The Role of Religion in Social Conflicts in Devil on the Cross and The Name of the Rose
No discussion of postmodernism in literature can avoid beginning and ending without examining the truth and understanding of the role of God. In the philosophical and psychological contributions of Sigmund Freud, his views on social conflict, and individual suffering resulted in his theories on the state of mental health and its effect on individuals in the face of culture and religion. Through practicing such theories of psychoanalysis and the unconscious, he pursued and cured fears in many of his patients.
Yet, ironically in his statement above, it became evident from his philosophical work, Civilization and its Discontents, that he concluded many social sanctions around devotion to religion as well as the social rules and social structures were somewhat protective against changing away from suffering and conflict. His observation inferred that faith and devotion were intended to deflect the truth of irrationality and uncertainty in the world, and Christianity provided comfort.
It required a leap of faith, as demonstrated by a steady acceptance of pre-arranged patterns in Christian knowledge; eventually it lead people to have an inability to question what they were told from the disseminators of the truth of the words of God. Freud’s writings reflected that no matter how much negative social conditions like war, poverty, and crime became tragic and severe, for 2000 years Christianity readily supplied people with a rationale for their suffering and their discontent.
Many writers within the postmodern movement applied Freud’s concepts to create an awareness of the false truths behind Christianity, believing that it did not have the answer to the unmet desires and needs of individuals to alleviate social conflict, and suffering. The Name of the Rose and Devil on the Cross illustrate the consequences of the unfulfilled desires and the damage that results from the characters and the readers have blind acceptance of truth in what we read and we have been culturally conditioned to recognize as true.
Instead we take comfort in anything that reassures us by preventing us from challenging our way of thinking. As Freud wrote in Civilization and its Discontents: “One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be happy is not included in the Plan of Creation. ” (Part ll). Even the abbot claimed according to Catholic Church that Jesus never smiled, and it was heresy to speculate that he ever laughed. (Eco 258). All of Freud’s work with patients to overturn their anxiety in the world was intended to help the patient overcome suffering and interpersonal conflict and lead to happiness.
This clearly contrasted with the universal truth of an absolute morality from the word of God, and Christian religious concepts like the Beatitudes that taught the notion that suffering lead to reward after death. These truths passed off for 2000 years became questionable and irrational in the minds of more educated thinkers among men. Accordingly, another major writer, Nietzsche, developed a catch phrase for the shift away from the hegemony of Christianity by saying, “God is dead.” (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125). This concept also detracted from the notion of faith being rational in the face of an irrational world where bad things happen to good people and conversely, good things happen to bad people. The underlying principles of Nietzsche and Freud’s philosophies led to a proliferation in agnostics and atheism along with impacting new writers to search for different and new perspectives on the truth of our purpose in this world and our personal role in improving the human condition.
Nietzsche continued his elaboration on this possibility: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet hisshadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Greatness of this deed too great for us?
Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? ” A new definition of morality emerged from the former belief in God as the ultimate truth of his absolute moral authority in human behaviour. Formerly, the dominance of Christian Doctrine would not comfortably allow factions of The Catholic Church such as Benedictines/ Jesuits and Franciscans/ followers of Saint Francis to disagree, nor could these different views be accepted and equally true without the accusation of heretic toward one or the other.
Because the absolute control of moral values belonged to the agent of Christianity, the Pope in Rome. In stating that God is dead, Nietzsche the absolute system of morality maintained through holding the granting of miracle, mystery and sole authority to the Catholic Church was renounced, along with the Inquisition’s summary execution or torture of heretics. Those who acted outside the church’s strict moral codes were no longer judged as evil, mistaken, or ignorant.
Eco envisions a world where man is no longer afraid of expressing ideas that run contrary to the Catholic Church as described by Adso, the narrator in The Name of the Rose: “This evil that heresy inflicts on the Christian people, obsfucating and inciting all to become inquisitors to their personal benefit. For what I saw at the abbey then (and now recount) caused me to think that often inquisitors create heretics. ” (50)
This philosophy expressed by Adso has been based increasingly since the 13th century on theories of relative morality has begun in writers like Eco, to shift its position in order to reflect a post-modernist scepticism and irony which has proved fatal to theism, but definitely fatal to mono-theism. Christian existentialism in the Post Modern sense of the author tried to place an emphasis on the indescribability of faith, individual passion, and the subjectivity of knowledge in The Name of the Rose.
William, the protagonist in The Name of the Rose concurred with Nietzsche’s point. He said: “When men stop believing in God, it isn’t that then they believe in nothing: they believe in everything. ” (327). Eco addressed the issue of knowledge in the creation of religious meaning throughout this book. Knowledge was one of the most powerful tools of the Middle Ages and the greatest compendium of knowledge throughout this time period was undoubtedly the Catholic Church.
The Abbey librarians’ motives for the capture and imprisonment of this exhaustive collection of written works was not entirely for their own enrichment, but predominantly for self-preservation of their elite status in Medieval society. If the general public were to get hold of such a wealth of philosophical and scientific works that were withheld in the Abbey library, then they would almost certainly begin to formulate their own religious truths. This “pearls before swine” perspective that the Church held so tightly to at that time was intended to protect the Church and insure its survival.
It was compelled to keep knowledge from the masses, and this activity drives William, the protagonist, through attempting to finding a pattern of the symbolic nature of the murders, something that Umberto Eco has incorporated thoroughly in his novel, The Name of the Rose. Postmodernism allusions like those to the power of deductive, rational thinking of Sherlock Holmes in the character of William, and an array of murders in the library help to explain the sorry state of learning when William has been unable to correctly solve the murders., because of his unavailability of knowledge for those outside of the monasteries in the Middle Ages. The labyrinth library was one of the most important aspects to the portrayal of knowledge in Eco’s first novel. This detailed labyrinth was designed and intended to be a metaphorical reference to the Church’s desire to keep knowledge away from the illiterate poor and secular Monarchs and Kings. The restrictions on truth and knowledge fuelled the conflict between religious factions in the Chapter entitled “Prime” (335).
Adso records a meeting between the Franciscan and the Benedictine Orders who have become enemies through divergent interpretations of the Gospels and the true meaning of Christ’s poverty. The central 1000 year old argument is about Christ’s poverty, against the history of vast wealth of the Vatican accumulated through accounts of miracles, relics of mysteries, and spiritual authority on the Bible. On the other hand, the Gospels have lead the Franciscans on an opposite path to forsake all material wealth and follow Christ, the poorest of the poor, and the apostolic tradition of poverty…. “to set an example of a perfect life, (Christ’s) teaching… the apostles had never owned anything in common… and this truth was a matter of Catholic faith and doctrine… ”(p. 338). This obvious truth was abandoned and replaced by the Benedictines and the Jesuits through the construction of prestigious cathedrals, the use of jewelled icons, and rich alignments with Kings and landowners. The Church stopped using this vast wealth for charity, and it became absorbed in the protection of this world of riches.
Even though Christ is often quoted as teaching that it was more difficult for the rich man to get into heaven, like a camel passing through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24), the forces of wealth ended the specific quotes from the Gospels, when the argument turned ugly, they declared to the Franciscans that “The Roman Pontiff, in everything concerning faith and morals can revoke the decisions of his predecessors and can even make contrary assertions.. ”(p. 342).
The chapter ends with a physical battle, but Eco’s point is made that the concept of truth is not absolute but relative, in this case to the goals and aspirations of the Catholic Empire to maintain and advance this acquisition of material wealth. In the end the question regarding the truth of Christ’s poverty becomes reframed to another question – just because Christ and his followers were poor, does it necessarily have to follow that the Church has to be poor?
Furthermore, this hypocrisy on the part of the Pope has increased the gap between the suffering poor and the billions of dollars in equity owned by the Catholic Church making it so extreme wealthy. It has been a source of suffering, and as the chapter illustrates a source of war, and those who disagreed with the Catholic Church were defeated and punished by the Inquisition as the enemy of Christianity. Once accused, the Church would seize all the lands and possessions of the heretics or infidels.
The Pope was once asked, how did he know that the people he had killed were actually heretics? He replied that he had them killed anyway, and he said that he left it up to God to sort them out (153). Overall, the billions of poor people in the Catholic Empire had no recourse to social justice. When convenient the Church dispensed very little of its vast fortune in the form of “charity” but felt no sense of “obligation” to donate to the masses which would equalize the poverty gap between the social hierarchies.
One begins to see the connection between capitalism and Catholicism, and forced poverty connected to communism. Devil on the Cross, is a contrasting narrative style, but it remains comparatively similar in theme and concerns about the circumstances on social justice and Christianity. Both writers use symbolism, philosophical arguments, allegories and metaphors to describe a history of conflict and suffering from Christianity and post Colonialism. The writer uses this work to denounce the prevailing evils that ruins Africans and Kenyans in particular.
Ngugi uses the Devil on the Cross to provide a thorough examination of life in post-colonial Kenya. He uses allegories, philosophical arguments and metaphors to criticize the neo-colonial imperialist and capitalist society that emerged in post-independence Kenya. The exploitation of the people by both the foreign companies and the corrupt local elite is explored in this novel. The writer uses the heart-rending story of a young Kenyan, woman Wariinga who left her home in the rural area and journeyed to Nairobi to seek a better life.
She ended up being exploited by a capitalist society driven by greed and corruption. “Devil on the Cross tells a story that exposes the social and political contradictions of both capitalism and neo-colonialism. These contradictions exposes the issues of elitism, class struggle and social collectivism that arose in post-colonial Kenya. Ngugi uses the allegory of the cross to describe the evil of colonialism that remained the attainment of independence.
It was the general thinking of the people that attainment of independence would bring better tidings to the people of Kenya as the Devil of colonialism was crucified but the devil’s acolytes brought him down, as the following passage reads: “And there and then the people crucified the Devil on the Cross, and they went away singing songs of victory. After three days, there came others dressed in suits and ties, who, keeping close to the wall of darkness, lifted the Devil down from the cross.
And they knelt before him, and they prayed to him in loud voices, beseeching him to give them a portion of his robes of cunning. ” (1) The writer shows that the independence for which Africans in general and Kenyans in particular fought and obtained, and which was meant to crucify the devil, that is displacing colonialism, imperialism and capitalism has not been effective, so far as the Devil has been revived after three days through neocolonialism being implemented by the new African political leaders. The great gap between the wealthy and the poor in Kenya caused the poor to seek solace in religion.
The Christian religion handed to the poor caused them to endure great suffering; according to Marx, religion operated as an opium for the poor. In Nakuru’s words, “The kind of education bequeathed to us by the whites has clipped the wings of our abilities, leaving us limping like wounded birds” (63). In this quote he was referring to religious education that came from an oral tradition on the part of Europeans who knew they were dealing with people who did not have the literacy skills to read for themselves.
An important part of religious knowledge is contained in the Beatitudes such as: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall inherit the earth…. blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteous for they shall be filled, blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy, blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mathew: 5, 3-10). When raising the issue of religion functioning as an opiate to social groups that are suffering in poverty, these religious precepts are passed off as the truth however, this twisted trust in the word of God may not be truth.
Another function of the opiate effect was contained in the reference to several proverbs from the Bible about avarice and conceit (63). “To possess much encourages conceit; to possess little, thought”. This kind of education, from the Christian religious authorities has hampered the ambitions and abilities of common people and forced the poor to endure suffering. The establishment of the Christian religion in Kenya forced their traditional religions to the background. The allegory of the Ogre illustrates the evil of Christian quotes to support capitalism as it supports Christian beliefs:
“The peasant was the one who went to the fields to get food, who went to the valleys to get water, the one who went to the forest to get firewood and the one who did the cooking. The Ogre’s job was to eat and sleep on the back of the peasant. As the peasant became progressively thinner, the ogre was the one who flourished, to the extent of being inspired to sing hymns that exhorted the peasant to endure his lot on earth with fortitude, for he would later find his rest in Heaven” (62).
In this allegory, the ogre symbolizes the church and its oppression against the poor, and at the same time the ogre symbolizes the capitalists who have come to Kenya to take the resources from the people without investing in their rights to these riches. Not only was this metaphor describing the destruction of Kenyan culture and self-worth, as it applies to women, the ogre is transformed into a white man from a foreign country. “…. a girl, an ebony beauty with an appealing gap between her teeth… she was black, she was truly beautiful; and she had rejected the hands of all the young men in her country.
But when (she) saw a young man from a foreign country one day, she immediately claimed that he was the one for whom she had been waiting. She followed him and do you know what? The young foreigner was a man eating ogre. He tore off (her) limbs one by one and he ate them (62). This story illustrates the conditions for women are clearly worse compared to men. The story begins by describing her as a natural beauty but this natural beauty was destroyed in the name foreign standards of beauty. For example women of color now try to bleach their skin or straighten her their hair to conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty.
When the protagonist explained to the reader how she appeared to herself in the mirror and was convinced her appearance was the root cause of her problems: “What she hated most was her blackness so she would disfigure her body with skin lightening creams like Ambi and Snowfire, forgetting the saying: That which is born black can never be white…. Her hair was splitting, and it had browned to the color moleskin because it had been straightened with red hot iron combs” (11). Wariinga is reflective of this kind of thinking when she looks at herself in the mirror because of the Eurocentric standard of beauty prevalent in the society she lived in.
The writer employs the use of realism to picture the evils of the Devil (capitalism and imperialism) and convince the masses to gather to crucify him and make sure his disciples do not remove him from the cross. The socialist Engels formulated what is generally recognised as the classical definition of realism in the book On Literature an Art. “Realism, to my mind,” he wrote, “implies, besides truth of detail, the truthful reproduction of typical characters under typical circumstances” (90). In this novel, the writer creates sympathetic but realistic characters according to social classes they belong to.
Muturi, Wariinga, Wangari and Gatuira represent the peasants and workers, Gitutu-Wa-Gataaguru, Kihaahu and Mwireri represent the bourgeoisie and the circumstances they depicted in this novel are typical to their classes. For example, the talk among Wangari, Muturi, Gatuira and Wariinga is typical to people of the underprivileged class as they have no freedom of speech. The writer used Matatu to be the place where people whose freedom is not guaranteed can talk. The writer uses this novel to expose social ills by translating images into literary language and from that into sociological perspectives.
This results in him presenting socially reflective texts, which are equivalent to element of realism. Throughout the book, the writer, in Devil on the Cross refers to capitalism as a negative acquisition, and this malaise is not peculiar to Kenya, as this passage indicates: “But it is not Nairobi alone that is afflicted in this way. The same is true of all other cities in every country that has recently slipped the nose of colonialism. These countries are finding it difficult to stave off poverty for the simple reason that they have taken it upon themselves to run their own economies from American experts.
So they have been taught the principle and system of self-interest and have been told to forget the ancient songs that glorify the notion of collective good”. (15) The writer makes it understandable why capitalism has eaten deep into Kenya and the whole Africa by the depiction of the extent to which citizens have become money worshipers. For example the character Mwaura says, “Business is my temple and money is my God…Show me where money is and I’ll take you there. ” (56). It is also because of money and capitalism that the Devil Feast is organized, where thieves have to prove their expertise in theft and
robbery, sponsored by Satan King of the Hell. Corruption is another social evil that has brought conflict that has eaten deep into the fabric of the social and political life in Africa. Not just corruption, but moral corruption. As the writer explains, people are not given jobs because they are qualified or capable, but rather they get jobs because of what the can offer. Again the women suffer. They have nothing to offer but sex, either to get a job or to preserve the one they already have. This is the case with the character Kareendi made up by the protagonist Wariinga to tell her story.
Kareendi was able to complete her studies despite having had a fatherless child. The narrative stressed that “the Modern Bar and Lodging had become the main employment bureau for girls, and women’s thighs are the tables on which contracts are signed”. The writer regrets not hindering and condemning such practices. Instead, Kenyans sang this song: “Sister Kareendi, the case of a fool takes a long time to settle. Sister Kareendi every court session opens with feasting. Sister Kareendi, no man licks an empty hand. Take care of me and I will take care of you. Modern problems are solved with the aid of thigh” (19).
This extract shows the moral decay of the African society; how abominable practices were being perpetrated by people who were supposed to be custodians of the culture. It shows how post- colonial Africans in positions of power used their positions to pursue dishonest and immoral interests. This resulted in the masses being compelled to do despicable things like having women sell themselves to receive favours in order to survive. In response to the prevalent evil in the land, the writer calls to the oppressed people to fight against the oppression by the heirs of colonialists.
He encourages the people, to unite in all senses and work as one se to effectively modify nature and make things work to meet their basic necessities “like their shelter to keep out rain, clothes to keep out of cold and sun, food to make the body grow, and many other needs. ” (52) It is from this sense of unity, which humanity is born: “That humanity is in turn born from of many hands working together, for as Gikuyu once said, a single finger cannot kill a louse; a single log cannot make a fire last through the night; a single man, however strong cannot build a bridge across a river; and many hands can lift a weight, however heavy.( 52) The strength of unity the passage preaches is also stressed when the writer speaks about the miserable outcome of class struggles between the bourgeoisie and peasant life. “Famine has increased in our land, But it has been given other names, So that the people should not discover Where all the food has been hidden Two bourgeoisie women Ate the flesh of the children of the poor. They could not see the humanity of the children Because their hearts were empty. Many houses, and acres of land, And wounds of stolen money. These cannot bring peace to a person,
Because they have been taken from the poor. Now look away from the rich, At the poor, and at the children They are all stagger-a-staggering on the highway Because their hearts are empty. ” (50) The writer is warning post-colonial Kenya to take the devil of black capitalism off the cross and replace it with concern for the common good and allow Kenyans to benefit from the rich resources that belong to the people. Instead of the profits of the resources going to the pockets of a few who have teamed up with the former colonial masters, a heritage fund can be created for education and health.
Overall, both books set in different times and locations precisely make a similar point. What is the role of religion and what vision of society do we hold dear? In the case of The Name of Rose, we have the maintenance of a rear view vision powered by the Catholic Church. On the other hand, The Devil on the Cross, we have known that the British imperialists left Kenya in 1963 and very little has changed in terms of independence and quality. It is this very question that the writer raises in this book and he has made a determination at great risk to bring socialism forward to create a more positive vision for Kenyan and African society.