Dr. Faustus Recidivus

Perhaps it is just that, like Don Quioxote, I have read too many books, and my mind is turned into mush. But, in the tradition of Dr. Faustus, I wonder what it would look like if someone made a pact with the devil to gain power in this world. It isn’t really Faustus that is the model for my musings. It is the genie from the old Arabian Nights tales – he gives exactly what you ask for, and amuses himself at your misery. In a sense, it’s a combination of the two. A promise of power but at a great cost – one that is still paid because the person making it (like the cynic Faust, rather than the unwitting victims of the genie) is aware of the penalty, but makes the deal anyway.

For example, “You will be given wealth enough to buy your son the throne. But he will be struck down. His son will die young with no heir. One of his brothers will also be struck down. The other will kill a woman, yet remain in office to his dying day. And the cost for this is the mind of your daughter. You must order it removed.” It sounds entirely like a deal that Satan would write and offer to some poor sap. But who would have a hard enough heart to accept such a deal?

Or perhaps, “You can do whatever you want your entire life. Lie, cheat, steal, abuse women, etc. and yet you will be given power at the end. But you will be mocked the entire way because you really will just be so obviously ordinary. And once you achieve power, your mind will be too addled to even recognize it. It will cost you the life of one son, and the soul of another.” Would anyone sign on the dotted line? And yet, we’re seeing it play out right now.

I really do wonder sometimes about these things. We only see the physical in the world. What is going on behind the scenes? Not in dark, smoke filled rooms, but with the powers of darkness and light. A Christian author wrote some books about that years ago. But they were riddled with unscriptural doctrines, and were, in the end, not all that imaginative. Good concept, thrilling writing style, but overall, a story with no depth to back it up. (Unlike Marlowe’s Faustus, or Milton’s Paradise Lost, which manage to endure over centuries because it speaks to greater truths, and provokes in ways that modern fiction doesn’t.)

I don’t expect to see books on the topic. I think the concept has been well enough done already that we don’t need new books on it.

But I do wonder. What bargains may have been offered? What was agreed to? Or do the people involved not even yet understand the costs of power, the corruption, and ultimately death that follows. I was watching once again the “Let us sit upon the ground” speech with my daughter. These ideas have been discussed by philosophers, and put into dramatic performance by theatricians for centuries. And yet, those in power seem unwilling to learn the obvious lessons. In this, perhaps they are more like the unwitting victims of the genie. And so the question, do we fear their power, revile their debauchery, or pity there foolish ignorance?

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