Franco Ferrucci The Life of God as Told by Himself 1996

Franco Ferrucci is a literary critic from Italy whose previous published work has focused on Dante. The Life of God (as Told by Himself) is offered as autobiography, told throughout from God's first-person point of view. From the outset, the story follows a biblical sequence that is blended with evolutionary spans of time. But given that the genesis of the cosmos is told here with an eye to God's own consciousness of these events, some imaginative liberties are taken. In Ferrucci's account, God is aware of a moment when he (yes, God is gendered - in the work of all three of these novelists) first became aware of himself, wrapped in darkness and nothingness, suspended in absolute emptiness. It was in that moment of awareness that the cosmos was born, following from God's "impulse to go out and look for company." Retrospectively aware of all the stories that are told by human beings about the originary causes of the world, that is, divine incest, warrior Titans, parricide, etc., this God explains creation as a simple matter of his desire to alleviate his profound loneliness:

I cannot say how long I wandered aimlessly through the dark night of time. ... I walked for miles and miles, stumbling in the dark, trembling with loneliness; then I finally stood still in the vast blackness and let out a cry. I saw that cry rise like an arrow, reaching the center of the heavens and exploding into fragments that became stars. Where my cry had fallen stood a solitary, burning ball.14

This burning ball, as it turns out, is our sun. Its appearance was initially satisfying to God, but with nothing to see in the light, its illumination simply reveals a great expanse of monotonous nothingness. So, God tried to put the light out, but discovered that he couldn't. "It was then that I realized, for the first time, that I could not undo what I had done. Once I created something, I could not destroy it. The sun was up there forever, or until its own natural death. I could not play around with the created world, and make and unmake as I pleased." Ferrucci's God, it turns out, does not have unlimited powers. Once a creature is made and set in place, it has autonomy, living out a course intrinsic to its nature and free from divine intervention. Early on, God notices, "Whenever I create something, it goes on reproducing, like... a series of messengers rushing off to plant the seeds of my inventions."15 This efflorescence of creation occurs outside of God's control, and, unless he is on the spot to observe it, it is even outside of God's knowledge. As well as not being omnipotent, this God is neither omniscient nor omnipresent. Ferrucci's God is finite - not as finite as you or I, but he must learn to cope with an amplified sort of finitude.

Prehistory continues for a long stretch of time in this cosmos. God descends on the earth in the form of rain and seeds the planet with "willow wisdom, magnolia wisdom, pine wisdom," etc., but learns that the plants, while they diminish his boredom, do little to alleviate his loneliness. To address both of these needs, he creates, in true evolutionary sequence, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. But his loneliness is unabated. It gradually dawns on God that what he really desires is to have a counterpart consciousness in his cosmos. "I wanted life to meditate upon itself so as to better comprehend itself," he realized. This very thought gave rise to mammals, and the mammal potency multiplied so that there were new arrivals all the time - bears, monkeys, elephants. God became fascinated with their brains. "What a toy the brain became for me: It was patched together, poorly proportioned, and cluttered with gadgets, but I positively fell in love with it. ... I tinkered with it for millennia in every mammal I could get hold of."16 As members of the mammal kingdom sensed this attention, they began to assert themselves - "Even though they didn't know who I was and never talked to me, they understood that I was not fully satisfied with them."17 They evolved in an effort to please God.

Then, quite by chance one day, God noticed a falcon dive upon a tiny bird and crush its life with its talons. With this it dawned on God that violence transpired at every level of life, that it was part of the nature of things. "Before me was a world that devoured itself incessantly and managed its own transformations without asking me for comment or advice. The theater of hunt and war was everywhere. ... From what bad moments of mine had all this come out?... [These creatures] were part of me! I was startled at the revelation."18

While it was clear that the violence could neither be undone nor ended, this shock gave rise to a new thought, which was the cultivation of a new animal, "a comely, thoughtful animal: a friend of creation, without violent and mechanical appetites,"19 an animal "that could remedy the mistakes I had made in constructing the world."20 By this point in time, God's powers of creation had so dissipated that he could no longer create beings from scratch, he could only modify what already existed. So he went to work on the monkey, the only creature who ever seemed to remember him between visits, dedicating himself to the education of one little monkey. God is honest that it was his own enduring loneliness that prompted this choice of the one animal who offered what he took as affection. "I concede that God should not have such a profound need for affection that he immediately trusts whoever compliments him. But it is not his fault that he was born an orphan, that he spent his childhood alone and starved for affection."21

Thousands of years later, we find God hunkered down with Moses at Mt Sinai. But just as he began composing the Ten Commandments, God experienced a spell of writer's block, was distracted by the massacre that followed the festival of the golden calf, a bloodletting that we learn was entirely Moses' doing, and withdrew for several weeks into the desert. When God returned a few weeks later, Moses was still busy elaborating laws for Israel. Moses was furious and complained that God had left him with the hard work of persuading a stiff-necked people to accept the laws he had been feverishly etching into stone while God was off cavorting in the desert. In what quickly develops into a Grand Inquisitor moment, God replies,

"You have forgotten the important things that I had to say and have lost yourself in an infinity of details, some of them totally alien to my teachings. I'm not at all happy with you, Moses."

Moses replies: "I know you are dissatisfied. When it comes to that, so am I. I had expected a God better equipped to give orders and assume command. Instead, I'm the one who must do all this. Just ask yourself if it could have been easy to dictate this rule: 'Do not pronounce a sentence in a quarrel in order to favor the powerful; but do not respect the poor man in his quarrel.' How about it? Where were you when I wrote these lines? Who was there, fighting with both rich and poor?"

"There should be neither rich nor poor," I retorted sharply. Moses looked at me flabbergasted.

"What's that supposed to mean? There should be neither rich nor poor indeed! You're forgetting the obvious. Some God you are, with your head in the clouds, remembering now and then to return to earth and criticize your prophet. You forget that the poor exist! It's not a matter of discussing whether they should or not, but trying to see what can be done to stop them from becoming beasts and starving to death. Therefore it is necessary to put them to death if they couple with animals, but they must be helped to survive hunger and cold."22

In God's estimation, Moses was alienating people from their freedom. "It is not true that I want to destroy the iniquitous," God said to him. "I don't even know who the iniquitous are."23 But in Moses' estimation, God hadn't a clue about what it is that human beings really need. And 1,200 years later, God still didn't, only it is Jesus who upbraids him this time. Jesus, in Ferrucci's world, is God's natural son - as God in spiritual form had made love to his mother before she married an old carpenter. Following their tryst, God disappeared, then returned 30 years later as one of a band of peripatetic Athenian philosophers to check up on this son he'd heard of through rumors. Listening to Jesus preach for the first time, God was filled with happiness, and he remarked that he had never heard "anything so beautiful and so convincing before."24 "I realized that I wanted to believe in the Christ, I the atheistic God."25 It was God in the guise of a Greek philosopher, it turns out, who rented the room in which the Last Supper occurred, and in the hours before the meal, God and Jesus had a frank conversation. Once again, God played the freedom card and tried to persuade his beloved son Jesus to avoid the cross. But Jesus replied,

"Men are not free, and I must always take this into account. Do you know this, Father? Do you know that they will do nothing unless they become convinced that they must worship someone or something; I will have to get them to crucify me so as to be remembered. I could very well avoid it, but I have no choice if I want to save at least a part of what I have preached. And I began to lie a long time ago. I know very well that neither hells nor paradises exist, but... I have no other way to make them better."26

There are unmistakable traces here from Dostoevsky's poem of the Grand Inquisitor. But, ironically, Jesus is in the role of the jaded Grand Inquisitor. Jesus knowingly heads to the cross in order to give birth to a cult that will keep his memory alive. He is convinced that people are capable only of small doses of freedom, and that they will seize even those only in conjunction with a deity who commands it.

For the next 2,000 years, Ferrucci's God moves around in persons with whom he has temporarily merged, sometimes as a passenger in their consciousness, sometimes allowing his divinity to slumber so deeply that he loses himself in their identity altogether. He appears as a vintner in Cordova, a slave in a brothel, a spider in St Augustine's mind, a banker, a serial killer, a drunk, and as Einstein's best friend and only real conversation partner. In this manner, God travels through human history "assuming one incarnation after another,"27 but capable of being in only one place at a time.

Through his parade of guises God gradually comes to greater self-understanding. He knows from the beginning that he is not omniscient or omnipotent, and he freely admits that the evil in the world is due to his own lack of skill and foresight. What is noteworthy, however, in appreciating Ferrucci's characterization of God as a way of symbolizing late modern Western culture, is his account of God's own purpose for willing humanity into being. Yes, we exist to relieve God's loneliness, and yes, we exist to remedy some of the mistakes he had made in constructing the world - but primarily we exist to explain God to himself. We are independent consciousnesses who can tell this primordial Orphan who he is. At about the time he was in a crowd of people listening to the Gnostics and Manicheans, God complained: "I was waiting for them to become clever enough to explain to me who I was and why I was carrying on in such an unseemly manner. I did not receive the help I needed, and so I floundered, forced to incarnate myself in order to become visible to myself and others. Through the human mind I formulated extravagant hypotheses about myself .. ."28

The whole cosmos exists, in other words, for the purpose of God's self-exploration. In one telling outburst, God confronts Thomas Aquinas at the moment when Thomas is deep in prayer meditating on his recently drafted proofs for the existence of God. The confrontation, which Thomas retrospectively describes as a beatific vision, is described by God thus: "What are you talking about? There is no final cause! I have no intention of taking all of you anywhere. I expect you to help me understand where I come from and where I am going."29 Furthermore, the cosmos exists so that this orphan deity can chase after love. God, we're told through another of his incarnations (this time as the illegitimate son of an aristocratic mother in the years of the French Revolution), is "a bastard! God himself is a bastard, excessively so. He comes from nowhere, he does not know his parents, he has all the qualities and defects of the self-made person. He must be rather like myself, I mused; trusting, sincere, never satisfied with himself, never keeping quiet, always running after love."30 This exercise in autobiography, this Book of Ferrucci, is God's report to us that the whole sweep of creation has one sole purpose -divine therapeutic self-discovery.31

And how does this story end? With God packing his bags, preparing to leave our solar system, aware that he has made a mess of things in this round of creation, and setting out for a new planet to bring to life.

"I asked myself why I wanted to leave, and I found the answer. I already knew that my world was an imperfect work, a sort of sketch that needed a good deal more work. I had finally come to accept that this revision could not be made on this planet, and with these inhabitants. What I had created could deteriorate but could not be erased or adjusted; the mess we had arrived at was by now overwhelming. I had reached the end of my attempts to use humankind to improve my creation. They could only help me to leave."32

In this swan song are echoes of the images of God found in FightClub, in Tori Amos's lyrics, and in Phil the lubricant salesman's dream: The twentieth century finds God putting out the lights, and Ferrucci suggests that an honest assessment of Western culture will confirm this. We are being "obedient to the signal," he suggests, "given how we've virtually stopped creating and feed almost entirely on the past."33

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