Home > Paradise Lost > Hipster Mammon Was An Existentialist Before It Was Cool

Hipster Mammon Was An Existentialist Before It Was Cool

The plea of the arch-demon Mammon after the fall is eerily similar to the cry of the existentialist today. I have a great many friends who would gladly give a hearty ‘amen’ to the following excerpt from Mammon’s speech, not knowing its hellish origin:

…Let us not then pursue
By force impossible, by leave obtained
Unacceptable, though in Heaven, our state
Of splendid vassalage; but rather seek
Our own good from ourselves, and from our own
Live to ourselves, though in this vast recess,
Free, and to none accountable, preferring
Hard liberty before the easy yoke
Of servile pomp. Our greatness will appear
Then most conspicuous, when great things of small,
Useful of hurtful, prosperous of adverse
We can create, and in what place soe’re
Thrive under evil, and work ease out of pain
Through labour and endurance.

Milton hits this sentiment right on the head. 200 years after Paradise Lost, many people have come to say the same things Mammon has. They try to convince themselves that without Heaven, life in the here and now becomes all the more important. Even though everything is ultimately meaningless, we need to fool ourselves into believing that it really does have meaning or we’ll go crazy.

So we manufacture purpose on the fly. Then we tell ourselves that sticking to this meaningless meaning and purposeless purpose is somehow admirable. But the fact that Mammon’s cries anticipated the existentialist’s tells us that this isn’t really a logical necessity or philosophical foundation, it’s simply a quaint rationalization. Hearing this speech from the helpless and hopeless demon is only a cruel reminder to us that our justifications are nothing more than ad-hoc wish fulfillment.

The passage immediately before this is also telling, as Mammon screams out:

…How wearisome
Eternity so spent in worship paid
To whom we hate!

“It’s better to be in hell!” he tells himself. “How miserable it would be serve God!” I was recently listening to a talk by philosopher Daniel Dennett where he said the exact same thing. And his reasoning was the same as Mammon’s – We can only be truly free once we get rid of God.

Mammon of course knows the outcome of all this. He isn’t an atheist after all. He realizes the consequences of rebellion. But that doesn’t stop the rationalizations. No matter what your circumstances, you tell yourself whatever you need to in order to get to sleep at night.

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