38: You Are Whom You Eat

Cyrano and the young Moon-being continue their debate over the nature and function of the soul. The argument builds up a full head of steam when it comes to the resurrection of the body and the existence of God...

“But,” I said, “if our soul dies, which I see is the point you’re driving at, the resurrection we expect would be only a fantasy; God would have to recreate the souls, and that would not be a resurrection.”

He interrupted me, shaking his head: “What?! By all you believe,” he exclaimed, “who told you that cock-and-bull story? Who is resurrected? You? Me? My housekeeper?”

I answered, “It is no idle tale. It is an indubitable verity that I can prove to you.”

“And I,” he said, “will prove the opposite to you. To begin with, suppose you ate a Mohammedan. You thus convert him into your substance. Once the Mohammedan is digested, won’t he change into flesh, blood and sperm? You embrace your wife; your semen, which is now made up entirely of particles from the corpse of the Mohammedan, forms the mold of a good little Christian. My question is: will the Mohammedan get his body back? If he does, the little Christian will not have a body of his own, since he is a part of the Mohammedan’s body. There’s no getting around it: one or the other will not have a body.

“You may answer that God will produce new matter to make up for anyone’s lack. Yes, but that raises another difficulty. The Mohammedan, who is damned, is resurrected. God gives him a brand-new body to replace the one the Christian has stolen. Now, neither the body alone nor the soul alone makes up a man. They are both joined together and are both integral parts of a person. If God shapes a body for the Mohammedan that is other than the one he had, he is no longer the same individual. God thus condemns to Hell another man than the one who deserved it. The Mohammedan’s body had sinned and criminally misused all its senses; God punishes it by throwing another body on the fire. This new body is virginally pure and has never lent its organs to the slightest crime.

“What’s even more ridiculous, this new body would have deserved Hell and Heaven at the same time. As a Mohammedan, it must be damned; as a Christian, it must be saved. God cannot send it to Heaven without unjustly rewarding with glory the damnation it deserved for being a Mohammedan. Nor can God send it to Hell without unjustly punishing it with eternal death rather than granting it the blessedness it deserved for being a Christian. If God wants to be fair, then, he must both damn and save the man to all eternity.”

I said, “I have no answer to your sophistical arguments against resurrection. God said it, and God doesn’t lie.”

“Not so fast there,” he replied. “You’re already saying ‘God said it’, but you have to prove first that there is a God, and I flatly deny it.”

“I won’t bother,” I told him, “to recite the self-evident proofs that philosophers have used to establish God’s existence. I would have to repeat everything that reasonable men have ever written about it. I ask you only why you find the belief inconvenient. I’m quite sure you can find no reason. Since it can only be useful, why do you not let yourself be persuaded? If God exists and you don’t believe in Him, you will have made a mistake and disobeyed the commandment to believe in Him. If there is no God, you won’t be any better off than the rest of us.”

“Oh yes I will be better off than you,” he answered, “because if there is no God, the game is tied. But, on the contrary, if there is one, I can’t have offended something I thought did not exist. Sin requires knowing or willing. Don’t you see? Even the least wise would not take offense if some uncouth man insulted him as long as the man hadn’t intended to, or had mistaken him for someone else, or wine had loosened his tongue. All the more reason then to ask: will God, who is all-imperturbable, get mad at us for not having recognized Him when He, himself, has denied us the means of knowing Him?

“But by all you believe, my little animal, if belief in God were so necessary and were of eternal importance to us, would God himself not infuse in everyone enlightenment as bright as the Sun, which hides from no one? Do we pretend that God wants to play hide-and-seek with us, like children calling ‘Peekaboo, I see you!’? Does God put on a mask and then take it off? Does He disguise himself to some and reveal himself to others? That would be a God who is either silly or malicious.

“If I knew Him by the strength of my mind, the merit would be His, not mine, because He might give me a soul or organs so weak I would not have recognized Him. On the other hand, if he gave me a mind incapable of comprehending Him, it wouldn’t be my fault but His, since he could have given me one capable of doing so.”

The Moon-being makes three main points:
  1. The dilemma of the Christian eating the Mohammedan is as bizarre and farcical as any story in world literature. However, it does make a philosophical point: materialism prohibits a literal interpretation of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, namely as resuscitation.

  2. Cyrano gives an early version of “Pascal’s wager,” which, stated briefly, says that one has nothing to lose and everything to gain by believing in God. The Moon-being implies that the wager is meaningless: he says he neither wins nor loses either way; he loses nothing if his unbelief is correct, and it’s not his fault if he’s wrong. Cyrano is precisely one of the libertins — free-thinkers — for whom Blaise Pascal began writing his Pensées.

  3. Cyrano makes the weakest argument possible for belief in God: conformity; as long as it’s useful and convenient, why not get with the program? The Moon-being answers basically, “What God? If God had wanted me to know him, he’d have made me able to perceive him. And, pray tell, who gets the credit for that?”

The Moon-being thus takes the materialistic rationalism of Pietro Pomponazzi to its logical conclusion: the soul is material and mortal; miracles can be explained rationally; God’s omnipotence is shown not by arbitrary interventions but by the natural order of the universe. The Church’s reply to Pomponazzi was based on the “two truths,” which confirmed once and for all the separation of science and religion. Pomponazzi had won at least part of the debate, but the Church ceremonially burned his works in Venice in 1512. What will become of the Moon-being now?...