The Existence Of God

by Leopoldo Lugones

Introductory Note by Mariano Martín Rodríguez

There are several modes in speculative fiction, even if we limit it, as we should, to fictions underpinned by a modicum of science and where imagination appears, therefore, in a guise disciplined by reason, even in the many instances where it does not look very reasonable. One of those modes is theological fiction, i.e. fiction based on the study of Theology as a science. This ‘queen of sciences’ is, indeed, a scholarly discipline, since it has its own systematic methods of investigation in order to rationally reach its conclusions and present them using a particular form of scientific discourse. Although its subject is not quantifiable, nor can it be proven or disproven through experimentation (as it is the case in the so-called hard sciences) or documentation (as in History and other human sciences), Theology still has a sounder basis than, say, Metaphysics. This is because it applies reason to pre-existent materials: the scriptures of any religion and their religious teachings formally deduced by scholars in the matter of God, both inside and outside of established clerical institutions, or concerning other divine entities and its (or their) ways in the universe and our world.

This divinity is seen by theologians as an abstract entity, rather than a sort of superhuman endowed with special powers, as the gods of mythology. For this reason, Theology usually finds its proper fictional expression in allegories rather than in myths. Its characters are not (super)people but concepts endowed with agency. In order to illustrate this, we only need to compare the Hebrew creator god, who is a male particularly subject to fits of anger and needful of rest after work, with the abstract and philosophical God-Logos of the first chapter of the Gospel of Saint John. The former can inspire mythographies and mythological fiction, the second is at the heart of allegories or theographies, if this neologism may be allowed, as well as theological fiction. From a literary perspective, the latter can embrace different literary forms and discourses.

In modern times, there have been numerous outstanding examples of purely fictional approaches to Theology, such as historiographical accounts of imaginary doctrines and heresies, of which Jorge Luis Borges is just the most famous modern inventor, or new and allegorical accounts of creation, such as Ian Watson’s very short narrative poem entitled “Let There Be Darkness: An Origin Myth” (collected in The Lexicographer’s Love Song and Other Poems, 2001). Fictional essays and dialogues have also been used to convey original theological concepts intended as literature, not as contributions to scientific theological debate. Among them, Guillaume Apollinaire’s “L’hérésiarque” (L’Hérésiarque et Cie, 1910) deserves mention, which has been translated into English as “The Heresiarch” in the volume entitled The Heresiarch & Co. (Exact Change, 1991). A further theological fiction written as a dialogue, this time among the dead instead of the living portrayed by Apollinaire, is the very short piece by Leopoldo Lugones (Argentina, 1874-1938) entitled in Spanish “La existencia de Dios,” or “The Existence of God” in the below translation into English. It was first collected in a collection of short parables from 1924 titled Filosofícula, with the Spanish title using a Latinate neologism meaning ‘Little Philosophy.’

It might seem odd that its two sole characters, Epicurus and Voltaire (here named ‘the patriarch of Ferney’) are notorious critics of established religion but, as a science, Theology does not need to be confessional. Moreover, their dialogue seems faithful to the teachings of both philosophers and their intellectual struggle against the mythological gods and the theological one, respectively. Voltaire, the deist, is shown by the old Greek philosopher as having demonstrated rather the existence of the Devil, the anti-God whose work is all too obvious on our planet for its existence to be denied. Epicurus argues the inexistence of both the divine and the anti-divine supreme personal principles, for a reason readers will find convincing, or not, when reading it below. But this debate does not seem the literary point of Lugones. His prose adroitly hides a paradox when Epicurus states that he has extensive infernal experience, thus confessing the existence of the afterlife as it is taught by most theologies, not only the Christian and Muslim ones. Epicurus is then shown as a sophist denying a basic theological concept (God, or the Devil for that matter) while affirming another theological concept derived thereof. Another possible reading would perhaps be too deeply pessimistic to be seriously considered, although it would be suited to the decadent world-view permeating the Fin de siècle literature to which Lugones historically belongs. Contrary to contemporary theological teachings suggesting that hell does not exist (or that it will not exist in the future, which amounts to the same from the perspective of Eternity), his Epicurus would imply that only hell exists in the afterlife, whereas God and the Devil would be mere figments of the human imagination. Finally, for religious persons there remains the possible consolatory conclusion that heaven exists – but that the two philosophers are excluded from it. The literary-minded, meanwhile, may at least enjoy the pleasure of Lugones’ elegant irony.

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The Existence Of God

Translation by Álvaro Piñero González

Epicurus, noticing his illustrious colleague, approached him and gracefully offered him a rose from the garden.

“If only I did not wish to pester you with the contradiction,” he said, “I would venture to remind you just how ingeniously you have demonstrated, despite being a deist, the monstrosity of God in the light of good judgment and logic. That monstrosity alone would suffice to prove God does not exist, were it not because it merely reflects how boundless human vanity is.”

“I feel inclined to believe so,” answered the patriarch of Ferney, “I must admit to finding the Devil ever more likely than God…”

“Because of my own infernal experience, much more extensive than yours, I would like to offer you this revelation: the Devil does not exist. It is yet another chimera of deism: the monster seen from the back. It is all man’s doing. Look at this flower: it does not need to know about the Devil or God to be perfectly beautiful. Look at that bird chirping beside its nest: it knows nothing of the Devil or God and yet it is perfectly blissful. I propose this simple philosophical experiment to you: assume for a moment man does not exist – God and the Devil cease to exist forthwith.”

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