Heavenly Discourse

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Heavenly Discourse is a collection of satirical essays by Charles Erskine Scott Wood, published in 1927.[1]


Wood primarily wrote poetry and serious prose.[2][3] However, Max Eastman and John Reed, co-editors of the radical magazine The Masses,[a] asked him to write something humorous for their periodical. The result was a short satirical attack on World War I named The Heavenly Dialogue, published in 1914. This became the first of a series of similar dialogues.[4] Ten of these were published in The Masses. Following passage of the Espionage Act of 1917, The Masses was suppressed by the U. S. government on the grounds that it was detrimental to the war effort. Wood continued to write more discourses.[citation needed] After World War I, Max Eastman and others urged publication of the discourses in book form.[5] In 1927, the Vanguard Press published a collection of forty-one of them under the title Heavenly Discourse.[citation needed]


The work is primarily a dialogue between Satan and God about contemporary issues. They are presented as friendly adversaries who are often in general agreement.[1] God represents Wood's own perspective.[3] A variety of other characters also join the conversation, including angels, Jesus, Buddha, the Czar of Russia, Billy Sunday, Socrates, John Pierpont Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt, Carrie Nation, Sappho, François Rabelais,[1] Margaret Sanger,[3] and Mark Twain.[6]

Politically radical, the essays ridicule war,[7] prudishness, patriotism, bigotry[3] and Christian theology.[7][8] Instead, they promoted bohemianism, free love, pacifism, socialism,[9] birth control, and women's rights[specify].[8] The satire of these essays mocks mainstream society and views it with skepticism.[9] Titles of some of the discourses include Is God a Jew?, The United States Must Be Pure, and The Stupid Cannot Enter Heaven.[citation needed] Wood wrote Heavenly Discourse from the bourgeois radicalism of Greenwich Village of which he was a part.[8]

In one of the essays, Billy Sunday meets God, Wood pokes at bourgeois morality by imagining Billy Sunday in Heaven, surprised and disappointed to find people he condemned there. Jesus responds to his complaints, and points out that he associated with drinkers and prostitutes.[10]

From A Pacifist enters Heaven—in bits:

BATTERED SOUL: I'm a pacifist.
GOD: A what?
BATTERED SOUL: A pacifist. I believe in Jesus and peace.
GOD: So you are a Christian?
BATTERED SOUL: O, no. I really do believe in peace.

In a discourse on Preparedness in Heaven, God decides to prepare for a war against Satan.

GABRIEL: I am afraid Heaven won't stand for that. Jesus has preached peace too long.
GOD: ...We must first frighten them, fill them with fear, then with hate. For example, headlines in the Heavenly Herald: "Horrible Atrocities of Satan," "Make the Cosmos Safe for Jesus," "Satan Threatens Your Halos," "Satan Disembowels a Cherub," "Satan Rapes the Ten Foolish Virgins," and so on...
GABRIEL: But none of this will be true.
GOD: True? Of course, it won't. Don't be a fool, Gabriel. You can't work up a war—preparedness, I mean—on the truth. This is war—I mean preparedness—and we simply must lie—the more horrible the lies the better.

Heavenly discourse is one of very few Western texts from this era to mention the angel Israfil of Arab folklore.[11]


Although Wood wrote extensively, this was his only work to reach a wide audience.[2][3] The book had a substantial impact on Robert Paul Wolff[12] and Todd Gitlin.[9] Some American publications have called it a "classic".[5][13] Kevin Starr wrote in 2002 that Heavenly Discourse now seems "pedestrian and heavy-handed" but affirms that it was daring in its time.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sources disagree on who the editor(s) of The Masses was or were, and it may have changed in time. Bingham & Barnes (1997, p. 265-267) and Robbins, Frank & Ross (1983, p. 162) both list Eastman and John Reed. Starr (2002, p. 63) lists Eastman and Floyd Dell. The Wikipedia article for The Masses seems to indicate that it was just Eastman.


  1. ^ a b c Davidson 1965, p. 110.
  2. ^ a b Bingham 1958, p. 45.
  3. ^ a b c d e Robbins, Frank & Ross 1983, p. 162.
  4. ^ Bingham & Barnes 1997, p. 265-267.
  5. ^ a b Publishers Weekly 1940.
  6. ^ Bingham 1958.
  7. ^ a b Eastman 1964, p. 37.
  8. ^ a b c d Starr 2002, p. 63.
  9. ^ a b c Roberts 2007, p. 11.
  10. ^ Fishbein 1982, p. 178.
  11. ^ Davidson 1967, p. 152.
  12. ^ Wolff 2011.
  13. ^ Cohen 1983, p. 224.


  • Bingham, Edwin R. (1958). "Charles Erskine Scott Wood: "An Era and a Realm"". Northwest Review. 1 (4): 33-46.
  • Bingham, Edwin R.; Barnes, Tim, eds. (1997). Wood Works: The Life and Writings of Charles Erskine Scott Wood. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press. OCLC 37141219.
  • Cohen, Irving R. (1983). "Book review: Sara Bard Field, Poet and Suffragist by Amelia Fry". California History. 62 (3): 224-225. doi:10.2307/25158172. JSTOR 25158172.
  • Davidson, Gustav (1965). "The Poets and the Angels Davidson". The Literary Review. Madison, New Jersey, USA. 9 (1): 90-114.
  • Davidson, Gustav (1967). "Israfel". Dictionary of Angels. A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels. Free Press. p. 151-152. ISBN 978-0-02-907052-9.
  • Eastman, M. (1964). Love and revolution: my journey through an epoch. Random House.
  • Fishbein, L. (1982). Rebels in Bohemia: the radicals of the Masses, 1911-1917. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-1519-9.
  • Publishers Weekly. Vol. 138. 13 July 1940. p. 113. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Robbins, W.G.; Frank, R.R.J.; Ross, R.R.E. (1983). Regionalism and the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State University Press. hdl:1957/21954. ISBN 978-0-87071-337-8. OCLC 234303632.
  • Roberts, Jason Daniel (2007). Disillusioned radicals: The intellectual odyssey of Todd Gitlin, Ronald Radosh and David Horowitz (PhD). George Washington University / ProQuest.
  • Starr, Kevin (2002). The Dream Endures: California Enters the 1940s. Americans and the California Dream. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-992393-9.
  • Wolff, Robert Paul (2011). "What Good Is a Liberal Education?". Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences. 20 (1): 137-151.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bingham, Edwin R. (1959). "Oregon's Romantic Rebels: John Reed and Charles Erskine Scott Wood". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 50 (3): 77-90. JSTOR 40487376.
  • Bingham, Edwin R. (1972). "Experiment in Launching a Biography: Three Vignettes of Charles Erskine Scott Wood". Huntington Library Quarterly. University of Pennsylvania Press / JSTOR. 35 (3): 221–239. doi:10.2307/3816660. ISSN 0018-7895. JSTOR 3816660.
  • Bingham, Edwin R. (1990). Charles Erskine Scott Wood. Western writers series. Boise, ID: Boise State University. ISBN 0-88430-093-5.
  • Halmos, Paul R. (1985). "A college education". I Want to be a Mathematician. New York, NY: Springer New York. p. 20-35. doi:10.1007/978-1-4612-1084-9_2. ISBN 978-0-387-96470-6.
  • Hamburger, Robert (1998). Two Rooms: The Life of Charles Erskine Scott Wood. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-2389-7.