In the foreword of Karl Marx’s Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, there is noticeable attention paid to the myth of Prometheus, which he seems to view as the champion and affirmation of the virtue of philosophy. He makes reference to the philosopher Epicurus as echoing the cry of philosophy against its adversaries through the following quotation from his letter to Menoeceus:
“Not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them, is truly impious.”
Now it is worth noting that, in the actual letter, the context of that statement is negative. Epicurus considered the affirmation to be a literal blasphemy, because in his words “the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but false assumptions”.
There is a version of that quote that reads a little differently, found in Karl Marx’s Social and Political Thought: Critical Assessments by Robert Jessop, as well as Activity in Marx’s Philosophy by Norman D. Livergood, and it reads like this:
“The blasphemous is not he who scorns the gods of the masses, but he who adheres to the idea that the masses create the gods.”
And truly this would be blasphemy indeed for the classically religious person. After all, this brings the level of the gods, God, and divinity in general down to the domain of Man, and in so doing binds them to the earthly realm, to worldliness. This would be impermissible for most religious/spiritual systems. But, it is in part that quality that makes such an idea truly revolutionary in the context of the ancient world, and perhaps still so in the modern day.
It is also from the foreword of Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature that we derive a very peculiar quote, one that I find should appeal to those who seek to uphold the Promethean ideal:
“Prometheus is the most eminent saint and martyr in the philosophical calendar.”
In Marx’s canon, Prometheus is the mythological and heroic champion of philosophy, and through whom philosophy rebukes the clemency of the gods in his response to Hermes:
Be sure of this, I would not change my state
Of evil fortune for your servitude.
Better to be the servant of this rock
Than to be faithful boy to Father Zeus.
This quotation is in many ways the ancestor of that famous speech given by Satan in Paradise Lost, in which he proclaims, rightfully, that it is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. When Hermes, a servant of Zeus, approaches Prometheus, he attempts to scare Prometheus into telling him what he knows about the eventual destroyer of Zeus, as this is one condition for Zeus to release him from his bondage to the Caucasus. Prometheus refuses to comply, and asserts that he would prefer to remain in his state of punishment and suffering then to serve as the lackey of the gods. This is how one can make sense of the Promethean interpretation of the character of Satan in Paradise Lost, assuming of course that John Milton was familiar with the story of Prometheus.
For Marx to cite him as the foremost saint of the philosophical calendar suggests that the spirit of Prometheus is very much intended to manifest in much of his worldview, and for him at least the practice of philosophy. Or, more pertinently, that the emancipatory spirit of Prometheus reminded Marx of his own overriding ideal of collective emancipation (Prometheus being the emancipator of humanity by stealing the fires of knowledge, with Marx’s .
Now, in Jessop’s book, We get an interesting analysis of the way Marx addressed the Promethean themes invoked in the foreword of Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. First we address the analysis of the quotation of Epicurus.
“True blasphemy is not contempt for the gods but advocacy of the idea that the gods are human creations, detached ideas, become independent in the mind. Philosophy or secular self-consciousness, in other words, does not reject ‘gods’, a metaphor for ideas, but sees them as reflections of man’s own self-consciousness; i.e. gods, like ideas, are products of human self-consciousness and not the absolutes of theology.”
Theistic religions, from pre-Christian religions to Christianity to Islam to Hinduism, have traditionally held their gods in absolute, being tangible beings with tangible power, through the tremendous power they were held to have over natural and spiritual forces that directly affect the survival of humans. Framed this way, however, the gods are presented as the emanations of human consciousness, from there perhaps dependent upon it. Perhaps this is not too far away from the way that the naturalists of old viewed the gods, such as Prodicus of Ceos who regarded the gods as reflections of the natural forces that provided comfort to mankind, though perhaps it could also be taken in another way.
Continuing from there:
“The point is even more clearly established by Marx when he makes ‘the confession of Prometheus: “In simple words, I hate the pack of gods”‘, into philosophy’s own self-declaration; i.e, there will be no gods other than profane ‘human self-consciousness’. The same point is made in a footnote to the Appendix of his dissertation, where he presents the ontological proof of the existence of god as being in fact a proof of the ‘existence of essential human self-consciousness’. If the ontological proof states that the concept of a thing begs a corresponding reality, then, ‘which being’ Marx asks ‘is immediate when made the subject of thought?’. The answer he asserts is ‘self-consciousness’ – not the concept of self-consciousness but real, existing self-consciousness, the immediate source of all concepts, and the subject matter of the thesis.”
To say that there will be no gods other than human self-consciousness ties in rather nicely with the statement that it is the masses that create the gods, that they are the products of consciousness. For in much the same way, to declare human self-consciousness as the realm of the divine brings the divine into the world realm and through which, crucially, into the domain of Man.
This ethos permeates what Jessop identifies much further on:
The Foreword ends with the statement: “Prometheus is the most eminent saint and martyr in the philosophical calendar.”. In other words, philosophy, as human self-consciousness, finds its symbol in Prometheus, who brought the secret of fire to man from the gods so that man might develop his own arts and remove himself from subordination to the gods. Like Prometheus, philosophy must end the separation of the sacred from the secular, it must bring ideas down from the heavens and make them the content of real human consciousness.
It is from here that I get to my main point. The true ideal at the heart of the Promethean (and from there Luciferian) archetype is the idea of the abolition of the separation between Man and the divine, from there emancipating the whole of mankind.
In that sense, I’ve also begun to consider this in relation to even Jesus and Christianity. No, Prometheus is not an analogue of Jesus Christ. I covered this in a separate blog post in February 2017 (though, having said that, the satirist Lucian of Samosata apparently related Prometheus’ punishment in terms of Jesus’ crucifixion, and ironically there may be considerable similarities between Jesus and Heracles, the rescuer of Prometheus). But there is something the two figures have in common worth noting: theoretically, at least, Jesus through his death and resurrection was supposed to abolish Man’s separation with the divine.
In this sense, the real problem with Christianity is that it never in its thousand year plus reign truly achieved the abolition of that separation between Man and God. How could it, with its embrace of the rigid hierarchy of the great chain of being? Though I suppose it does not help things that the ideal of Christianity . There’s a profound sense of cuckoldery within the Christian religion. In Jesus you have a potentially emancipatory figure, potentially even the means by which God becomes accessible and tangible to mankind (whereas, in Judaism, he could only ever be so close, indeed his very being blinds and burns whose who lay sight upon it), and even then Jesus’ salvation can only really be a thing within the very same hierarchy within which, in Judaism, God is ever so inaccessible. Indeed, despite Jesus’ best efforts, the Christian conceptions of hierarchy served only to further or sustain Man’s partition with the divine. Not to mention, have we not forgotten when Jesus said “think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets”, referring to the Judaic law of the Old Testament, “I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill”, very clearly stating that, as much as he may have established the bridge between the divine and man, he still upholds Judaic law, and from there the spirit of the hierarchy of the intangible and the tyrannical authority of the Abrahamic Logos, and very much to the letter as he says “not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished”.
The Luciferian, therefore, seeks to emancipate Man in a way that Christianity could not. His goal is to work towards ending the separation between the divine and Man, to liberate the soul from ignorance and bondage, and to generate freedom for all sentient beings. In so doing, the Luciferian rejects the order of the God of Abraham as a condition for Man’s freedom, whereas Jesus sought to uphold it. The Luciferian, in seeking to carry the mission of Prometheus, places the divine in the locus of Man, for man is the object of Luciferian liberation.