Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Soul Wars, Part II (The Caliphate Strikes Back)

"we haue neuer as yet opened vnto any man the truth of our dwelling, neither of our ruling, neither what our power is, neither haue we giuen any man any gift, or learned him any thing, except he promise to be ours."
--A demon, qtd. in
The Historie of the damnable life, and the deserved death of Doctor Iohn Faustus

"An Egyptian Coptic Christian woman has been sentenced to three years in prison for failing to uphold her Islamic identity—an identity she did not know she had..."

So sayeth a news story reprinted in
Christianity Today. Bahia Nagy El-Sisi and her sister were both imprisoned last year because their dad briefly converted to Christianity--in 1962.

The result of dad's quickie convenience conversion? "All of [the sisters'] children and grandchildren would be registered as Muslims," their lawyer said. I'm not sure
Christianity Today would agree, but consider the benefits, by comparison, of selling one's soul to the devil:
  1. kids and grandkids not damn'd
  2. unlimited wealth
  3. " " power
  4. " " knowledge
  5. classic poems writ about ye
  6. possibility of leveraged deathbed buyout by JC, Unlimited
  7. Mormons probably don't posthumously convert soul-sellers
Before anyone in Provo or Teheran goes, er, ballistic, it's not my point to unfavorably compare one religion or other to an eternity of bondage to the Evil One. But--it's interesting how the Faustian bargain mirrors salvation, and how both soul-selling and soul-saving use commerce as their model. I'm not the first person, by a couple of millennia, to note these similarities, but what fascinates me are the circumstances under which one can and cannot make a trip to the celestial return counter and undo the deal. (Or, in the case of those Mormon conversions of the dead--the celestial T. J. Maxx??)

But then again--it is fascinating how just plain alike they are. You sell your soul to Jesus for the Get Out of Hell Free card, you sell your soul to Satan for Heaven in the here and now. The commercial motif, though, obscures the real meaning of the transactions: surrender. What is supposed to horrify us about Faust is how cavalierly he treats his immortal soul, how readily he pimps it off to Mr. D--but we're also meant to cringe at how we, too, lust for what we cannot have and how close we, too, are to doing such a deal. We may not care for knowledge; it could be any one of a number of material objects we price higher than our soul, and the object ultimately doesn't matter for it is merely an idol, a golden calf standing in for God. The Faust story's warning seems to be: giving up your soul is shockingly easy when it's for the wrong reasons and damnably hard when it's for the right One (and as material beings we shouldn't be so surprised at how suasive for us is the tangible).

Of course that damnable word, "surrender," hath been placed at the heart of my spiritual path by None other than Kali herself, my personal God, the particular beam of light that's shone through the treetops and down onto my path through this forest of signs, this material selva oscura. To trust Her has been the meaning of it all; to give to Her--not even sell or be saved, for there's no Hindu souk of ultimate knowledge or final redemption--has been the way revealed to me. Give it all to me and I won't promise you anything, She sexily coos--but that's not really true, for our surrender opens the way to the clearing the woods where Her light is all, and though we are naked and no trees shelter us, Her enfoldment waxes absolute...

For me as Her child there's been no moment of conversion, no contract or bill of sale, finalized or otherwise. It's been more like how transactions work in practice, not on paper--I think of when Sophia and I bought our house, how it was sort of "ours" when we made the offer, but then the paperwork had to be approved by the mortgage company, but then everyone had to sign it at the closing...but then it wasn't "final" until it was entered at the courthouse... and of course the mortgage isn't paid off yet, so--we live as though we own a house, drilling holes in the walls and taking down the horrid old window treatments...

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