England was a dystopia in the 1600’s. There was plague slithering around devouring people, malnutrition encircled people’s bellies, unemployment drained families, and famine strangled the people… England was suffering, so losing faith in a higher being was something that spread throughout the towns. People assign a higher being with the responsibility of maintaining their well-being and happiness, and providing them with paradise. However, when the people are not doing well, are unhappy, and are living in hell, this supreme being becomes a question mark. In this suffering world is John Milton, who is enclosed in this dark world. Humanity is enduring a dark period, but Milton is permanently facing darkness because of the loss of his eyesight. The darkness that plagued Milton provoked Milton to write Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained in 1667. This epic poem causes readers to question a higher being. It also gives a face to a higher being. But, it is not the face we expect to be worn by a divine and perfect God. To Milton, if a God exists, then he/she must be devilish for allowing famine, disease, unemployment, adversity, blindness… This idea leads to Milton painting his God negatively, as a villainous God. Milton’s monstrous portrayal of his supreme being is corroborated by his negation of the traditional image of God and through the humanization of the ultimate symbol of evil.
One of the largest components of the Christian faith is forgiveness, which means that God is supposed to be forgiving, but in Paradise Lost, God is actually incredibly resentful and merciless. For everyone who has wronged him or challenged his supreme role, he tortures them. Even if it is a small mistake, the force challenging him is still going to endure revenge, for he does not believe in second chances or mistakes, even though he makes them all the time. Throughout the book he is seeking revenge on Satan, who was his best angel but is banished from heaven after he becomes thirsty for knowledge and begins to question his supreme ruler. Hell is created just for Satan for being disobedient in heaven.
Hell is where Satan is supposed to live for eternity. It is described as “A dungeon horrible, on all sides round, as one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames. No light; but rather darkness visible served only to discover sights of woe, regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace and rest can never dwell, hope never comes. That comes to all, but torture without end. Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed with ever-burning sulphur unconsumed. Such place Eternal Justice has prepared for those rebellious; here their prison ordained. In utter darkness, and their portion set, as far removed from God and light of Heaven as from the centre thrice to th’ utmost pole. Oh how unlike the place from whence they fell!” (1.61-75). This quote from the text paints gloomy terror for the readers. Through Satan’s point of view, the readers get a disturbing description of the torture Satan endures for punishment for being rebellious. It is dark and dreadful, and Satan and his followers will constantly be burned by the fire making it an eternal torture chamber. This place is daunting and inhumane, no one should have to live in this place, and Satan has to live in it for eternity since he never dies. This also makes immortality a punishment created by God. This scene also shows the torture and grotesque creations God is capable of for those who upset him. Satan was God’s favorite angel, he loved him dearly. But, because Satan disobeyed him, he punishes him. It was his first offense, but God immediately chooses to eject Satan from heaven and send him to the fiery lake for eternity. And, no matter what Satan does he can never get back into heaven because God does not forgive people no matter what.
He is portrayed as so punitive that he even destroys his own children. Satan was his favorite angel, but he is not his child, and he may not even be a creation of his, but an action that shows how punitive God is, is when he destroys Adam and Eve after their tiny mistake of eating off of a forbidden tree. Instead of a small punishment, he ejects them from their heaven, their home which is Eden. The scene is devastating, for it shows Adam and Eve “looking back, all the eastern side beheld. Of Paradise, so late their happy seat, waved over by that flaming brand, the gate. With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms: Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon; The world was all before them, where to choose. Their place of rest, and Providence their guide; They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, through Eden took their solitary way”. (12.641-649). Because they ate off of the tree of knowledge, they are stripped from their home, the only place they know. They were willing to take any punishment, they just wanted to keep their home that they’ve grown to know and love. But, of course God takes it away from them. Even worse, he has them escorted away with his sword and sets fire to Eden. He completely destroys it, he is a creator and a destroyer. But, he enjoys destroying things more than he does creating them. Even worse, he dooms them and all of their future offspring, all of humanity. No matter how much one prays, begs for forgiveness, or tries to fix things they will never be forgiven by God because he is merciless and does not believe in second chances, no matter how small the offense.
Moreover, because Milton’s God is incredibly resentful he is also very sadistic. This is completely opposite from the known image of God, which is a compassionate being. Milton’s God likes to tease and haunt people as a hobby, even if they have done nothing disobedient. He loves setting other characters up to fail. He is omniscient, meaning he knows everything from the past, present, and future, but he likes to pretend that he isn’t to set other characters up and let taunting situations play out for his amusement. He knows people against him will never win because of his power and omniscience, but he allows them to believe so, which is very sadistic.
During the war between Heaven and Hell, God even says “Since Michael and his Powers went forth to tame these disobedient; sore hath been thir fight, as likeliest was, when two such Foes met arm’d; for to themselves I left them, and thou knowst, equal in thir Creation they were form’d. Save what sin hath impaird, which yet hath wrought insensibly, for I suspend thir doom. Whence in perpetual fight they needs must last endless, and no solution will be found…Two dayes are therefore past, the third is thine; for thee I have ordain’d it.” (6.686-699). He says he allows the fight to happen, because if he wanted to stop it he could have. He even has a punishment planned for them already since he is so malicious. He sends Michael and Gabriel to fight against Satan and his fallen angels, and it is an unfair right. Michael and the angels of heaven have an incomparable upper-hand, for they have incredible strength and powerful weapons. Michael even slices Satan in half almost with his sword it is so powerful. But he lets it go on for a few days just to see Satan devoured by the obedient angels’ weapons and strength. It is entertaining for him to see Satan in pain and losing against him, so he watches it and lets it go on for days. Satan and his angels were losing, as God knows will happen, yet they still continue to fight. They can fight for eternity because they never die. God knows Satan and his angels won’t ever win against him, but he lets them fight anyways. God is mocking Satan’s compassion and cause.
The ultimate torture though, and the most heinous form of torture, is what he does to Satan and his followers after the fall in Eden occurs. Satan returns to Hell telling the tale of how his mission is successful, then everyone’s world takes a turn when they are surprised with snakes. However, they become the snakes. Just to torture them all, God turns all of the fallen angels into snakes who hiss non-stop. Their transformation into serpents is described as: “He would have spoke, but hiss for hiss returned with forked tongue. To forked tongue, for now were all transformed Alike, to serpents all as accessories. To his bold riot: dreadful was the din. Of hissing through the hall.” (10. 517-522). This scene is haunting. All of the fallen angels are turned into serpents since Satan went into Eden disguised as a serpent. They slither around all day hissing, and it occurs frequently. The exact amount of time is unknown, but it is torture they will endure for eternity. God even goes so far as to place a fruit tree in hell. From all of the hissing, the angels of hell are thirsty and desperate for nourishment. But, once they get the fruit, they turn to ashes. God is constantly reminding them of the finer things they will never be able to enjoy in hell. The fallen angels were not the ones who tempted Eve, yet God tortures them too. Being confined to hell wasn’t enough torture for Satan and his followers, God had to take it over the edge, and that is simply because he finds pleasure in inflicting pain.
Through his God’s leadership skills, one can see that God is more like a dictator than the biblical description of him as a fatherly figure. He does not believe in equality. He likes having total control. He has total control over all of his angels and creations. He is also incredibly strict. He prohibits gaining knowledge because he wants no one smarter than him, and he does not anyone with knowledge to question his ways or try to take over his reign. Everyone around him is a servant of his. In heaven, his angels are his servants and are very obedient. Heaven is supposed to be this desirable place where people want to spend eternity after they pass, but Milton makes it miserable and bleak in the epic. Heaven is described as a miserable warzone where the angels are servants of God. Heaven is not described as this perfect place full of light and harmony. Satan even unveils this exclusive place for the readers when he is going to hell. He is okay with going to this torture chamber created for him because Heaven is not a heavenly place.
Satan says “To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, then serve in heaven… In this unhappy Mansion, or once more with rallied Arms to try what may be yet. Regaind in Heav’n, or what more lost in Hell?” (1.262.270) This snippet from Satan’s dialogue in book one shows that heaven is a terrible place. He is happily choosing to go to hell because he equates its condition to heaven’s. He even thinks hell might be even better, because the one difference between the two torturous places is that in hell he can be a leader instead of spending eternity in heaven as a servant to God. Heaven is just like hell according to Satan. God’s kingdom is run poorly and oppressively. The angels sing and worship god all day, there’s soldiers for war, and everyone is a servant. No one is even allowed the freedom of their own mind it is such a controlling kingdom. This is part of what gets Satan ejected, but he finds a home in hell because he was suffering and miserable in heaven. God’s kingdom exemplifies how he is not a fatherly figure; he is a self-motivated dictator. There is no religious freedom, political freedom, or any freedom at all and that is because God is a dictator.
Even with his own children (Adam and Jesus) he is not fatherly figure, he is a brutal dictator. If you look at his fatherly role as solely a father to his children, you can see that he still is like a ruler instead of a father. He even treats them like servants because they work in the garden all day for him. Instead of exemplifying tough love, he is simply abusive. Fathers are supposed to take care of their children and to keep them out of trouble, yet God places the trouble right in front of Adam and Eve and leaves them ignorant and alone to try to survive. Then, when his Adam makes a mistake, he is angered. He says “So will fall. He and his faithless progeny. Whose fault? Whose but his own? Ingrate! He had of Me. All he could have; I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.” (3. 95-99). Not only does he completely blame Adam for a future event Adam knows nothing about yet, he does not acknowledge that he could have been a better father and kept them from failing. That is because he is a terrible father and reacts impulsively and selfishly.
He even calls Adam an ingrate in this passage, which can mean multiple things, but they are all demeaning terms that a loving father would not call his son. An ingrate could mean someone who is ungrateful, which Adam is not for his failure, because he was never properly taught or raised. A worse form of the word ingrate is a lowly person who is uneducated. Adam can be classified as uneducated, because his father, God, never educated him or gave him the tools to become educated. But, through this dialogue from God, one can see how brutal God is as a father. He is not the fatherly figure the bible portrays at all. Milton portrays his god as a despicable father to further contribute to his villainy. Instead of tough love, his relationship with his children and the angels is abusive, egocentric, and traumatizing. By characterizing him as an incredibly horrible and dangerous father and ruler, Milton is able to validate his God as an evil being. Milton depicts his god as not a leader or a father, but a dictator. He is a controlling, self-serving, and oppressive superior, and his unjust form of leadership aids Milton in contributing to his idea that his god is a degenerate.
Part of the reason Milton’s God lacks the fatherly figure characteristic and the ability to be a good leader is because he is so egocentric. God is typically depicted as being selfless and sacrificial, but Milton’s is self-seeking. Every creation and action is put into a scenario by God for his own benefit. He makes himself seem selfless by sacrificing his own son to go to Earth and be crucified to save humanity, yet he never considers himself. His son is nailed to a crucifix and dies for humanity’s sin in order to save the human race. His son Jesus is so submissive, devoted, and loyal to him that he takes advantage of it to save himself.
Jesus volunteers as tribute when he says “Behold mee then, mee for him, life for life. I offer, on mee let thine anger fall; Account mee man; I for his sake will leave thy bosom, and this glorie next to thee. Freely put off, and for him lastly dye. Well pleas’d, on me let Death wreck all his rage; under his gloomie power I shall not long lie vanquisht; thou hast givn me to possess. Life in myself forever, by thee I live, though now to death I yield, and am his due. All that of me can die, yet that debt paid, Thou wilt not leave me in the loathsom grave.” (3.236-247). In book three Jesus sacrifices himself after no other angel in Heaven volunteers to be ransom for mankind. By this quote, you can tell that Jesus is devoted enough to God to complete the duty, but he does not really want to. And, he knows God does not care about anyone but himself and disposes of his creations, so he wants him to promise he will not abandon him to die. His most submissive follower is evening questioning his father’s selflessness.
It’s like Jesus had no choice but to sacrifice, and the sacrifice did not really need to be made if God decided to cancel the doom he imposed. Even if God did not want to sacrifice himself, he has the power to completely stop his human project yet he never tries to do so. He could have stopped his son from sacrificing himself, but he does not because he does nt care. He is immortal, powerful, and omniscient yet he does not want to make the sacrifice, yet he allows someone weaker than him, his own creation, to do it. God uses his son Jesus as an agent throughout the entire epic. Not only does Jesus sacrifice for his father, he also goes into battle against Satan while his father stays home and watches it unravel. He even does the tough and exhausting seven-day job of creation. Instead of bothering to do it himself, he has his son complete it for him. He has his son do all of his undesirable or difficult tasks. Milton shows that sacrificing his own son is not a form of selflessness, but selfishness.
To even further his God’s villainy, Milton makes his Satan even more ideal and likable than his god. This is what makes Paradise Lost unique, Milton’s portrayal of the ultimate symbol of evil. Satan has been characterized as evil and disgusting for centuries, but how Milton opposes God to the standard image people perceive him as, he does the same with Satan. Satan is given a voice, a point of view, emotions, a life… One of the biggest scenes in Paradise Lost that humanizes Satan is in the battle with God’s angels. He is shown in excruciating pain. The scene is dreadfully described as “Of Michael from the Armorie of God. Was giv’n him temperd so, that neither keen. Nor solid might resist that edge: it met. The sword of Satan with steep force to smite. Descending, and in half cut sheere, nor staid, but with swift wheele reverse, deep entring shar’d. All his right side; then Satan first knew pain, and writh’ d him to and fro convolv’d; so sore… A stream of Nectarous humor issuing flow’d Sanguin, such as Celestial Spirits may bleed. And all his Armour staind ere while so bright… There they him laid. Gnashing for anguish and despite and shame. To find himself not matchless, and his pride. Humbl’d by such rebuke (6.321-341). He is almost sawed in half, and even though he cannot die he can feel the pain. Readers end up sympathizing with Satan and understanding his actions and his character, even more than they do God’s character. Not only do readers begin to sympathize with Satan, they begin to admire him for his perseverance and passion.
Even though he is damaged, he does not mope or give up after obtaining his wound, he comes back to battle the next day fully recovered and with new weapons that threaten heaven’s win. And, it makes the readers think, if Satan is this consistent about fighting for his cause, then he must have really been tortured by God, thus calling into question the virtue of God. Maybe Satan is not the bad guy, and God is. That is what Milton is saying. Milton purposely sketches a humanized Satan, for it contributes to the heinous God he is creating. Humanizing Satan pits Satan against Milton’s God, and then when one sees the soft and human side of Satan it causes them to further see the villainy of Milton’s God. By making this fallen, rebellious, angel have human qualities it allows readers to separate human and humane qualities from God and further perceive him as a villain as Milton intended.
Through the humanization of the supreme evil being and by plaguing his god with the antonyms of the bible’s ideal god, Milton is able to successfully paint a villainous god for the readers. These elements and characteristics Milton incorporates into his story legitimizes his idea that his God is inhumane. Because of the situation of England during the publication of the book and because of Milton’s personal battle, becoming blind, it is apparent that this epic was fueled by Milton’s own battle with religion. This epic does not justify the ways of God like it is commonly believed, it is actually an act of disobedience against God. He is critiquing God, and he is also putting the blame on God. He is blaming his God for all of the sorrow of humanity and for taking his eyes away from him. Because his views of God have switched from a form of justification to a form of injustice, he writes a work that paints his new idea of God. After becoming blind, his God becomes a villain. Instead of being compassionate, forgiving, and sacrificial, his God turns out to be sadistic, merciless, egocentric, and a dictator. The epic can be categorized as irreligious due to its villainizing of the supreme being.