Death and the Devil Surprise Two Women. Etching by Daniel Hopfer (1465- 1536). Victoria and Albert Museum.

In Hell They Eat Mayonnaise

Theologians like St. Augustine spent a lot of time arguing out the particulars of the “neo-platonic metaphysic,” which, as best as I can figure, was essentially a list of beings ranked according to their relative divinity. The great ontological ranking system ran from God (being) down to Satan (non-being) with cherubim, seraphim, archangles, angels, humans and horses in between. The celestial hierarchy, in case you didn’t know, goes like this:

seraphim • cherubim • thrones • dominions • virtues • powers • principalities • archangels • angels

I’ve listed it from highest to lowest. Traditionally, it would be listed from lowest to highest. That’s because preceding generations generally started with what they knew and worked up. Today, we’re obsessed with who’s on top, and I didn’t want to confuse anyone.

To the medieval mind, everything could be understood in terms of hierarchy. This tradition, in a denuded incarnation, comes to us in the form of lists, like the list of the “10 sweatiest cities” that The New York Times once published, and the listicles on Buzzfeed. You don’t know what a “listicle” is? Lucky you! I’ll let Humpty-Dumpty explain:

“But what is a listicle?” asked Alice.
“It’s another portmanteau,” said Humpty-Dumpty,
“just like slithy and mimsy.
“But what does it mean?” asked Alice.
“Well, the two words are lips and testicle,
you know what testicles are, don’t you?” the old egg said with a lear.
“I’m afraid I don’t,” said Alice.

Magazines love lists. Lists sell. People buy and read lists because they want to know where they stand. Did I go to a mediocre or completely worthless college? Is my car the safest or just the safest mid-sized sedan in lumpenprolitariet price range? Faced with an existential dilemma, hierarchies may help us to figure out where we fit in the universe. It is with this in mind, that I give you:

The Metaphysic of Condiments

Please remember, this isn’t a list. This is supposed to be an hierarchy of being. When faced with questions that are religious in nature, I like to ask “what would Jesus do?” In this case, the question is perhaps better phrased as, “If given a lamb hot dog, or whatever you would give a carpenter’s son in fist century Palestine, what would he probably put on it?” My guess is mustard. Jesus liked mustard seeds and trees, and you wouldn’t figure it was the leaves he was fond of, right? Given that salt is thrown out of the competition because it isn’t a condiment, that leaves mustard as the food item with the most entries in the biblical concordance. Mustard is healthy. Mustard has flavor. Jesus was Jewish, right? When it comes to brand selection, I think If he came back today he would eat French’s. Jesus was a simple guy. He didn’t have a lot of money. “French’s is fine,” sayeth the Lord.

You put new wine in new wine skins, and the old wine you use to make vinegar. Well, the Christian scriptures don’t say that, but when faced with modern problems we biblical scholars like to extrapolate what might be intended by the canonical texts. In fact, there’s a lot about vinegar that didn’t make it into the canon. Some of the gnostic gospels, that were declared heretical and suppressed for centuries, had a lot to say about vinegar. One, found in an ancient cave that was obviously used for Roman mystery cults prior to its enculturation as a Christian shrine says, roughly translated, “don’t use too much or it will give you aggida.”

Why is taco sauce third? Well, sometimes figuring out the order of being isn’t an exact science. All I know is that there’s no biblical reference to taco sauce, so it has to be lower than vinegar, and it’s definitely closer to God than salsa. Why? Because there’s a lot of evidence that simplicity is holy. You know, “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be plain.” Well, taco sauce is simple compared to salsa, and Old El Paso taco sauce is about as plain as it gets.

Remember, the metaphysic runs from “being” to “non-being.” God is the “Ground of Being,” Satan is “non-existence.” That’s why the “wages of sin are death.” So, condiments that get you closer to death are clearly further away from God than healthy condiments. Given the options, salsa is pretty healthy, right? No fat. Not too much sugar and salt. Shouldn’t be a problem. Unless you scoop it up with an evil tortilla chip.

Relish has less being than salsa, so it ranks lower in the metaphysic. Relish is salsa for white people. Relish was fine up to the point that Europeans discovered that tomatoes weren’t poisonous. After that, you have to wonder why one would go to the trouble of dicing up pickles and onions. Why not just eat pickles and onions? That’s what St. Gerkin, the patron saint of pickling, used to do.

You think I ranked soy sauce so low because I don’t like the Japanese. Well, O.K., maybe I did, but I’ll try to make an argument anyway. Remember how I said salt would be high on the list but it can’t be because salt is not a condiment? Well, that high estimation of salt was based on the fact that Jesus instructed us to be “the salt of the earth.” To get around the “hard sayings” in the bible, you use a technique known to scholars as “contextualization.” We have to understand Jesus in the context of the semi-barbaric culture he belonged to. First century Rabbis knew a lot, but they didn’t know what salt does to your arteries. So, we have to contextualize Jesus’s high regard for salt and that allows us to go ahead and say “salt is bad.” You should only be the salt of the Earth in a figurative sense. Soy sauce, we all know, is liquid salt that the Japanese use to flavor whale blubber. How did I do?

Not sure what this stuff really is, but it was developed by the same people who gave us the “Book of Common Prayer,” the “King James” Bible, and the Hymm “Abide With Me (eventide)”, so it’s got to be O.K.

The problem with barb-b-que sauce is that it is closely associated with pork. If there is one food that God is not keen on, it’s pig. As far as I can figure it, of the world’s great religions only two, Buddhism and Christianity, let you eat pig, and last time I was at the Zendo there wasn’t any bar-b-que sauce. The Texans among you will say, “we use barb-b-que sauce on beef”. Which is true, but only because Texas doesn’t support large pig herds. If pigs could live on sagebrush, the university of Texas would have a Yorkshire hog as its mascot.

Hotsauce is healthy. Hotsauce is fun. Why is hot sauce so far from God? Well, sometimes when you lay down with dogs you get fleas. It seems that hot sauce manufacturers can’t keep away from the demonic imagery. They keep using “Hell” and “Devil” as marketing slogans and it just makes you wonder. Put it this way, if a murderous biker walked into a diner in the middle of the desert and ordered a burrito, which condiment do you think he would pick? You think he would go for the mustard?

Almost to the bottom. The insidious false prophet of ketchup. The Pharisee of condiments. Seems wholesome. Seems American. Why, it’s almost like salsa. Oh, you brood of vipers, you hyprocrits! For these three transgressions and the forth I will not revoke the punishment, for you, Oh ketchup, are an abomination in my sight. Ketchup is sugar and salt masquerading as a condiment. It is the deceiver. Unhealthy. A processed paste passed off as a vegetable.

This kills me. When I first had this idea I wanted Queen Mayonnaise on the top. It’s my favorite. My one last true vice. But this list is not just some silly magazine ranking intended to keep people reading Mr. Mildew’s Medium postings. This is supposed to be a serious theological investigation. And faith, illuminated by reason, puts Ms. Mayo at the bottom of the order. Mayonnaise can kill. It has the whiteness of the whale. It’s the only feminine condiment, and you know what the medieval mind makes of feminine things. So soft, so light, so fine. It is, in a word, too pleasurable. We must forsake the flesh to achieve the divine. Fellow Jansenists, pass me the mustard!