This is an essay I wrote for my British Literature class based upon Milton’s Paradise Lost. This essay is also the reason why half the girls in my dorm think I’m a satanist. Amusingly that led to the creation of my reverse pentagram “HAIL SATAN” jacket that I wear everywhere so I think I won that one, ladies.
Milton’s presentation of God in Paradise Lost subverts the traditional perspective of the just and merciful king and replaces it with the image of a wrathful, vindictive tyrant with less morality than Satan himself.
Initially, the most profound difference between Satan and God is that Satan is portrayed as a leader, whereas God appears to be the dictator of Heaven. When Satan rises up an entire army against God, he does not see them as mere commodities, but looks on the fallen angels with compassion and a sense of responsibility:
“cruel his eye, but cast/signs of remorse and passion to behold/ the fellows of his crime, the followers rather/ (far other once beheld in bliss) condemned/ forever now to have their lot in pain/ millions of Spirits for his fault amerced/ of Heav’n, and from eternal splendors flung/ for his revolt, yet faithful how they stood/their glory withered.” (604-612).
His extreme loyalty to his comrades is more virtuous than the sense of expendability God shows towards his remaining angels. Instead of revering their dedication to his authority, the divine tyrant views his creations as retributive sacrifices in replacement for the sins of humanity as wellas the angels. God asks who will give up their lives to please him and redeem the world, “but all the heav’nly choir stood mute.” (217). Perhaps only one volunteers because it is a fearful blood sacrifice, “he with his whole posterity must die,/ die he or justice must; unless for him/ some other able, and as willing, pay/ the rigid satisfaction, death for death.” (209-212). Or perhaps it is because all the remaining angels see the insatiability of their deranged power-blinded God who demands the death of his congregation for his own satisfaction and resolution.
The resounding irony, however, lies in the fact that not only did God himself create all the sins of the world; he also is omnipotent and able to foresee the inevitable failure of his creations, including the angels. Therefore, it is entirely unjust that an all-knowing deity, who is supposedly ruled by reason, is constantly smothered by irrational emotion and is wrathful towards his “children” when they have sinned. While God advocates freewill, he accepts none of the blame for the wrongdoings of others, viewing himself as completely unstained by their impurities, saying of the people:
“They therefore as to right belonged,/ so were created, nor can they justly accuse/ their Maker, or their making, or their fate,/ as if predestination overruled/ their will, disposed by absolute decree/ or high foreknowledge; they themselves decreed/ their own revolt, not I.” (111-117).
His utter lack of responsibility contrasts Satan’s sense of connection and obligation towards the fallen angels after they have lost the battle and are banished to Hell. Despite their staggering loss and eternal damnation to a pit of never-ending despair and misery, Satan still finds the importance in leading his angels and not disappointing them as they bravely forge their new lives. However, God yet again displays his shortcoming as a “leader” by rejecting his own failures and refusing to acknowledge the fact that man is neither “self-tempted” nor “self-depraved,” (130) but that he himself is the most depraved of all.
As part of his depravity, God creates the seven deadly sins including pride, and casts Satan out of heaven for being too prideful, yet God falls prey to the desire for glory more than any other character. Aside from always demanding obedience, unlike Satan who earns the trust of his following, God is also constantly seeking recognition and amazement for his work. “Through Heav’n and earth, so shall my glory excel.” (133). His self-centered mindset revolves around the repentance of his creations, which involves submission, obedience, and punishment all with the real goal of ego-stroking. Many of God’s punishments are brutal, given the “severity” of the crime, such as the loss of Eden, innocence, and the perpetual labor, death, and despair of all humanity, all as the result of one trespass against the Lord. Given his demonstrated version of justice, it is not surprising that one such as Satan might begin to question his leadership and be thus expelled from Heaven for challenging the omnipotent, perfect dictator.
While Satan may not be the most pure and virtuous character of the story, it is fair to say that God is most certainly the least moral, loyal, and selfless “leader” that ever ruled. He is the embodiment of hypocrisy and sin and takes on the role of a murderous tyrant, despite his immense potential for leadership and guidance. It’s no wonder that instead of having a peaceful congregation of followers, half of the angels rebel against God in favor of Satan, indicating the extreme imbalance of power and justice in the one place that is supposedly “perfect.” Evidently, it is “better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” (263).
(P.S. - I don’t smoke meth…or believe in Satan)