Today has been an unnerving day. A friend and neighbor, ten years my junior, the father of three of my students (now adults), was brought to ruin on the front page of the paper, photo and all. I won't go into details but it involves alcohol and the complete destruction of his reputation.
It makes Greek tragedy seem uncannily modern..
I am ending the day listening to the New York Philharmonic treat three versions of the Faust story : Gounod, Berlioz, and Liszt.
I can't imagine any emotion in my life as turbulent as this music and certainly not because of demonic forces in the universe.
The closest I can come to it is the emotional chaos I felt watching the twin towers hit and crumble a decade ago.
Even then, I did not believe in a personified evil as the 18th and 19th century apparently did.
The evil I saw that day was human evil, the result of hubris and ignorance and zealotry---the fruits of all organized religions at their worst.
It is not simply that I am getting old and my flame burns dimly.
Even forty three years ago at the Kent State shootings, I did not feel anything analogous to the turbulence of the Faust music I hear this evening on PBS.
To feel that Faustian one needs to live in a frightening universe. I live in a sad universe and a glorious universe---and even if one is apocalyptic about Global Warming, the universe is not frightening the way it was for those who actually believe in hell and damnation.
To die in a final conflagration or explosion is part of Nature's volcanic lesson, taught epoch after epoch on islands across the planet.
To hang suspended like a spider above the fires of hell (nod to Jonathan Edwards) is a complete sado - masochistic fantasy.
What a waste of energy and imagination, Faust or no Faust.
Even the sadness I feel at the ruination of my neighbor is but the cleansing pity and fear Aristotle talks about in his Poetics (the "empathy" of modern psychology) , not the twisted madness of Christianity's eternal fires of hell.