What would the Devil want? Total destruction? Nihilism?
I suppose it could be an immensely technological universe where the need for existence—individual existence—and the concomitant need for soul would be less. That might be more to the Devil’s taste: individual units functioning in relation to other individual units. Less spiritual. More mechanized. That seems to be the prevailing tendency in the twentieth and early twenty-ﬁrst centuries—more and more interchangeable units, ready to serve a corporate machine. At the other end of it, you have the maniacal intensity of the most extreme Muslims, whose only feeling is that there’s something so wrong with this approach that it all has to be destroyed, and don’t ask questions.
I want to ask a question about Purgatory. Do you feel some sympathy for that idea?
Some—and a fair portion of uneasiness. I will say that I expect there may be some sizable difficulties present after death, a universal Hell, perhaps, of waiting that we may all have to go through before we are born again—those of us who will be born again. Purgatory might sit there as a set of possibilities with many unhappy holding tanks. God may look at three quarters of us, say, “I don’t want to make up my mind just yet,” and drop us into slow Purgatory, so to speak.
Now, what the form of this Purgatory might be—whether it bears resemblance to a Palestinian refugee camp—I have no idea. One of the beliefs I hold is that the Hereafter is less different than we assume. We may have the same frustrations and difficulties in the afterlife—overcrowding, for example, or even, conceivably, waste.
After the Holocaust, we were forced to recognize there was something absolutely murderous in our species—obviously, it was not just reserved for the Germans; there was something vastly destructive in our nature. We received this knowledge over and over again, in Russia, in China, in Africa, in some of our own actions—indeed, in Vietnam. The point I want to make is that the Holocaust may have exacted a great price from God, even greater than from us. At the core of karma is the notion that it is composed of wise judgment. What if that is not always true? In the godly assessment of each life—in the reading of the soul, so to speak, that takes place after one dies—can it be that God sometimes says, “I’m too weary to think about this now”? If you believe in karma, as I do—believe not only in rebirth but in subtle divine judgment (hopefully it is subtle) concerning the manner in which you will be reborn—another part of me remains sardonic and expects that God may have His or Her occasional problem operating the mechanics of reincarnation. When reincarnation is ﬂooded with a huge number of deaths that have no meaning—because they are abrupt, even near instantaneous, without warning, and so leave the victims bereft of awareness at the moment of their death, then they enter reincarnation with less preparation within. I think the Holocaust ravaged many human entrances into death. Reincarnation was ﬂooded with near-to-nameless dead.
Does your vision of the divided universe require courage to be the cardinal virtue?
I would rather go back to God’s experience as He or She was creating the flora and fauna of existence, all those incredible biological experiments that went on over millions of years. Plus, most crucially, the percipience gathered from the failures. Think of the excitement of God when the dinosaur came into being, the immense excitement that He had something pretty big and pretty formidable. Then it proved too big—badly designed. Yet what became obvious was that animals who had courage—or those plants that had a kind of odd integrity, if you will, in terms of their environment—seemed to do better for the most part than those who didn’t. Of course, there are animals—we can see this directly—who had too much courage. This notion of balance underwriting courage is what God began to search for.
And God may have been developing along with evolution. Why must a god be independent of time? It makes sense for me to believe that God was in the slime from the beginning, and God was less in those days. God has grown with us. God has grown with evolution.
I know you’ve been thinking about Intelligent Design, and I have, too. But aren’t you an unlikely person to find credence there?
Novelists can’t afford to be ideologically bound, even if, in practice, we are. Let me admit that I come to the question of Intelligent Design with, once again, no great cognizance of the subject. My feeling is that God strives to find a better, more well-adapted creation than His latest design. Remember that the dinosaurs, at one point, may have been a large part of God’s plan. He had dared to create this immense animal who might be able to rule the jungles, the mountains, and the plains. Then, He came to discover that He had misdesigned it. Back to the drawing board. God, like us, makes mistakes. I must say that if Intelligent Design is being welcomed by Fundamentalists, they are asking for considerable trouble in the future.