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Tattoo Satan on Your Shoulder

There are no absolutes, truth is relative, and man is only a beast! There is a scene early in Moby-Dick when Ishmael, having decided that to share a bed is better than to sleep on a board, spies upon his soon-to-be bedmate from underneath the covers. Ishmael doesn’t know that the man is a native of the South Pacific, but he deduces as much as he watches the man undress. The man is tattooed, Ishmael sees, and his skin is too dark; and look! he’s pulling out a figure, and he’s praying to it! Surely the man can’t be Christian! Soon enough the islander discovers Ishmael. He himself is upset to find a strange man in his bed, and he brandishes a tomahawk at Ishmael. Ishmael screams, the innkeeper comes in to calm everybody down, and the islander, realizing Ishmael is no enemy, crawls into bed and invites Ishmael to join him. Ishmael, ever reasonable, decides,

What’s all this fuss I have been making about…—the man’s a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.

It was the Satan tattoo on the skinhead student in the cartoon above that reminded me of that scene. I love the cartoon almost as much: from the suited man at left—perhaps he’s a professor, although he carries himself more like a preacher than a professor—he speaks, with chin in his hand, riddles about being and truth; to the skinhead student who wears Nietzsche on his tank top and Satan on his shoulder and who, demonstrating his ability to perform acrobatic leaps of logic in response to the relativist, decides to kill his classmates on the ‘morrow. The scene, if I may say so, is absolutely brilliant: when I saw it this weekend, I laughed and laughed and laughed.

It came to me, I should say, in a church newsletter from Virginia. Regrettably, I haven’t been able to verify whether the citation in the newsletter is correct. The cartoon is attributed to Mr. Steve Cline of Staunton, Virginia and was reportedly published in the Waynesboro News Virginian on 11 November, 2005. I apologize for the awkward misshapen quality of the image: I don’t have a scanner; I digitized it with a camera.

Rad! Now I won’t think twice about volunteering at the food bank and the battered women’s shelter at the same time! What I love about the portrait is how absurd it is. Because the speakers are tied by Galatians 6:7, it would make just as much sense for the student to say, in response to the teacher, “Rad! Now I won’t think twice about volunteering at the food bank and the battered women’s shelter at the same time!” That’d be a great cartoon, too. And that’s why I agree with Ishmael: it is indeed better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.



just wondering, if man is nothing more than a beast…wouldn’t that mean that he wouldn’t go on this shooting rampage? i mean, sure, he might pick out a sickly waterbuffalo and have it for breakfast, but he wouldn’t go after the pack…

and, if man were a beast, wouldn’t a 30 year-old disaffected, satanist have already been forced out of the comforts of home and school and splatted on the hard concrete of reality?

i mean i could be wrong but he doesn’t look like a 14 year-old school sniper…and his nose looks like it’s seen a few too many fist-fights, and his belly a little too much beer

Perhaps he is, like Peter Pan, one of those poor souls who never grew up. He never managed to graduate to Springsteen-style nostalgia; at 30 he still lives his glory days, remembering how great it was to be in high school, get drunk with the homies, “heavy petting” in the back seat—which of course raises the question of why he would want to go on a shooting rampage.

I wondered, too, about the nature of the beast. Consider the bonobo…