Religion and the Rebel, Part 19

Religion and the Rebel, Part 19

In Tanner’s dream, Dona Ana de Ulloa (resembling Ann Whitefield) comes to converse with him, and is soon joined by the Statue from Mozart (symbolizing Ann’s deceased father), and Mendoza as the Devil. In the dream, Tanner is his ancestor, Don Juan. The conversation that ensues, Wilson says, is “the greatest scene in Shaw, and one of the pinnacles of English literature.”1 Dona Ana is under the impression that heaven is a place of happiness. She tells Don Juan, “I am going to heaven for happiness. I have had quite enough of reality on earth”2 To which the Don exclaims:

Then you must stay here; for hell is the home of the unreal and of the seekers for happiness. It is the only refuge from heaven, which is, as I tell you, the home of the masters of reality, and from earth, which is the home of the slaves of reality. The earth is a nursery in which men and women play at being heros and heroines, saints and sinners; but they are dragged down from their fool’s paradise by their bodies: hunger and cold and thirst, age and decay and disease, death above all, make them slaves of reality: thrice a day meals must be eaten and digested: thrice a century a new generation must be engendered: ages of faith, of romance, and of science are all driven at last to have but one prayer, “Make me a healthy animal.” But here you escape the tyranny of the flesh; for here you are not an animal at all: you are a ghost, an appearance, an illusion, a convention, deathless, ageless: in a word, bodiless. There are no social questions here, no political questions, no religious questions, best of all, perhaps, no sanitary questions. Here you call your appearance beauty, your emotions love, your sentiments heroism, your aspirations virtue, just as you did on earth; but here there are no hard facts to contradict you, no ironic contrast of your needs with your pretensions, no human comedy, nothing but a perpetual romance, a universal melodrama. As our German friend put it in his poem, “the poetically nonsensical here is good sense; and the Eternal Feminine draws us ever upward and on”—without getting us a step farther. And yet you want to leave this paradise!3

Again, hell is for Insiders. Outsiders want no part of constantly amusing themselves with all sorts of frivolity, as if one were on a Las Vegas vacation for eternity! It is interesting that Don Juan says, “hell is the home of the unreal.” The Outsider is concerned with real things, but the Insider is not. All that pleases the Insider is the unreality of perpetual frivolous diversion. There are many people we are acquainted with who are like this. They live for fun and parties, using all their free time for amusement. They refuse to pay their bills because it would reduce their funds for such purposes, which they mostly put on charge cards, anyway. They teach their children this to the point where the child is not permitted to be bored at all; if they are, they are given a new video game to play, or taken to the beach, or a ballgame. Yes, eternal enjoyment is the realm of hell.

The Outsiders are the “masters of reality,” whose home is in heaven.  Earth is home to the “slaves of reality.” Don Juan says the “earth is a nursery,” where we “play at being heroes and heroines, saints and sinners.” We are slaves of reality because we merely play at being something when we should be concerned with being what we truly are. Most of us have never discovered our true selves, so we wear a mask, as in Jung’s idea of the persona. Our corporeal bodies drag us down eventually, no matter how fit we might be. Decay and corruption are the inevitable enemies of the earth dweller. But, in hell, the slave of reality can have fun to their heart’s content. No corruption and no decay. An eternity of amusement awaits one there. You are merely a shade, a ghost: deathless, ageless, bodiless. An endless circus, a carnival of shades having the most fun one could ever have, for eternity.

Ana’s reply is: “But if Hell be so beautiful as this, how glorious must heaven be!” Of course she would say that, she is everything Don Juan (Tanner) is running away from.

Obviously, the only one who has a positive idea of heaven is Don Juan. The Statue and the Devil think hell is the greatest! Don Juan replies to Ana’s statement:

In Heaven, as I picture it, dear lady, you live and work instead of playing and pretending. You face things as they are; you escape nothing but glamor; and your steadfastness and your peril are your glory. If the play still goes on here and on earth, and all the world is a stage, Heaven is at least behind the scenes. But Heaven cannot be described by metaphor. Thither I shall go presently, because there I hope to escape at last from lies and from the tedious, vulgar pursuit of happiness, to spend my eons in contemplation–4

This is the Outsider’s idea of heaven is there ever was one.

To this, the Statue exclaims, “Ugh!”

To which Don Juan eloquently replies,

Senor Commander: I do not blame your disgust: a picture gallery is a dull place for a blind man. But even as you enjoy the contemplation of such romantic mirages as beauty and pleasure; so would I enjoy the contemplation of that which interests me above all things namely, Life: the force that ever strives to attain greater power of contemplating itself. What made this brain of mine, do you think? Not the need to move my limbs; for a rat with half my brains moves as well as I. Not merely the need to do, but the need to know what I do, lest in my blind efforts to live I should be slaying myself.

Now, we move into the realm of Nietzsche and his idea of the Ubermensch, the Superman. The life-force the Don mentions is nothing else but the Will to Power, the ever-striving force of life to attain greater consciousness. Wilson says, “The Aim of life is to understand itself.”5 

Shaw felt obscurely that man is on the threshold of a higher form of life; either that, or the Life Force may scrap him and try something new. He was right, but not wholly: man is always on the brink of a higher form of life when a civilisation reaches its stage of decline. The decline is a challenge to raise the standard of conscious life; otherwise it must smash.6

Shaw wrote this play in 1903, well before Jean Gebser’s publication of The Ever-Present Origin in 1949, but yet he is basically saying the same thing. Gebser wrote about the deficient mental-rational structure of consciousness eventually either giving way to the more advanced integral structure, or the destruction of mankind. This places Shaw in the category of a prophet. But, as we learned earlier, the Outsider usually is a prophet, as Blake was, as Nietzsche was, and as Gebser was.

Colin Wilson makes a very powerful statement that, in my opinion, rings true, and is in agreement with Gebser:

Man evolved from the ape by developing a religious consciousness. He then evolved from the mere superstitious tribesmen by developing his reasoning power. Before he can develop to a still higher stage, he must restore the religious consciousness: nothing else will hold society together.7

The play ends when Tanner  awakens and discovers the brigands being rounded up by the police. He helps them out by telling the police they are his escorts. He ends up marrying Ann, after all. The play is a comedy, you know.



Shaw, George Bernard. Man and Superman. Project Gutenberg: March 21, 2006 [EBook #3328].

Wilson, Colin. Religion and the Rebel. Houghton-Mifflin: Boston, 1957.

  1. Religion and the Rebel, 262
  2. Man and Superman, Act III
  3. ibid.
  4. ibid.
  5. Religion and the Rebel, 263
  6. ibid.
  7. Religion and the Rebel, 263-264

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