Vol 1, Num 3 :: 2002.10.11 — 2002.10.24
Analysis of the novel
The novel, Demian, by Hermann Hesse is not written from a Christian perspective. Rather, it details the intricate path of searching and “self-enlightenment” through an occult. There are many examples of blasphemous excerpts from the book, which question the Bible’s truth and God’s power. From the very beginning, the main character Emil Sinclair recognizes two distinct worlds, the good and the bad. He finds that he does not completely fit into either.
Max Demian is the first to contribute to Sinclair’s uncertainty about religion. He speaks of his theory of Cain’s mark being one of superior distinction:
It is much more likely that he struck people as faintly sinister, perhaps a little more intellect and boldness in his look than people were used to. This man was powerful: you would approach him only with awe, People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest (24).
Demian goes on to suggest that Cain’s stigma perpetuated the myth of the evil mark. Sinclair begins to idolize Demian as a hero of intelligence and power. Demian is spiritual, but is not a follower of traditional religion. Sinclair realizes when he briefly returns to his “former, Edenic world [that] this was not Demian’s world, and he would never have been able to fit into it. He too was a tempter, he, too, was a link to the second, the evil world” (37). Demian is openly critical of Christianity and the Bible. He even questions the foundation of God’s promises, the crucifixion:
There’s something about it that doesn’t taste right. I mean the business with the two thieves—now comes this sentimental little treatise about the good thief. At first he was a thorough scoundrel, had committed all those awful things and God knows what else, and now he dissolves in tears and celebrates such a tearful feast of self-improvement and remorse!…Once again it’s nothing but a priest’s fairy tale, saccharine and dishonest, touched up with sentimentality (51).
Furthermore, Demian goes on to praise the other convict as one who “follows his destiny to its appointed end and does not turn coward and forswear the devil, who has aided and abetted him until then” (51). In the same conversation, Demian reveals his theory that everything is sacred, both the evil and the righteous. He feels “we should also have a service for the devil, Otherwise you must create for yourself a God that contains the devil too” (52). These statements question God’s divinity and power; Demian gives equal status to supreme wickedness, the devil. In fact, he desires to worship a distorted God combined of the polar opposites. Such beliefs leave no room for morals. This is later seen in Sinclair’s growing distaste for morality, which he says “always seemed to [him] insufferable” (86).
The dynamic cult that Sinclair seeks out and creates eventually forms into the concept of Abraxas who he believes “is God and Satan and he contains both the luminous and the dark world” (95). The new, twisted beliefs that Sinclair clings to involve pieces of the Buddhist search for one’s pure self, neo-Freudian and Jungian ideas, mystical theories of collective unconscious and symbolism, and the New Age lie of relative truths. Thus, Demian is a direct assault upon the teachings of the Bible.
Justifying the study of Demian
Not only is it okay for us to be studying a book such as Demian in class, but an advanced placement course in a Christian school is an ideal place to study such thought-provoking material. As high school seniors, we are at a time in our lives when we are beginning to, or very soon will encounter ideas and people who openly question our religion. Our faith to them seems childlike, archaic, and close-minded. It is important for us to be familiar with the lies the devil will present to us. We are told in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” I would much rather encounter challenges for the first time in a classroom with a Christian teacher and with Christ-minded peers than unexpectedly when I am all by myself. Just as iron becomes strong when it is heated and molded, I feel that understanding these controversial and false ideas have only affirmed my faith in the truth of God.
Some who adamantly argue that we should not be reading anything that could compromise Christianity may point to Philippians 4:8 where we are told to think about the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. It is true that a book such as Demian may not directly meet these requirements. However, reading this book strongly provokes thoughts about truth and purity. It forces young Christians to deal with their own questions concerning faith and to evaluate their own beliefs. Perhaps those who most tenaciously attack the teaching of this book are those who lack faith in the ability of 18-year-olds to decipher truth from falsehood. (I hate when adults forget that they too had some form of conscious and reasonable thought before they reached age 30).
Although books like Demian could push a weak mind to find comfort in lies, such material is also filled with lessons for an active-minded Christian. A line from the movie Dead Poets Society suggests that humans live for poetry, beauty, romance, and love.
[It is our] impulse to grab hold of these elements and never let go. So we hold onto it long after it has become stale instead of searching for more nourishment. If we knew our hearts better, we’d know that we should be constantly refilling our tanks by searching out new relationships, seeking the mystery and wonder of God, and finding new and different voices in art (qtd. Lansingh).
Demian is such an artistic voice. Ironically, it can be through devices such as this offensive novel that a Christian can remain dynamic and avoid the staleness of stagnant religion.
Illustrations from 1969 Panther Books edition.