The Political History of the Devil – Daniel Defoe

2015-06-22 21.34.54
Nonsuch – 2007
When I was a kid, somebody described Hell to me as “the worst thing imaginable”. This naturally resulted in several nights of me lying awake in bed, trying my hardest to imagine the worst thing imaginable. I amused myself coming up with several repulsive and intrusive tortures involving instruments of both the sharp and blunt varieties, but I remember becoming quite upset after realizing that the worst imaginable punishment wouldn’t be being sentenced to an eternity of any kind of physical torment; no matter how bad the pain could be, it would be always be far worse if my shitty deeds had resulted not only in an eternity of torment for myself, but also for my family. Worse still would be my shitty deeds dooming every soul to an eternity of torment. If Hell was truly the worst scenario imaginable, then all it would take would be one sinner to doom every other soul: if Satan really wanted to obliterate any positivity in the suffering soul of a sinner, he would weigh them down with the guilt of having doomed everyone else to the same misery as themselves. I myself felt horrendously guilty after imagining this, because according the logic of my thought, Hell would evolve to correspond to the worst scenario ever imagined up until the present moment in time. As I was sure nobody else had yet thought of something so horrible, I concluded that I had just become responsible for dooming every soul to an eternity of communal torment. For even if I led a pious life, my irrevocably imagined worst-of-all-possible-hells would be activated on the death of the next sinner, and all would be lost.

There are countless other paradoxes that occur when reason is applied to religious dogma, and a few of these are discussed in The Political History of the Devil. In this book Daniel Defoe attempts to apply reason to dispel several myths about the Devil and his minions. Defoe however, was a solemn believer in the powers of Heaven and Hell, and there is a strange irony in his writing here. He uses reason to mock those who claim that the Devil might appear to human eyes, while simultaneously positing Satan’s existence. Although he feels comfortable making fun of the unfounded beliefs of children and the elderly, he is still willing to acknowledge every event in the Old Testament as true.

Now this book is written as satire, so attacking the writer’s logic is fairly pointless, but I just thought it was bloody cheeky to be making fun of people for their silly ideas about silly beliefs when the author himself clearly held those same silly beliefs. Truly, this is a silly book.

The book is divided into two sections. The first is a commentary on the different appearances of Satan within both Paradise Lost and the Bible (particularly the Old Testament). Some of this part is fairly interesting if you have read those texts. There was one part that I liked in which Defoe discusses the curse of Ham. The Curse of Ham, for those of you who don’t know, is the curse that God put on the descendants of Noah’s son Ham. Ham angered God, and God put a curse on him and his descendants, particularly his son, Canaan; “he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” (Genesis 9:25) This passage was used as a biblical justification of slavery. Apparently black people were believed to be the descendants of Ham and Canaan. Now I have deliberately withheld some information here. I’m sure you’re wondering what Ham could have done to deserve such a horrendous punishment. Let me tell you: Noah, the great Holy man and patriarch, got pissed drunk a few years after the flood, and his son Ham found him in a heap. Ham pulled up Noah’s gaberdine and buggered his own father. That’s right: Noah of the Ark was arse-raped by his son. Ok, it doesn’t actually say that his ring was penetrated in the Bible, but ‘seeing the nakedness of his father’ has long been understood as a euphemism for sodomy. And let’s be realistic here, even the angry God of the Old Testament wouldn’t be so cruel as to doom an entire race of people to centuries of oppression just because one man saw his dad’s willy by accident.

It really sucks that they never read that part of the Bible in mass – Ham by name, Ham by nature.

The second part of Defoe’s book is incredibly boring. It’s full of references to people and events that I’ve never heard of, the humour is dry and dated, and I don’t really care about what the author of Robinson Crusoe has to say about the Devil. This is by no means an ‘occult book’; there’s no esoteric knowledge in here. It’s supposed to be funny, but I wasn’t amused. It was a chore to finish, and the last 100 pages were extra shitty.

This particular edition looks nice on the outside, but there’s quite a few typos in the text. It was published in 2007, and the original price sticker on my copy says 25 euros. I bought it for 6 in 2013, and I was back in the bookshop recently, and it’s now down to 3.

I don’t want to be unfair. I’m sure Defoe was a good writer, but this is not a great book. I don’t get the jokes, and I don’t care about what he’s saying. This is what I get for buying a book based on its cover. If I lost my copy, I wouldn’t spend the 3 euro for another. I’ll give this turd of a book a measly 2/10.

The Political History of the Devil – Daniel Defoe

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