Bob Dylan’s Mythology (Part II)

Previously in this series:

Bob Dylan’s Mythology (Part II)

by Larry Fyffe

History shows that John Calvin’s Puritan theology with its doctrine of ‘original sin’ has a big impact on the development of the “American Dream”:

No mother's son but has misdone
And broken God's command
All have transgressed, even the best
And merited God's wrath
(Michael Wigglesworth: Day Of Doom, stanza LXVI)

Religious thinkers have their parts to play in the mythological visions of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. According to Calvin, an individual is a member of God’s Elect from the get-go, and any doing of ‘good works’ down on Earth ain’t a-gonna help him or her make it to Heaven after death. The Almighty God plays no favorites with the life and death of his creations – as expressed in the following song lyrics:

When the Reaper's task had ended
Sixteen hundred had gone to rest
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor
The loveliest, and the best
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)

John Wesley’s Methodist theology opens up the possibility of everyone gaining God’s grace, but his keeping of the doctrine of ‘original sin’ lends itself to satire – as the song lyrics below demonstrate:

John Wesley Harding was a friend to the poor
He travelled with a gun in every hand
All along this countryside, he opened many a door
But he was never known to hurt an honest man
(Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding)

The restrictive Calvinist doctrine ensures that the feeling of guilt is everywhere among its followers since only a relative few of them get a free pass to salvation, and even then those selected to the Elect do not know that they are; outsiders receive no such tickets for sure.

Guilt is everywhere; everyone ought to feel guilty because Eve allowed herself to be seduced by the  earth-bound Devil, and God sacrifices His Son to save us:

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive with fiery breath
And I dreamed I was amongst the ones
That put him out to death
(Bob Dylan: I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine)


Just like Anthony Quinn says in the pirate movie:

"Zac, you must be guilty of something"
( "A High Wind In Jamaica")

Repeated in the following song lyrics:

Whatever you got to say to me
Won't come as any shock
I must be guilty of something
You just whisper it into my ear
(Bob Dylan: Tight Connection To My Heart)

The lambasting of the ‘original sin’ doctrine makes up a part of Dylan’s personal mythological vision right from its early construction:

My trip has been a pleasant one
And my time, it isn't long
And I still do not know 
What it was that I've done wrong
(Bob Dylan: Drifter's Escape)

Fredrich Nietzsche called the waiting for spiritual salvation in the afterlife, instead of seeking to achieve material success it in this one, the ‘morality of slaves”; it is said by sociologist Max Weber that the early Calvinists considered material success a worldly “sign” that they be indeed members of the Almighty’s Elect.

…..And elsewhere

There are details of some of our more recent articles listed on our home page.  You’ll also find, at the top of the page, and index to some of our series established over the years.

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