“The Byronic Subversion of Bad Faith”
No matter how completely at odds an idea may be with itself; the complete subversion of any that is zealously believed by a mass of people is not an easy task. Organizing clarity, and exposing the major flaws in anything like this is a problem that can only be resolved through an inventive use of language, and an definitively solid rationale. Lord George Gordon Byron’s drama, “Cain”, possesses these qualities and uses them to undermine the most domineering of all belief systems. His attack on Christianity casts Abraham’s family as it’s characters, appropriates biblical verse and the logic of faith, and uses them against themselves. Employing the guise of the very faith he undermines, Byron authors self-critique that leads to self-implosion. From the standpoint of ‘other’, he is able to upset the base misconceptions and contradictions that must be subscribed to for one to call their self “Christian”. The exclusionary nature of salvation is unmasked, and we see that the truth offered to us through mystified language is not really a truth available to all who seek it. This conclusion is brought on partly by the use of language, and partly by points Byron suggests. By adapting, and at times even quoting the word of the omnipotent God, Byron authors a new myth that is not based on fear or obligation, but instead promotes freethinking, and gives agency to those who doubt.
The voice of Byron himself comes out mostly through Cain. Lucifer is the informer, while Cain is the human with doubt in a group of the most religious believers. From the beginning, Cain questions the faith that his family practices with blind passion. Cain is always seen acting in different faith than the others, and is the voice of realization for the critique being delivered. Because of his difference, Cain is something of an outcast in his own family. There is an emotional and spiritual divide from the start, and Cain is misunderstood more often than he is not. As an agent of mankind he is alone, working under the guidance of the figure perceived as the face of all evil by those around him. Interactions between different characters work to exemplify how language becomes distorted through holy rhetoric; causing those who follow to confuse what is true and false, good and evil, empowering or imprisoning. Cain is the only character who acknowledges his doubts, making him already radically different than the rest of those banished from Eden. He is the only character who refuses to fall victim to his original sin. He instead falls victim to social isolation, and the burden of having to answer the questions religion simply glosses over.
Though he cannot relate to those around him, Cain does benefit in that he is not made a slave to the prescribed sense of morality and self-deception as the others. He is more capable of reasoning clearly, and is able to use what Lucifer tells him of reality to his advantage. From their dialogue is where many of the flaws and contradictions of Christianity can be realized, and is where more honest and reasonable alternatives are proposed. We hear Christianity defeating itself in the conversations between the most unlikely of biblical heroes; if it weren’t for Cain’s position as other, this shamelessly reasonable rejection of faith would not carry the same resonance.
This is not to say that all in Byron’s approach is without problems. One problems with Christianity stressed here is that the supposed truth and salvation offered to all who seek it, is in fact only available to some. Ignorance is like a privilege from which some are excluded the rights to. While Byron makes a point to tell us this, at the same time his critical position has exclusionary tendencies of it’s own. He makes clarity, freethinking, and unbiased knowledge into something that seems to be available to only to those who seek liberation from this specific form of ideological slavery.
While Byron’s solution may not include the specifics of everyone’s problem, it does work as an example, or a formula that can be applied to the deconstruction of religious logic.
I. Give and Take/Good and Evil
Much of Byron’s poetic discourse works though the duality of interplay between characters and their ideas. Cain’s ‘otherness’ is omnipresent, sometimes mirrored in interactions between characters, two ‘god’ figures, and sometimes between audience and author. Nonetheless, all of this revolves around one main atypical hero. As we revolve, there is a sort of sympathy and admiration from the reader that builds in regard to Cain. The Romantic language accentuates this, and we are meant to sympathize or empathize with Cain in his implied misunderstanding, isolation, and cause that seems lost to everyone but himself. He becomes a romantic figure, who we could call the quintessential “Byronic Hero”.
While this is endearing, the romantic aspect of the character conflicts with the usefulness and intention with his position of difference. It seems to perpetuate the recursive dialogue between Cain and the others. His revelations are often read and written off as mere changes in mood, or newly outspoken confusion that is just characteristic of the tragic hero. While the language of the play does often form the it’s success, this romance and melodrama tend to interfere at times.
No matter, the realizations made to us in dialogue are always framed by this romance, and usually occur in the form of oppositio---both in opposing viewpoints, and the moral opposition Cain experiences. For instance, when Adah encounters Cain and Lucifer at the end of the first act, she sees Lucifer at first as an angel, but then sees the opposite when he begins to the truth. She compares Lucifer to the lying serpent of Eden that caused their grief, and Lucifer turns this on it’s head He explains that this grief is knowledge in itself, and that God has betrayed man by consciously tricking Eve into desiring knowledge, but when this desire is acted upon casts out all humans from the garden in consequence. This is essential truth in Adah’s and her religions own words. Lucifer states that truth by its very essence must be good, and the grief caused by the outcast from Eden is not by essence not good. This dialogue shows us the inherent self-deception that must be practiced in accordance with Christianity. Truth, by logic, is completely cut out from the faith. Original sin is not good, therefore God cannot be all good like he claims.
The notions of knowledge and love are compared when Adah asks Cain to make a choice between them. Love is her, and the belief in God. Knowledge is opposite, or the belief that ‘sin’ cannot be original or inherited, but is instead contingent. Adah argues for love using her lover/sister relationship with Cain. When Lucifer asks if she loves Cain more than their mother and father, she says yes, and asks whether or not that is a sin. It is impossibly difficult for Adah to see her relationship with Cain as immoral or sinful, because it has always been presented to her in the guise of “love”. Lucifer says that their love is not a sin, or at least won’t call it that, but it will be in the children they have. Sin is debunked when Lucifer says that sin cannot be sin in itself, because immoral act is always determined by its circumstance. This thwarts the sense of the concept of being born into sin, which is the foundation of Christianity.
Adah reasons that if she is not born with sin than we are slaves to circumstance. Lucifer clarifies by saying that in choosing faith, they are made slaves through a preference for the “smooth agonies of adulation” over the “independency of torture”. Instead of thinking freely and embracing circumstance, an attempt to manage reality is made by worshiping a God that will somewhere down the line solve all problems. The price of this gain is giving up freedom, and living by an imposed moral code. They are not slaves out of love, as they argue, but because of the fear that God is always watching them.
II. Love of Romance/Desire of Defiance
There is a different ‘other’ relationship between God and Lucifer, with God never having to even make an appearance. Lucifer consistently makes an effort to distinguish himself from God by saying that he is not evil; it is instead the rhetoric, politics, and power of religion that are. He calls himself the ‘other God’, but disassociates from him on the grounds of ways he would exercise his power if it were his own. He doesn’t say it directly, but we know he would never consciously make the choice to tempt who he created into eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, all the while knowing that this would happen, because he is the all-knowing maker. The figure that has been throughout history characterized as pure evil, and in fact stands on higher ethical ground than God himself. He instates these values in Cain with his advice.
Cain is the prototypical tragic hero, and looks good being one. The romance surrounding his character might make us want to imitate him, but that wouldn’t be the best approach to solving the problem at hand. Byron gives us all of the necessary components we need for a tragic ending: Our hero, the advice he needs, the struggle, and what happens to those he struggles with. The breaking point is when Cain kills his brother. In this bible, this is done because Cain envies that Abel is the favorite of God and Abraham, but that is not the motive here. While the act doesn’t really even qualify as murder, but more as unintentional homicide, he is immediately branded with having performed the ultimate of all “Thou Shalt Nots”. The distance that has always been present between Cain and his family becomes a literal divide at this moment. His family disowns him, and the angel of God makes him into a real, social outcast for all eternity.. The appropriate consequence suggested before this decision is that he of course be killed. Cain wishes death upon himself, but is not granted this, and in a way the consequence he is given is worse. In exile, Cain will never be able to share the knowledge that is preached against. This works in God’s favor, and for whatever hidden agenda he’s getting atso we shouldn’t be surprised. If we were follow the noema of Byron’s example, the possibility of social change would be ruled out. Byron can only create more Byrons, and the outcast is not the ideal politician.
III. The Word of Man
The tactics by which “Cain” was written are radical, even to this day. Byron uses the exclusionary language against itself, so essentially one would have to deny the principles of their faith is based upon in order to disagree. Though a subjection to Christian belief is necessary to understand the message, to this specific reader, the message can only be ignored through completely blind faith. Byron exposes Christianity as the rejection of knowledge and truth, with its only real purpose being the relief of the follower from philosophical inquiry. The practice of this faith is in itself ‘bad faith’, in that believing requires one to overlook the contradictions on which the foundation is built. In his efforts, and in outcasting himself from the society of his time, Byron prefaces many radical thinkers to come. He prefaces Fredrich Nietzsche’s idea of ‘slave morality, that would upset the world of philosophy and pave the way for even more later thinkers. He also embodies a range of years in ethical theory in his conclusion that a system of morals cannot be based on a religion, as it must be relative. Byron’s ideas may not have been accepted at the time, but his impact can be seen in it’s effects the philosophical infrastructure of the world we live in.
If we don’t like the myth we’ve been given, “Cain” works as a new one. Nothing has really been changed here. The language of the bible has been consciously preserved, and all of the characters play their original roles, only they have been adapted and arranged in a new way. If we accept that religion, or myth in general is spread by mystified language and coded meaning, we can still build a new religion based upon the same words. We still get the same moral rhetoric, imposed guilt, promotion of ignorance, and objectification of women; the same fallen angel, and the same solitary God figure that refuses to deal with humans directly because we’ve done, or really what he’s made us do. What’s different this time is that there is a much different perspective at work. Instead of Abraham as the one to save all mankind, it is Cain. However, it never seemed to be God’s intention to save humanity, therefore Cain is banished to where he can save no one.
What still needs to be learned can be suggested, but not found here, The proposed goal cannot be fully resolved using this method of ‘other’ language. If exclusionary language is to be the vehicle, what is to be made of this by those who are not well versed in it? The power of this text is its potential for liberation, but this is only available to some readers. We are in a time and place where Byron can be understood, but what he says it is not yet common knowledge, and still has audiences to reach. While brilliantly solid in approach, as long as we desire the liberation of all people from physical and ideological slavery, the approach must be further revised.