourself, but instead some small part of some greater thing than you, then you know how you’ve helped make something you’re not in control of. And if you’ve ever stood on a stage and felt the power and energy of the crowd and felt, yourself, like you could guide it and yet not be sure that it wouldn’t destroy you if it got the chance

And, while I wouldn’t call that thing “The Devil” and I think calling that kind of energy “Satanic” isn’t really useful, I’m not sure it’s wrong to want to call that energy something that acknowledges that, even if a crowd brought it into the world, it can get beyond the control of the crowd, and, in fact, can come to control the crowd, then you know how it’s its own thing.

So, I guess my point is that I believe that evil is a force in the world. And I think we have to make great efforts to not get caught up in it. It is, very often, easier to do wrong than right (possibly because doing right makes you weirdly vulnerable in lots of ways). So, we should strive to do right, to live with honor.

But I think that, what my dad was/is trying to get at is that the Devil isn’t some all-powerful opposite of God. And that, even if (or especially because) I don’t really believe in the Devil, seems absolutely right to me. The Devil might be in opposition to the Church, but what can be in opposition to God and exist?

And that’s kind of been one of the issues running through this story. And it’s what’s shaken me so much that I kind of don’t know how to talk about it (not that you could tell from all these words). But it seems to me obvious that, if that is the set-up–the Devil in opposition to the Church–then when the Church is not doing good, it leaves room for the Devil to do it.

The Devil can do good if it opposes the Church.

And this is an enormous problem for a Body that is so often so certain that, because it is on the side of Good, and set up by Good to do good in the world, that everything it’s doing is good and ordained by Good.

It’s the crisis my protagonist is facing, and it’s funny, because it’s not even my religion anymore, but man. The realization bugs the fuck out of me.

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4 thoughts on “The Echoes of a Great Shake

  1. So Evil is the opposite of Good. Church is assumed to be of, by and for Good. Therefore, if Church does something Evil then Evil can do something Good. The problem lies in the assumption that Church is always Good. Humans are not always Good and Church is made up of Humans. Also, the definitions of Good and Evil are somewhat subjective – killing is always wrong, yet we eat meat and execute criminals with no guilty conscience.

  2. Being a lit major with some russian background and all, this reminds me of the ivan and the devil/grand inquisitor sections of brothers k – actually, most of the time you talk about the devil and in most of your short stories where he appears, that’s the image that comes to mind – le

  3. You know, I hadn’t considered that, but I do think my devil has a lot in common with Bulgakov’s now that you mention it. Wow, you’ve kind of blown my mind. I hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to the fact that my devil is kind of Russian, but damn, of course he is.

  4. I’m very late commenting, because I’m very late reading. (Thank you for having an RSS feed so I can catch up easily!)

    I’ve recently read, and re-read, and read again, Elizabeth Bear’s two books with Shakespeare and Marlowe as the protagonists. In them, Marlowe repeatedly meets the Devil – or, at least, one version of him. And he is far less evil than (at least some parts of) the Church. I cannot recommend those books highly enough, for anybody who enjoys thinking about how stories shape and change our way of looking at the world.

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