I can hear the obvious rejoinder: “There’s Norman Mailer, an artist of dubious high rank looking to give himself honor, nobility, and importance by speaking of God as an artist.” I’m perfectly aware that that accusation is there to be brought in. But whether my motive is pure or impure, this will be the argument I advance: God is an artist. And like an artist, God has successes, God has failures.
Evil, you’ve said more than once, is growing in power—especially in the last hundred years.
Do you think there was ever a time in the past, a golden age, when good was in the ascendancy?
Let’s say that in my lifetime, certain things have gotten better and other things have grown worse, so much so that latter-day events would stagger the imagination of the nineteenth century. If, for example, the flush toilet is an improvement in existence, and if the automobile is an improvement, if technological progress is an improvement, then look at the price that was paid. It’s not too hard to argue that the gulags, the concentration camps, the atom bomb, came out of technological improvement. For the average person in the average developed country, life, if seen in terms of comfort, is better than it was in the middle of the nineteenth century, but by the measure of our human development as ethical, spiritual, responsible, and creative human beings, it may be worse. Reason, ultimately, looks to strip us of the notion that there is a Creator. The moment you have a society built on reason alone, then individual power begins to substitute for the concept of a Creator.
Progressivism has yet to prove itself. We live in a more diffuse state of general anxiety than people did in 1900. I don’t want to be a bore about this, but nuclear warfare also came along. The argument: Did we really improve anything spiritually? For instance, were people better off when they had to squat over a hole in the ground and so could smell their own product? Maybe they were a little closer to themselves than they are now.
Are you ready to talk about the Devil?
My notion of the Devil depends to a good degree on Milton. I think he fashioned a wonderful approximation to what the likelihood might be. In one way or another, there was a profound argument between God and some very high angels—or between God and gods—and the result was finally that one god won, the God we speak of as our Creator. God won, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, because Lucifer, if you will, also became well installed. And this war has gone on ever since, gone on in us.
I would guess that evolution was tampered with, if not actually blindsided on occasion, by the Devil. I think there were false trips that God engaged in because the Devil deluded Him. And it isn’t that God is only fighting the Devil. He’s also debating within Himself or Herself what the next proper course might be.
My understanding is that God and the Devil are often present in our actions. When we work with great energy it’s because our best motive and our worst motive—or, to put it another way, God and the Devil—are equally engaged in the outcome and so, for a period, working within us. There can be collaboration between opposites, as well as war. This collaboration can consist of certain agreements—“The rules of war will be … ” And of course, the rules can be broken. The Devil can betray God. Once in a while, God also breaks the rules—with a miracle. But my argument is that when we act with great energy, it is because God and the Devil have the same interest in the outcome. (Their differences will be settled later.) Whereas when we work with little energy, it’s because They are not only at odds but are countermanding each other’s impact upon us.
What would be an indication that this suggested collaboration between God and the Devil is not working well?
Let’s not emphasize “collaboration.” I’ve spoken of it as “the accepted rules of the game.” Take an average contest in professional football. Two teams fight each other on the field with skill and bestiality, each side laboring to win. Nonetheless, a whole set of laws also prevails. After they tackle a guy, they don’t kick him in the head. I’m saying that in order to keep it flowing, God and the Devil have certain understandings with each other. When there is great energy available to us, then I expect They are in a temporary collaboration.
But generally speaking, we are mired in good and evil—mired because we spend most of our time in trade-offs and in the exhaustion of our efforts. One part of us wants to do something to which the other part is opposed. Very often within us, good fights an offensive battle against evil. We know that. The Christian churches are built on that: Fight the evil in your soul.