Solving the problem of evil in the twenty-first century

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The Devil Never Sleeps

Iron and Wine’s “The Devil Never Sleeps”, debuted on the album The Shepherd’s Dog in 2007. Sam Beam, the vocalist and founder of the band, wrote the song in response to the political issues of the day, but particularly the Iraq War, due to the apprehensive state of the country. “The Devil Never Sleeps,” starts off with the vocalist singing the lines, “Dreaming again of a train track ending at the edge of the sea / Big black cloud was low and rolling our way,” these lines establish the setting of the song and are indicative of something damaging coming their (the narrator and his companions) way. Incidentally, the impending force of negativity is also depicted through a “chicken at a chopping block,” and a child betting a dollar that the narrator’s father won’t come home from war Beam uses these examples to represent the war that is taking away people’s lives, and the increasing lack of compassion for others and their situations. The singer suggests that these bad happenings are derivative of the devil, as noted by the title, and his constant wrongdoings to people on earth; since the “devil never sleeps,” there is always evil lurking about.

The fact that the narrator and his companions have buzz cuts is suggestive that they are in the military, and the sound of a “switchblade shining in the summer rain” verifies their identities as soldiers. “No one on the corner had a quarter for the telephone” is referencing people’s unwillingness to help one another, as a quarter is a meager amount of money. When people are in need of the minutest thing, society cannot even contribute this small sum to aid those who surround them. The next line, “Everybody bitching, there’s nothing on the radio,” enforces the collective tendency of not seeing the bigger picture. This triviality also draws on the lack of attention to actual problems that exist in the world (like the war in Iraq); instead, individual’s focus on paltry issues in life such as there being nothing on the radio. Through these metaphors, the songwriter conveys that even soldiers, individuals who are directly involved in the war, are guilty of concentrating on the shallow problems in life. “No one lives forever and the devil never sleeps alone / Everybody bitching, there’s nothing on the radio” are the last lines of the song. The temporal aspect of our lives as humans is planted, and the proposal of the devil never sleeping alone attests the idea that malevolence will always be present and evil, as seen in war, persists. This is why Beam emphasizes the need for people to be aware of the world and the individuals in it. The song carries the message that if we can all help one another we can take on the bad things that happen in life and overcome this devil figure that never sleeps alone so that he (metaphorically) never has company.


Signorelli’s Damned Cast into Hell

At the end of the Italian Renaissance, Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar, corrupted Florence, denouncing the works of many humanist ideas he considered to be immoral. He was a great influence at the time, encouraging citizens to repent their sins while presenting passionate sermons that promoted a great fear of hell and the rebuke of sinners.

Luca Signorelli’s Damned Cast into Hell is a Fresco from the late 15th and early 16th century located in the San Brizio Chapel in Orvieto, Italy. Signorelli’s works are essentially Savonarola’s sermons through the artistic means of painting. Inside the Orvieto Cathedral, there are many renditions that illustrate themes akin to the one shown in the Damned Cast into Hell, where an agonizing mass of people are being terrorized and tortured by demons. In a time where there was an intense enthusiasm for the Catholic Church, and a fiery fear of persecution, Signorelli’s dense composition was effective with its impact on the viewer. The sinners suffer the consequences of an immoral life, writhing amongst the cluster of wretchedness. Signorelli’s signature style of his subject’s twisted bodies and lean muscles assume postures and positions of excruciating torment. The devils lunge at the humans, some biting their heads, others choking their victims; there is even a demon that stabs a man in the head. As Saint Michael and the hosts of Heaven hover above the mass of sinners, their facial expressions are impassive and unconcerned. The holy figures are telling of the finality that the damned face; since these people have had their opportunity to live a Holy life and have chosen otherwise, they must now endure the eternal penalties of their sins.

With these depictions of misery, churchgoers would easily be frightened when sitting in the middle of a sermon listening to Savonarola’s words, and looking upon Signorelli’s haunting portrayal of the Damned Cast into Hell.

Act of the Apostle 1

The focus of Belle and Sebastian’s, “Act of the Apostle 1” is on an insecure girl who is seemingly experiencing a rough time in her life. The beginning of the song starts out with her being late to class—a cliché commencement to a bad day, due to the “morning prayers” taking her “unaware”. At school the lesson of the day is the “Acts of Apostles” and this introduces the theological significance upon which the song rests. As the girl listens to this lesson in class, she is disinterested in the matter and begins to daydream of the desert with, “No cars, no mobiles, just sun and bread.” Her attitude toward religion and her apparently pious school is rather apathetic, and she is ostensibly disconnected from what is actually occurring, living inside of her own head. She then questions herself, “What would I look like standing by the well? / More like a woman and less like a girl.” These lyrics are drawing upon the Christian Bible’s John: 4, where Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman by the well. In this chapter of the gospel, the woman is at first skeptical of Jesus’ credibility as the Messiah, but when he tells her he knows about her past five husbands and the man who she is currently involved with and how they are not married, she believes him. With the upcoming chorus posing the question, “what would I do to believe?” connects back to the Samaritan woman, and the girls own skepticism of her place in the religious surroundings; she wants to believe in what she is taught, but there is no genuine root to it.

The chorus also touches up on the girl’s wanting to sing and stay in a melody, she would “float along in my [her] everlasting song.” If she could provide eternity for herself through her personal melody, she would not have to rely on religion and try to believe in something she is uncertain of. The actual Act of the Apostle comes along when the girl plays “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens, a song about faith, appropriate for the religious setting she is in yet contradictory of her own beliefs. “She knows she’s bad / She is slowing everybody down.” The girl’s musical inabilities are very discouraging, and only aid her insecurities; but her choirmaster “knows her mother’s sick” so “he’ll be nice to her.” Her music instructor obliges the girl, and this is the Act of the Apostle, that the song is named after. The goodness of her choirmaster is the only goodness that the girl can actually see, unlike the supposed benevolence from the characters she learns about in the biblical lectures at school.

*Note: The music video is irrelevant to my analysis; my intention is only to provide readers with the song.

Zurbaran’s Agnus Dei

Intended to create contemplation upon the viewer, Francisco Zurbaran’s Agnus Dei, Lamb of God, is simple in its rendering, yet complex for its subject matter. The lamb is an evident reference to Jesus and the fact that it is deceased relates to Christ’s self –sacrifice for humanity. There is an inscription in Latin at the bottom of the work which reads, “He was lead as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb voiceless before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth” Acts 8:32. The inscription directs the viewer to see the Savior not only as a martyr but also as an entity with no other choice but to accept his fate. By the “voiceless lamb,” Jesus’ inability to protest His own crucifixion is portrayed yet the theme remains ambiguous because the “voiceless lamb” also manages to undergo the ultimate travail and demonstrate compassion for man-kind.

The animal in Zurbaran’s painting holds a nearly unaffected expression, but may also be the resignation to protest its demise. Although the sheep’s hooves are tied up, there is gentleness about its demeanor which is emphasized by its white fleece also demonstrating its meekness—and so the ambiguity ensues. There is discernment in the animal’s patience, by the relaxation of the limbs, and the dearth of strain in its body, revelatory of Christ’s giving nature. The lamb is further consecrated by Zurbaran’s inclusion of a subdued nimbus about its body. The light that appears to be shining down on the figure is suggestive of The Father, radiating his love for his son. The descending glow is also allusive to God’s forgiving nature, indicating to the audience that there has been wrong doing by the animal.

Zurbaran’s painting of the Agnus Dei can be viewed as either of the opposing images of Christ as the flawless savior, or Christ as the silent doubter, but it is up to the viewer to make this decision.

Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is quite the enigmatic piece, implicitly conveying the good, the bad, and whatever lies between. This Flemish triptych, viewed from left to right, starts off with an allusion the popular creationist scene from Genesis yet diverts from the actual story of Adam and Eve. There are other images that accompany the man and woman, such as a whimsical pink fountain and bizarre looking animals. It seems that Jesus is holding Eve’s hand and is in a sense, guiding her to be morally good while presenting her to Adam. Eve’s eyes are cast downward avoiding her lover’s stare, this is telling of human innocence and the purity prior to man’s original sin. Adam, on the other hand, gazes at Eve in awe, apparently yearning for her in a sexual manner. From the beginning of the triptych, human flaw is noted and made evident.

In the center panel, there are individuals and couples cavorting and reveling in an unusual landscape, akin to the illustration in the first panel. There is an overt sense of sexuality, and nudity is not something to hide. The symbols that illuminate the passionate essence of these humans consist of an oyster, which is a common aphrodisiac, along with birds, and fruit, which are representational of fertility and procreation. Several actions of these humans draw upon the nature of corruption and sin, as these people live freely day by day, and act upon whatever they please. The lack of conscientiousness and absence of any sort of consequence in their mind is suggestive of a paradise-like world, non-existent of original sin.

The far right, and last panel is Bosch’s depiction of Hell. It is the obvious contrast to the first panel, and the details in the illustration are quite ghastly. There are images of demons devouring people, a gambler who is nailed to a table, an arachnid creature imprisoning a woman while an amphibian bites her and plenty other disturbing illustrations. The twisted element of this panel expresses the pain and anguish of Hell and propels the audience to take a step back and reflect upon their own behavior. Overall, the scenes from the three panels serve as commentary on lust for life and sexual desire. The work forewarns the viewer of these grave sins in order that they act otherwise or if not, be prepared to suffer the horrible fate that the humans in the third panel have.

Autun St Lazare Tympanum

The Tympanum at the Saint-Lazare Cathedral in Autun, France is a portrayal of the Last Judgment, as the title reflects, by Romanesque sculptor Gislebertus. In the Tarn-et-Garonne department of France, the Marble tympanum rests over the west door of the Cathedral, in the Narthex. As Theologians of the day mandated what the subject matter of many artistic renditions would be, the church authorities dictated the theme of Gislebertus’ Last Judgment. The focal point of the piece is the centered Christ figure, drawing on the attention to salvation and prompting the viewer’s consciousness toward their personal actions.

The Savior sits disinterestedly enthroned in a mandorla of angels support, dividing the Blessed on the left from the Damned on the right. The “blessed” angels are anxiously awaiting the judgment of Christ for their entrance into heaven; the support amongst one another is especially noted through the various figures that appear before Jesus with reverent faces as they look upwards. Amongst these figures is St. Peter, turning toward those that surround him to guide the chosen souls into heaven. The apostle’s special role is particularly illuminated, as he and Jesus are the only figures with aureola’s hovering above their heads; this saintly glow singles both Jesus and St. Peter as good models for Christians to follow.

The counter to Saint Peter is Archangel Michael on the right side of the tympanum. Michael leans over in a subtle hunchback stance, applying his weight to the scale before him. The manner in which he leans is meant to help the demons go in the right direction, this being the path to heaven and away from sin. The damned are gruesome in their appearance, with eerily long bodies, exaggerated claws and agony-filled faces. There is one distinct devil who is hanging from the dragon mouth of hell, attempting to lead souls in to the infernal abyss while another demon above him drags more souls into a furnace. These depictions of the Last Judgment are truly evocative of moral thought and the consequences from doing right and wrong.