Soul-Selling for Dummies


Reeves as shyster lawyer, Pacino as devil

Reeves as shyster lawyer, Pacino as devil


How do I sell my soul? Let me count the ways.

I wrote in Sunday’s entry how the ego and the soul are pitted against each other in an unending battle. Just think how much better off we’d all be if humans listened to their higher selves and ego took a back seat. International relations, national politics, workplace dynamics, personal relationships—what if we were to dedicate ourselves to valuing the collective good over our individual pride? The fact that we often don’t is why the Faustus story never gets old.

Of course, ego likes to have us paying all this attention to it. Let’s deflate it, then, with some perspective-restoring humor. I’ve combed through Christopher Marlowe’s 1595 play and come up with the following 12 steps for selling the soul. (At one point or another, Faustus engages in each of these actions.) Think of the steps as a special instruction manual. How many ways do you sell your soul?

The Faustus Guide for Soul Selling

12 Easy Steps, with a Special Focus on the Seven Deadly Sins

(You Can Commit All Seven!)

1. Regard the talent you possess as proof that you are really great and worthy of applause and reward.

2. Apply your talent to dubious ends.

3. Think of yourself as meaningless and worthless with nothing to contribute to the world. Become really depressed.

4. Judge yourself harshly. Beat yourself up.

5. Nurture your despair and feel sorry for yourself. Contemplate suicide. Assure yourself that your mental turmoil indicates that you are superior to people who are “mindlessly happy.”

6. Allow Lucifer’s seven deadly sins to distract you from making the best use of your talent. (The details are drawn from Marlowe’s descriptions.):

–Practice Pride, letting it creep into every corner of your being like a flea as you contemptuously gaze down at others.

–Practice Covetousness, seeing others as so much gold that you can lock up in your chest—which is to say, merely as instruments to advance your interests.

Practice Wrath, running up and down the world wounding others with your rapier anger or, alternatively, turning that anger against yourself.

Practice Envy, becoming hungry to possess what others around you possess, perhaps even wishing ill on them and imagining that their misfortune might be your gain.

Practice Gluttony, piling up bacon upon claret wine upon pickled-herring upon holiday beef upon March beer. Put on 30 pounds.

Practice Sloth, spending all your time lying on a sunny bank (or better yet, sitting depressed and listless in front of your television).

Practice Lechery, seeking out “mutton” (Renaissance slang for lust and prostitutes) in real life or in images (say, on pornographic websites).

7. Take a secret satisfaction in being a sneaky devil or for breaking rules.

8. See yourself as a victim. Note that your life is out of control so that you can’t be held responsible. Be fatalistic.

9. Practice muddled thinking. Cultivate confusion about whether or not you should do something wrong so that you go ahead and do it.

10. Tell yourself that you are so insignificant that it doesn’t matter to anyone what you do. Use this as a rationalization to do something you shouldn’t.

11. Apply your talent in trivial ways. Avoid deep commitment.

12. Look back at all the ways you have wasted your life up to now. Throw up your hands and say, “I’m absolutely hopeless.” Wallow in regret.

(Small print disclaimer: Soul sales are never final. You can always get your soul back at a moment’s notice.)

Do you find the exercise as humbling as I do? Faustus is our powerful reminder that any desires bereft of soul are empty. Or as Marlowe puts it, “All places shall be hell that is not heaven.” Fortunately, heaven is always within reach, and you can get there if you repent, seek forgiveness (which includes forgiving yourself), and move on. Your good angel will show you the way.

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One Comment

  1. Hieu Dovan
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Hi Robin,

    The ship’s wifi and my busy schedule conspire against my reading your blog on a regular basis. However, whenever I get a chance, I always admire your writing and the effort that you put into it. I notice that your last blog was about the mid-term election and this one is about selling one’s soul. Ah, I don’t think you did that intentionally : )



    P.S. I had left Viet Nam and will dock in Hong Kong tomorrow.

One Trackback

  1. By Hell, an Inner Emptiness that Can’t Be Filled on February 28, 2011 at 1:00 am

    […] God, the devil responds by staging a floorshow of the seven deadly sins. (See my post on the scene here.) Faustus allows these to sidetrack his good intentions and lives the rest of his life in a […]


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