08 June 2021

Satan's nightmare

Many years ago, I read an odd little fantasy story which has stuck in my mind ever since. I can't remember the author or the title or where I read it, but the basic theme was unforgettable.

The story was about Satan. Satan, of course, according to Christian mythology, has resided in Hell ever since his unsuccessful attempt to overthrow and replace God as ruler of the universe.

In the story, Satan went to sleep one ordinary night in Hell, and he had a dream.

In Satan's dream, the great war in Heaven went the other way. He succeeded in overthrowing God, and in seizing the grand throne of omnipotence. He became the absolute ruler of the universe, taking God's place.  And in his dream, he saw his subsequent reign unfold.

He saw himself, not God, creating the Earth and mankind. He -- Satan, not God -- created man as an utterly innocent creature, without the knowledge of good and evil, and then planted the Tree of Knowledge in the midst of the Garden of Eden, and commanded man not to eat of it, presenting the newly-made innocent creature with a temptation far beyond its power to resist.

Satan saw himself, not God, casting man out of the Garden of Eden as punishment, condemning him to mortality and suffering and toil for the sin he himself had made man scarcely able to avoid.

Satan saw himself, not God, raging insanely at the cruelties and sins of the race whom he himself had made unable to do any better, finally sending a vast flood to drown the whole Earth, slaughtering the guilty and innocent alike, even children and babies, even the bewildered and terrified animals who knew nothing of the concept of sin.

Satan saw himself, not God, testing the faith and devotion of Job with torments that no remotely moral being would visit upon his worst enemy; he saw himself, not God, similarly test Abraham's faith by commanding him to sacrifice his own son.

He saw himself, not God, send his own son to Earth to preach and then be killed by excruciating torture in a bizarre and convoluted scheme to offer redemption, via this revolting sacrifice, to only those human individuals who managed to believe in its power; when of course he, Satan, as omnipotent ruler of the universe, could easily have granted salvation to as many humans as he felt deserved it, by a simple act of choice.

Awakening at last from this hideous nightmare of unrelenting cruelty, Satan understood its meaning immediately. If he had indeed won that battle in Heaven, he thought to himself, then the absolute power he would have gained would have ruined him. He would have become just as evil and sadistic and corrupt as God, and would have perpetrated all the same horrors and insanities.

No, Satan thought to himself, it is better to have been defeated than to have become like that. And so, despite his situation, he achieved a certain contentment.

I would be curious to know whether anyone else has read the same story and recognizes it.


Blogger Victor said...

Sadly, Infidel, I can't answer your question about the author's name, or the title.
But I do want to find out so I can read it too.

If I had to guess, it sounds like something by, or derived from, Mark Twain, or CS Lewis.
But that's probably wrong.
Someone in your pool of intelligent and empathetic readers will surely know.

Great list this past Sunday, btw!
But then again, aren't they all?!? :-)

08 June, 2021 07:42  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Great story.
I usually watch Lucifer and laugh hysterically thinking about how the wingnuts get all riled up when 'evil' is presented that way.
The myriad contradictions and downright psycosys that believers have to bypass make my head spin.


08 June, 2021 08:54  
Anonymous mitzimuffin said...

Twain wrote "letters from the earth" which is great (the ark has to return to land because they forgot the tsetse fly. I, too, would like to know who wrote this so I may read it. I sounds right up my alley, Thx,

08 June, 2021 09:23  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Alas, I have no clue who the author might be. But it's a good story with an important point to make about becoming the evil we work to overthrow. That certainly happens again and again in history.

08 June, 2021 18:59  
Blogger Scott McGreal said...

I remember reading about this story years ago but couldn’t recall where exactly. I did some digging and found that it’s called “The Revolt of the Angels” by Anatole France. The full text is available on Project Gutenberg, here https://www.gutenberg.org/files/32596/32596-h/32596-h.htm.
Satan’s dream is recounted at the end of the book in Chapter XXXV. It’s a remarkable story, so thanks for reminding me about it!

08 June, 2021 19:33  
Blogger Susan said...

A Kenneth Patchen poem which seems to reflect the concept...


Apply for the position (I've forgotten now for what) I had
to marry the Second Mayor's daughter by twelve noon. The
order arrived three minutes of.

I already had a wife; the Second Mayor was childless: but I
did it.

Next they told me to shave off my father's beard. All right.
No matter that he'd been a eunuch, and had succumbed in
early childhood: I did it, I shaved him.

Then they told me to burn a village; next, a fair-sized town;
then, a city; a bigger city; a small, down-at-heels country;
then one of "the great powers"; then another (another, an-
other)—In fact, they went right on until they'd told me to
burn up every man-made thing on the face of the earth! And
I did it, I burned away every last trace, I left nothing, nothing
of any kind whatever.

Then they told me to blow it all to hell and gone! And I blew
it all to hell and gone (oh, didn't I). . .

Now, they said, put it back together again; put it all back the
way it was when you started.

Well. . . it was my turn then to tell them something! Shucks,
I didn't want any job that bad.

09 June, 2021 07:27  
Blogger Dave Dubya said...

I have to say I like your updated telling of the story even better than Anatole French's.

You've written a fine fable, indeed. Will share.

09 June, 2021 11:41  
Blogger Tundra Bunny said...

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- I don't remember who said it first, but it certainly fits humans to a T.

09 June, 2021 11:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Victor: Twain is very possible, but wasn't Lewis a Christian? Worth looking into.

Thanks about the links!

Sixpence: I don't see how anyone can read the Bible and fail to notice that God is evil and psychotic.

Muffin: I've read a lot of Twain but I must have missed that one. Sounds like it's worth looking for.

Debra: It's always a risk, and many people are oblivious to it. We can see it happening in the present day as well.

Scott: Thanks for the link. That story definitely has the same theme, but I actually doubt it's the one I remember reading. A lot of the specific details I mentioned in the post aren't there, and I don't think I've ever actually read Anatole France. Perhaps the same idea could have occurred to more than one author?

09 June, 2021 11:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Susan: Thanks for the poem -- that sounds like a pretty over-the-top job interview.

Dave: The extra details aren't original with me -- I'm sure I remember them from the actual story. But thanks for sharing the post around.

Tundra: Exactly -- and whose power could be more absolute than God's?

09 June, 2021 12:03  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I haven't read it but what an interesting idea.

09 June, 2021 12:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not the story in question, but R. Heinlein’s novel “Job” explores a similar theme. In that novel, Jehovah & Satan are brothers & by the end it’s clear that Satan is by far the better one.

09 June, 2021 13:11  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary K: It's a new take on the story, although others like Baudelaire have explored similar ideas.

Anon: Thanks -- I think the Bible would make the same conclusion clear as well.

10 June, 2021 00:32  
Blogger CAS said...

No, I'd not heard this story. Nice summary of a brilliant exercise. I've encountered a fair number of religious people that truly value God's cruel side. They want the "bad guys" to receive horrific punishment for their sins. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is simply subterfuge for sadistic levels of intolerance.

More common in my circles, however, are religious people who pick and choose from the scripture menu. Show them a disagreeable passage from the Bible or Quran and they'll say something like, "Oh, I don't believe that part."

10 June, 2021 08:39  

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