The Art of the Deal with the Devil

The Faustian Bargain

The daily White House updates on the coronavirus pandemic bring to mind the Medieval folklore of Faust’s bargain with Mephistopheles (the devil). Faust surrenders his soul for the diabolical blessings of wealth, power, and fame.

Dr. Fauci, Dr. Trump, and Dr. Birx

We see and hear POTUS Donald Trump; then we see and hear Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Birx. Two of three have M.D. degrees required to diagnose and dispense medication. The other has no degree and no license to practice medicine but repeatedly ignores and contradicts Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci.

Yesterday’s White House update (April 23) offers the latest conflict between knowledge and what seems like insanity. The president referred to “emerging” research showing that the increased sunlight and higher humidity of spring and summer kill the virus. Past studies have not found good evidence to support the theory. But that’s not the worst of it.

Noting unidentified research into the effects of disinfectants on killing the virus, the president went further off the rails by wondering aloud whether a disinfectant could be injected into people because the virus “does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.” Where is Sigmund Freud when we need him?

Sigmund Freud’s Case Study in Demonic Neurosis

We are children of the Enlightenment. Few of us believe in real life Faustian bargains with the Devil. But Sigmund Freud became intrigued by Johann Christoph Haizmann (1651-1700), a Bavarian-born Austrian painter, after reading Haizmann’s newly recovered narrative description (L) and triptych painting (below) of his Faustian bargain.

Haizmann’s personal description of his experience became the occasion for Sigmund Freud’s and Gaston Vandendriessche’s research on “the Haizmann case” became a part of the study of psychology and psychiatry.

photograph of triptych by Johann Christoph Haizmann
Votive triptych by Johann Christoph Haizmann’s (1651/52 – 14 March 1700). Left: Satan is depicted as a fine burgher, while Haizmann signs a pact with ink. Right: The Devil reappears a year later and forces Haizmann to sign another pact with his own blood. Middle: The Virgin Mary makes the Devil return the second pact during an exorcism.

The Burgher and the Deal with the Devil

Of interest to us here is Haizmann’s depiction of the Devil as “a fine burgher” in the left panel of Haizmann’s triptych. ‘Burgher’ was a title of the medieval a privileged social class. Public officials were drawn from among the burgher class of medieval towns and cities. Haizmann’s choice of a burgher as the Devil in disguise is its own repudiation of wealth, privilege, and power. Only the Virgin Mary could free him from the pact with the Devil.

Freud de-mythologized the religious language and metaphors by which Haizmann had understood himself and his world. In 2020 only a quack would speak of demonic possession! Yet the biblical pictures of demonic possession still have a way of reaching parts of us we cannot explain or escape. Every one of us is a little insane at night, or locked in during the coronavirus pandemic. Few of us keep our twitter feeds on the pillow to push away the darkness. Few of us belong go the burgher class, yet there is something about Donald Trump that was with us before is election and will remain with us after he is gone: the age-old demonic dreams of wealth, privilege, and power.

We speak of neuroses and psychoses instead of demons or the devil the way Haizmann did. But still, there is the haunting memory of King Saul dropping into the abyss of insanity, throwing his spear at David, and the man who had been possessed by the Legion of demons before Jesus asked his name and sent them into the herd of swine. What is happening to us in America defies rational explanation. How does it happen that we allow a soul-less burgher who imagines injecting Lysol into our veins to take the world stage with Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci?

The Art of the Deal and the Deal with the Devil

The Art of the Deal put Donald Trump on the world stage. Art of the Deal is an autobiography. But it’s not. According to the publisher and the book’s ghost writer, Tony Schwartz, Mr. Trump never wrote a line, but continues to say he was he author. Now that the coronavirus has shut down the economy he tricks himself into being a doctor who always knows best.

By way of contrast, Johan Christoph Haizmann, relieved from the frantic need for the burghers’ recognition. He joined the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, aka, the Brothers of Mercy to spend the rest of his life serving the poor, and the sick of body and mind.

Manuel Gómez-Moreno González: San Juan de Dios salvando a los enfermos de incendio del Hospital Real (English: Saint John of God saving the sick from fire at the Royal Hospital)

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, host of Views from the Edge: to See More Clearly, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR), Chaska, MN, April 24, 2020.

16 thoughts on “The Art of the Deal with the Devil

  1. Gordon C. Stewart, I think you might want to pay closer attention to the doctor Fauci because as the story goes it was the doctor who made the pact with the devil. What is sinister is what cannot be seen. President Trump does not hide anything because he doesn’t know he has anything to hide. Dr. Fauci however it has been said and researched with evidence does have.


  2. The daily briefings coming out of the White House are more like a circus act with the clown (POTUS) taking centre stage and undoing any advice the US health officials are trying to convey to the American public. It’s such a sharp contrast to the way the pandemic is being handled here in Canada with our Prime Minister and the provincial Premiers stepping aside to let our Provincial Health Officers guide us and issue provincial directives and orders as required. And our Canadian government has really stepped up to the plate when compared to the US with our Canadian Emergency Response Benefit to assist those who have been laid off and most affected. I have never been more proud to be Canadian, yet more heavy hearted for our many American friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A little push back is required here. I agree with most of what you say. For sure the daily briefings by the POTUS are a clown show. When we look at the demographics when comparing Canada & the US we need to recognize the US has almost 10 times the population of Canada. We likely have a much larger # of foreign visitors potentially carrying the virus from many places. Canada would have about 25,000 deaths when pop is considered. That is some indication they are in fact doing a better job. Having said that we need to consider that Canada’s pop is also much more dispersed than the US so their death rate would likely be much closer to the US # of 54,000 without that dispersion. Now let’s look at the European Union’s 120,000 Covid deaths. The EU’s pop is about a quarter larger than the US but it already has 68,000 more Covid deaths than the US. This comparison is also based on the fact that the EU’s comparable pop is also inhabiting the same size geographic footprint as the US. The issue is that this is never mentioned by the press as significant when they say the US is doing a bad job of virus control compared to all other countries. I would contend that this can be explained as a simple oversight by journalists who don’t understand demographics to the extent needed to create the proper perspective. IOW, the EU is doing a worse job than the US response to Covid. Of course when all is said & done the US death toll may equal or surpass Europe’s deaths because Europe’s Covid crisis started a month or so earlier than the US. If Germany’s response was what all the other EU members would have used we wouldn’t see 120,000 EU deaths.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Constructive, thoughtful push backs are always welcomed and appreciated. I know it’s uncharted territory for all of us, and I suppose that time will tell when all is said and done. It’s still all so very sad … and personally, I still have hope for the new future for all of us. However that looks … thanks again.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks 3bones. BTW, I grew up 80 mi from the border in GF south of Winnipeg. As a kid my “go to” big city was Winnipeg. I have many formative experiences from there & still fish & hunt there. I would move there if I could.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Gordon, I reblogged this to my “Three Shots At LIFE” site. This reminds me of Sartre when he said “unlike most philosophers I believe in evil”. That’s an Interesting comment coming from a communist. BTW, the “Report of 27 Psychologists On Trump” et al, used the diagnostic term “Extreme Present Hedonism” to describe Trumps condition. Trump says in the moment what will get him through the next 10 mins. That explains his contradictions from one day, hour & minute to the next. As Tillich said, “capitalism is a manifestation of the devil”. Trump as a devotee of Ayn Rand & her extreme libertarianism makes him unfit to run a democracy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi again. I just replied on your blog! Yeah Tillich, Barth, and Bonhoeffer! And Ko! Theology is about the economy (the one house) in which we all live. Every system of caring for the house (the planet) must be assessed/judged by sustainability and compassion.


  4. Pingback: The Art of the Deal with the Devil | THREE SHOTS AT LIFE

  5. yes, i often think about how the docs connected to him are dealing with it all? are they feeling it is worth it on behalf of the best interest of the common good? how long can they manage this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth, it’s a huge question. There are several videos going around today showing Dr. Bix reacting much more expressively than usual at Trump’s continuing BS about injecting a disinfectant. There is also another over-the-top DJT reaction to a member of the press corps’ whose question began with a statement that the American public is looking for real guidance from the medical professionals. He put him off mid sentence. “I’m the president and you’re not! I know you. Fake news!”

      Like you, I have to believe they stay ONLY to protect rescue the public from the equivalent of medical malpractice. What a horrible position to find yourself in.

      Liked by 2 people

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