36: He Who Eats Last, Eats Best
|As Cyrano and we have long since learned, there’s never a dull moment on the Moon. Ask a serious question, and you’re liable to get a very funny answer...|
As my young host spoke, we continued dining. We arose from our beds and went for a stroll in the garden. The aspects and beauty of the place occupied us for a while. But the noblest desire with which I had ever been inspired was to convert to our religion a soul so far above the common run of people. I exhorted him repeatedly not to debase with materialism the fine intellect that Heaven had given him; to withdraw from animality his mind, so capable of the vision of God; and to consider seriously seeing his immortality united some day with pleasure rather than pain.
“What?!” he exclaimed and burst out laughing. “Do you think your soul is immortal while that of animals is not? I must say, my friend, that your vanity is quite insolent. And on what grounds, if you please, do you base this immortality, which is denied to animals? Because we are endowed with reason and they are not? In the first place, I deny that, and I will prove to you whenever you like that they reason as we do. But even if it were true that reason were granted us as a privilege reserved for our species alone, does that mean that God must enrich man with immortality simply because he has lavished reason upon him?
“By the same token, wouldn’t I have to give a poor man ten dollars today because I gave him three dollars yesterday? You can see for yourself how wrong that conclusion is. On the contrary, if I were fair, I would not give him ten dollars; I would give three dollars to another poor man, who had not yet received anything from me. Hence we must conclude, my dear companion, that God, who is incomparably more just than we, has not given everything to some and left nothing to others.
“Take the example of the eldest sons of your world. They inherit almost all the wealth of their household. It’s due to their fathers’ weakness: they want to perpetuate their name and are afraid it might be lost or impoverished. But God is incapable of error and has been careful not to make such a big mistake. Moreover, God’s eternity has no before or after, and for Him a second child is no younger than the first.”
I did not try to hide the fact that his reasoning had unsettled my conviction. “Permit me,” I said, “to break off the conversation at this point, because I don’t feel I can answer you well enough. I’ll go and ask our mutual tutor for a solution to this problem.”
Without waiting for him to reply, I immediately went upstairs to the room of the wise familiar spirit. After some preliminaries, I told him what I had just heard about the immortality of our souls. Here is the answer he gave:
“My son, this foolish young man was determined to persuade you that it is not unlikely that man’s soul is immortal because God — He who is said to be the Father that all beings share — would be unjust to have advantaged one species and generally abandoned all others to nothingness or poverty. Granted, that argument is pretty obvious. I suppose I could ask him how he knows that what we consider just is also what God considers just. How does he know that God can be measured by our standards? How does he know that our laws and customs, which have been instituted only to remedy our imperfections, also serve to shape the building blocks of God’s omnipotence? But I will pass over all those things, as well as the answers that your church divines have given to such questions. Rather, I will unfold to you a mystery that has not yet been revealed.
“You know, my son, that a tree takes sustenance from the ground; a pig, from a tree; and a man, from a pig. Can we not believe, then, that all beings in nature tend to perfection and therefore aspire to become men? This essence is the culmination of the finest mixture, the best that can be imagined, the only one that links the life of animals to that of angels. One would have to be obtuse to deny it. Do we not see that an apple tree sucks and digests the soil that surrounds it, as though it had a mouth? A pig eats its fruit and makes it a part of itself. A man eats the pig and gives new life to its dead flesh, makes it a part of himself, and thus gives new life to the animal in the form of a nobler species. Thus the grand pontiff you see wearing a mitre on his head was only sixty years ago a tuft of grass in my garden.
“If God is the father common to all His creatures, and even if we grant that he loves them all equally, can we not draw a quite credible conclusion? The metempsychosis I’ve just described is more logical than that of Pythagoras: all that has sensation and growth — all matter, in short — will pass through man. When that has happened, the great Day of Judgment will come, and that is the end point of the mysteries in the philosophy of the prophets.”
I was quite satisfied and went back down to the garden. I was starting to recite to my companion what I had learned from our teacher when the physiognomist came to summon us for a bedtime snack. I won’t go into the details; I was fed and put to bed as on the previous day.
Cyrano’s serious question is basically, “Why doesn’t a smart Moon-being like you believe in immortal souls and Heaven and Hell?” The answer: “If you believe in a just God, how can that be fair? Reason alone is grounds to doubt that we should rate so highly while animals, who are also capable of reason, do not.” Episode 34 leads us to expect that the Sun-being will offer a grand refutation.
We are in for a big surprise. Not only does the Sun-being not contradict the young Moon-being, he goes him one better. He does not dispute that animals have souls; rather he redefines the soul in completely materialistic terms. His radicalism culminates in existential comedy that Rabelais would have enjoyed: a tuft of grass becomes a high official in the Church, and humanity ultimately digests — and excretes — the universe. In effect he says, “Theological answers are all very nice, but I have a better way of looking at it: you’re supreme because you’re at the top of the food chain!”
Cyrano plays the role of an Alice in his own Wonderland and a straight man to the beings of the Moon and Sun. As such, Cyrano the character does not ask whether the grisly funerary practices in episode 34 are the rites of a materialistic cult or a parody of religious ritual, but Cyrano, ever the sardonic author of sly wit, knows we will.
In the end, Cyrano’s two friends make complementary arguments: the Moon-being holds that God is just, therefore animals must also have souls. The Sun-being goes even farther and says that life is a material unity; he talks about fairness only by calling it into question. The implied question is: if fairness is irrelevant, how relevant is God?