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.
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