Skip to content

On Angels and Devils

So when I found myself stumped, trying to find and Aggadic approach to Islam, I turned the question around and found a solution that seems to resonate with folks from that religion, including one millennial.

One of the key points of difference between Judaism, Christianity (especially Catholicism) and Islam is that the first two have formal systems for repentance and return to grace. You won’t find that in Islam; certainly there is the concept of tawba , but it is not a formal position (like a festival (Yom Kippur) or a place (confessionals at the back of a church) [of course, the Haj plays this role – if you can afford it – and, I’m told, so does Ramadan, and I’ll work these into the process as we go along]. (This was going to have to be a central point in our analysis, where we interface so that what we share initiates growth processes – and it will go back and forth as we struggle to understand.) With regard to moral development there will be essays on the difference between the superego and the psychology of the Self [see pedagogy on the children’s websites] to illuminate this, but for the moment, let us look at the imagery used in Islam. There are two angels, one on each side of a Muslim person, writing down his/her good and bad acts. There is also a devil (whose nature is disputed, I’m told he’s a djinn, a spirit of fire, while angels are spirits of Light and are only good) who seeks to mislead the human.

Now if we go back to the socialization process, learning by imitation and the awakening of the inner voice, often takes the form of Riesmann’s traditional society, in which external social controls are used to induce a person to behave according to the solutions that this society has found to be useful for maintaining their niche. The problem with this is that, beyond its being static (we’ll discuss this more deeply when we get to Mario Erdheim), is that it is also not amenable to social mobility. Once the individual leaves his frame of reference the controls dissipate and he is in danger of becoming rudderless. Now you can either inculcate a superego, as Alois Hahn (ZFfSS Jg. 34, 1982 S. 407-434) has suggested was done in Europe in the Middle Ages when folk began moving to cities and clergy began utilizing “Beichtbücher” (guides to confession), formerly reserved for clerics, to train the conscience of their parishiners. That’s certainly a foreshortened explanation, but the net result was an internalized gyroscope that functioned even when the home community was absent. This, however, led to a static system in which  the social code was transmitted, like a profession was transmitted from father to son. Once this static social structure began to alter and social mobility posed new challenges one required new solutions, such as psychoanalysis, which enabled the superego to recalibrate in the adult. Freud postulates a Self, though he does not explicitly explore it. He, at one point, throws a man out of analysis who does not have a conscience guiding the process of opening the id to integration; and this conscience is the voice of the Self.

Now do you see where we are going?
If we inculcate a superego we are not necessarily helping a Muslim child integrate into the modern world; we have to train the Self. [I am grateful to Sayed Hassan Eslami Ardakani (Qom), who persisted in questioning me during a visit here many years ago, until I finally understood what he was asking. You’ll find the psychology to this not with Kohut/Kernberg/Fordham,  etc. (the fragmented Self), but rather with Assagioli (the development and nurturing of the healthy Self).]

So how do we do this?
Let’s go back to the angels and the devil. Can we make those voices audible? Accentuate them? Make the inborn conscience more vividly present?

I think we can and would like to suggest the following:

C.S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters

During the Second World War C.S. Lewis wrote a series of essays for an Anglican publication. He formulated them in the form of letters from a devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, a trainee. You only hear one voice, advising the nephew as to how best to deliver his charge into the hands of Our Father Below. He also reflects on the Enemy (God) and His purported intentions.

I’ve parsed this down to about seven pages, which you’ll find attached and which I will put at the disposal of my participants, and it is also available in German in several libraries in Berlin.

Andrew GreeleyContract with an Angel

Greeley has a light touch. He was a priest and sociologist but also a prolific and gifted writer of fiction.
This is an anti-Faust. Michael, Angel of Death, is a charming fellow, who is quite disconcerted about why the Other wants them to make the protagonist (whom Michael considers to be “a worthless pile of refuse”) into a project. He dutifully proposes a contract with this wealthy businessman for his immortal soul. He is to agree to be guided by the angels. And so the fun begins…

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: