The Centuries of Fallen Angels
Re-interpreting some Christian beliefs
Economics, ethics, and law are concerned with the here-and-now everyday business of humanity. Religion, by contrast, is concerned with the long run of human history, its remote past and distant future. It is concerned with the long run goals of humanity rather than with immediate, present interests. And it is wholly rational and practical.
Idle Theory, in approaching religion, asks what kind of long term view of human society is inherent in its view of life. Human society is primarily concerned with increasing human idleness, freeing humanity from toil. The long term goal of humanity is to achieve perfect idleness, perfect freedom. Human society, useful tools, moral codes, all serve to increase idleness. But the path does not rise steadily and inevitably towards perfection. Periodic catastrophes - plagues, famines, wars, and the like - act to drive down human idleness. Technologies once found may also be lost. Moral codes can decay. The upward motion towards increasing idleness is restrained by forces which act in the opposite sense. The long run future of humanity may well be an ascent to a state of perfect (or near-perfect) idleness, but it may equally be - and indeed may be argued to be more likely to be - a descent towards zero idleness, death, and extinction.
Some quasi-Christian themes appear:
The One Good
In Idle Theory there is only one Good - idleness -, and the primary goal of human society, of human technology, trade, ethics, law, and political organization is to increase human idleness. In this there is both a carrot and a stick. The carrot is that it is only in idleness that men can live choiceful lives, only in idle time that they can play, dance, sing, think, talk. The stick is that, without idleness, they die. Men are driven to increase idleness either by fear of the consequences of being without it, or by love of the infinite varieties of pleasure that it brings.
In this there lies the prototype of an idea of God as the ultimate aspiration of men (and indeed all living creatures) - perfect idleness -. In perfect idleness, men could do anything they wanted, know everything, see everything, understand everything. They would in short be for all practical purposes omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. They would be immortal because whatever is perfectly idle does not need do anything in order to survive, in any circumstance. And, freed from personal cares, they could consider the circumstances of less fortunate creatures, and act altruistically and sympathetically to assist them. God could act, and only would act, out of love.
Actual human life never actually achieved this ideal. Human life was imperfect. Men had to work to live, and because of this they were inherently mortal. Death came whenever they found themselves needing to do more work to live than the time available to do it. And, chained to their work, they were not free to always act as they chose, but all too often as they were obliged. And this same work forever interrupted their reasoning and their study, so that they were always ignorant and confused.
The perfectly idle God - deus otiosus - was not an abstraction, but a person. He was someone who did not have to do anything in order to stay alive. All his actions were chosen, not forced upon him. His reasoning was never interrupted.
The One Evil
If God - the one Good - was perfect idleness personified, then the one Evil was zero idleness, the condition of continuous work, at the threshold of death. The personification of this unhappy state was the Devil.
This devil was not a malevolent individual, but rather a person completely constrained in all his activities, devoid of all free will. Whereas God acted always of his own free will, the Devil was entirely necessitated, driven, determined. The devil was a person who was continually working, continually busy, continually active, driven by unrelenting need.
The devil, or something like him, was probably an all too familiar reality in the world, in ways that God was not. If God was omniscient, the devil knew nothing. If God was sympathetic and loving, the Devil was cold and uncaring. If God was altruistic, the devil was wholly concerned with his own personal interest.
The relation of God to the Devil was of perfect idleness to its negation. They were opposites. Misfortune, disease, starvation, and all the evils of life forever tended to drag men down towards the demonic state. Invention, technology, science, morality, justice, tugged them back up towards divinity.
Heaven and Hell
If God and the Devil were the personifications of perfect idleness and zero idleness respectively, then Heaven and Hell corresponded to their circumstances. God rested tranquilly in Heaven, and the Devil toiled in Hell.
Heaven, as a place, was a green and verdant playground, flowing with milk and honey. It represented a material abundance of the necessities of life, to be had with no effort, in which God lived in perfect freedom and ease. In Christianity this condition was the Kingdom of God, the Great Sabbath, the Time of Times.
By contrast, Hell was a barren landscape, devoid of vegetation, in which the necessities of life were almost entirely absent, and survival required continual work. Hell was a desert, a sulphurous pit, an ice flow.
Both Heaven and Hell were inescapable conditions. Once Heaven had been attained, there could be no return to a life of work. Equally, once men descended into Hell, there could be no escape, unless some altruistic divine being plucked them from it.
Both Heaven and Hell are experienced by living persons. They belong in this life and in this world.
In Christianity, Heaven is a condition of freedom, and above all freedom from toil: nobody works in heaven. Christian ( and Judaic) holy days are days on which no work is done. Christian churches are holy places in which no work is permitted to be done. Christians look forward to an impending Great Sabbath, the Shortening of The Days, the Time of Times.
Fall and Redemption
Since actual human life corresponded neither to the perfect idleness of God, nor to the unending toil of the Devil, humanity was suspended somewhere between the two extremes. Thus there existed a hierarchy of beings, grading down from the highest angels to the lowest demons - where a demon is somebody who is incessantly working - , with humanity occupying some intermediate position.
As a result, human nature was imperfect. Men were part God, part Devil. Or they alternated between the divine and the demonic, knowing both heaven and hell.
In one myth, humanity was simply carried along helplessly by a cosmic tide of events. At one time, human life would be largely happy and idle, and then would become unhappy and hard, as the tide of circumstance ebbed and flowed. Humanity was strapped onto a wheel of fortune, raised up at one point, driven down at another, entirely the victim of circumstance. This ebb and flow of fortune either continued indefinitely, or terminated when humanity achieved a Heaven of perfect idleness, or descended into inescapable Hell.
In another myth, human life was held to have once been largely idle, until, in a catastrophic Fall, it had become one long round of toil, with little leisure. In some future Redemption, humanity would recover the idleness it lost in that Fall.
In one view, Redemption was only possible through the intervention of some divine person, who would reach down from Heaven to assist a struggling humanity which was entirely unable to help itself. In another view, it was possible, through self-help, through good works which increased human idleness, for humanity to pull itself up by its own bootstraps.
The explanation, in antiquity, of the difference between a living man and a dead man is that something - an animating spirit or soul - has departed from a living body, leaving it dead. This soul, in Greek traditions, became a wandering shade. In Hinduism, it was re-incarnated in new bodies, sometimes human, sometimes animal. In Christianity, after death the soul waited to be judged according to the conduct of its life, being assigned either to Heaven or to Hell.
In Idle Theory, death overtakes a living creature when idleness falls to zero, and it is no longer able to maintain itself. There is no animating soul in Idle Theory, because a creature's idleness is not something separate and apart from it, any more than its weight or height are separate and apart from it. And if there is no soul, then there is no afterlife.
But the afterlife, or "the life to come" may simply refer to future generations of men and women, who will continue to live in a "purgatory" of imperfect idleness for many generations, gradually purging toil from human life, until they attain a heaven of perfect idleness, or through their mistakes and mismanagement, plunge human life into hell and extinction.
In this sense, any human now alive is both the beneficiary of previous human successes (look around you) and failures (again, look around you), and the potential benefactor or malefactor of future generations. We are thankful (or resentful) of our inheritance, and we will in turn be thanked or resented. And although individual men and women are different, they are much more the same than they are different. They all begin as babies, grow to maturity, age, and die. They all have arms and legs, eyes and ears, speech and thought. They all need and enjoy food, sleep, and sex. They all laugh and cry. If they differ, it is almost entirely in their ideas and beliefs, which can change in a lifetime, or from generation to generation. If these transient hypotheses are dismissed, then one may say that it is the same man and woman who are reborn, from generation to generation. And if this is so, then my unique identity, as this particular man, is a fiction, and in reality I am all men who have ever lived, and will ever live. And then human history is not made up of the separate and distinct lives of so many billions of individuals, but my life, and this particular life I now live is but a day in the life made up of a succession of such days. And I ought to be as much concerned for my future life as I am with my present life.
Sin and Forgiveness
Sin is taken to be action that decreases human idleness. The ultimate price of sin is zero idleness, and death. It is not the intention underlying the act or omission that makes an act sinful, but its outcome. A man may, with the best will in the world, commit the most terrible sins.
Busy people are likely to act without consideration for others, and in so doing reduce their idleness. The busiest of all have no time to consider others at all. Thus the behaviour of the least idle people is likely to be at best crass and ill-mannered, at worst rapacious and murderous.
Since Idle Theory does not see humans as completely free agents, it does not adopt a moralistic view of human activity. Every human life is seen as life lived with a constraining ball and chain. For demons, this metaphorical ball and chain is very heavy, completely constraining their activities. For angels, the ball and chain is a light golden anklet, almost a decoration. Since, to a greater or lesser extent, humans are constrained in their activities, they cannot be judged as if they were perfectly free agents. In short, they must be forgiven, and forgiven automatically. Only God, who is perfectly free, can be judged.
The primary task for human life is to increase idleness, not to waste time passing judgement on their fellows.
In a Fallen, toiling world, the children of the fallen inherit the fallen estate of their forebears. The interval between Fall and Redemption may span many generations. That busy world is an unavoidably sinful world, where men act without consideration for others, and only for themselves. In that sense, the sinfulness gets inherited along with the fallen condition of toil, and passed down from one generation to the next.
Temporality and Eternity
Idle Theory sees humanity as constrained in time. The part-time free agents are locked into temporality, a world of experienced time, that alternates between activity and idleness, like a ticking clock. Once the states cease to alternate, time ceases. Perfect idleness, or zero idleness, entails a timeless world of eternal life. Eternal life, in this sense, is not unending life, but uninterrupted life.
Spiritual and material wealth
In the Gospel, Jesus enjoins the rich to give away their wealth, and to store up treasures in Heaven. He tells them to consider the lilies of the field, that do not work, but are dressed more beautifully than Solomon. Christian saints and ascetics has regularly rejected material wealth - luxuries, amusements, diversions - in favour of some kind of "spiritual" wealth. What might this spiritual wealth be? One answer is that idleness is a form of spiritual wealth. Certainly idleness is not a form of material wealth, but rather a kind of "spiritual" condition of freedom, an ability to make truly free choices. Perhaps Jesus was was talking about something very simple and practical, rather than something mystically incomprehensible.
In this essay, Idle Theory effectively offers translations of Christian doctrines into its own terminology. There are, of course, some notable omissions and discrepancies:
Although Christian terms are used here, this is simply because, for the past 1500 years or more, Western society has been a largely Christian culture. The rationality underlying Christianity is without doubt far older than Christianity, or any other known religion, and is rooted in the earliest human life. What distinguishes the Christian belief in Fall and Redemption from, for example, a Hindu cycle of endless rebirth is its optimism that humanity can be released from these endless cycles, and perhaps already has been.
Advocates of a Darwinian theory of evolution are often (e.g. Richard Dawkins) extremely hostile to religion. By contrast, Idle Theory - which is also includes a theory of evolution through natural selection - could almost be said to breathe new meanings into some religious doctrines. The complete idleness that is one pole of Idle Theory, and the zero idleness that is the other pole, correspond so closely to the religious doctrine of Heaven and Hell that it is impossible to ignore. But, in very important senses, Idle Theory also offers a quite new context and new (and rational) meanings to these doctrines. In this it simply supposes that the original rational meaning of these doctrines has become lost, perhaps because the language used to describe them became incomprehensible, and the meaning overlaid with superstition.
Author: Chris Davis
First created: 5 Oct 1998
Last edited: 27 Aug 2000