It's Easter, which means ... [update 3]
IT'S EASTER. GOOD FRIDAY. A day off. A day out. A day to sing hymns, sit in traffic and eat hot cross buns and Easter eggs, and--whatever else you do--a day not to go out shopping. Because today is one day the religionists still have control over us. A day when flunkies carrying clipboards fan out around the country hoping to fine someone for the crime of selling someone else a pot plant, or a pint of milk. Seeking to sacrifice shop-owners to the God of zealotry.
Meanwhile, the Christians who still insist on this sacrifice of shop-owners to the gods of unionism and bureaucracy celebrate the sacrifice of their ideal man two-thousand years ago.
Any way you look at it, as a story to celebrate it’s hardly a happy one.
Every religion has its own myths that go to the very heart of their beliefs. The pagan Greeks told stories of their gods consuming Ambrosia and gambolling on Olympus. The Norse heroes told stories of gods carousing lustily on Valhalla while waiting for Ragnarok. The Christians? They tell about the time when the head God sent his son down to be nailed up to a piece of wood.
As a myth, it’s hardly something to celebrate.
The Easter Myth is central to Christianity, and all too revealing of the ethic at Christianity's heart. And art reveals their core.
Look at that painting above, by Salvador Dali. A great, powerful, awe-inspiring, revealing piece of art. What does it represent? It represents man-worship -- the presentation of an ideal. Note how the main figure is larger than life and seemingly immune to pain or destruction; a figure, incongruously in this context, that appears without pain or fear or guilt. The figure at left is Dali's wife Gala, who looks up at the Christ figure with a look of literal man-worship. If we have a question here, it should be this: "How can you worship the torture and destruction of that which you revere above all?" Fair question.
Bach's St Matthew Passion musically and beautifully dramatises the same Myth, while revealing the very nature of it. The Passion’s thematic centre occurs when Jesus appears before Pilate and the mob.
“When Pilate asks the crowd who should be freed, Barbaras or Jesus. The crowd replies, "Barabbas!" and Pilate asks, "When what should I do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?" The crowd shouts, "Let him be Crucified!" This final shout is musically rendered in such an awful way that the hearer is almost struck dumb. One can feel the terrible doom being called down. Pilate then asks (in Part 56), "Why, what has this man done?" His question is answered by what is probably the loneliest Soprano ever, who says, "He has done good to us all, He gave sight to the blind, The lame he made to walk; He told us his father's word, He drove the devils forth; The wretched he has raised up; He received and sheltered sinners, Nothing else has my Jesus done."
“Following this is an even more poignant aria that begins, "Out of love my Savior is willing to die." After that the chorus repeats the sentence, which is made worse by what we have just heard.”
Just think, Christians revere Christ as their ideal, and Bach has his chorus and soloists praise him, worship him, and eulogise Him – this, above all, was their hero (Bach tells us), the man they believe their god sent to earth as an example of the highest possible on this earth -- and then they and that god went and had him killed. Tortured, Crucified.
That's the story. This, says Bach in the true honesty that great art reveals, is what Christians revere: The murder of their ideal man.
It’s an astonishing ethic to celebrate, isn’t it: the sacrifice of the ideal man just to appease and placate the mob.
Hans Holbein’s ‘Christ After Crucifixion’ lays bare the reality of the sacrifice.
It’s not a pretty painting, as this detail makes plain:
A good subtitle for this 1521 painting might be ‘A Christian Confronts Reality.’ That, at least, was how the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky felt when confronted with this naturalistic depiction of the battered Christian corpse in 1867: confronted with the horrific reality of crucifixion and its results, Dostoyevsky was struck by the importance of this confrontation for his faith, and inspired to dramatise in his next novel what that confrontation meant. Said his wife, “The figure of Christ taken from the cross, whose body already showed signs of decomposition, haunted him like a horrible nightmare. In his notes to [his novel] The Idiot and in the novel itself he returns again and again to his theme.”
Holbein confronts the Christian viewer with a powerful choice: One must either believe that God raised this ravaged body from the dead, and that the Christian myth, therefore, “offers hope for humanity beyond this life”; or else accept that the dead stay dead, that such an event did not and could not occur, that reality is what it is – with all that follows therefrom. As Dostoyevsky has a character in The Idiot explain it,
His body on the cross was therefore fully and entirely subject to the laws of nature. In the picture the face is terribly smashed with blows, swollen, covered with terrible, swollen, and bloodstained bruises, the eyes open and squinting; the large, open whites of the eyes have a sort of dead and glassy glint. . . .
Looking at that picture, you get the impression of nature as some enormous, implacable, and dumb beast, or, to put it more correctly, much more correctly, though it may seem strange, as some huge engine of the latest design, which has senselessly seized, cut to pieces, and swallowed up–impassively and unfeelingly–a great and priceless Being, a Being worth the whole of nature and all its laws, worth the entire earth, which was perhaps created solely for the coming of that Being!
Good art need not be a thing of beauty, but it must have something to say. This certainly does that. If you believe the Creation myth and all that goes with it, the idea that all this was designed by something supernatural and omnipotent, then you must believe this torture too was designed. That it was intended. That the God who once insisted that Abraham sacrifice his own son now makes the mob insist on the sacrifice of their ideal.
Let me ask you again, Don’t you think it astonishing to celebrate this barbarity?
IT WOULD BE EVEN MORE astonishing if that were what Easter really meant. Thankfully, it’s not.
In Pagan times you see, Easter was the time in the Northern calendar when the coming of spring was celebrated -- the celebration of new life, of coming fecundity. Hence the eggs and rabbits and celebrations of fertility. Indeed, the very word "Easter" comes from Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, and means, symbolically, the festival celebrating the rebirth of light after the darkness of winter.
But with the coming of Christianity, the celebration was hijacked to become this veneration of torture and sacrifice.
Such is the nature of the Christians’ Easter Myth which was supplanted over the pagan celebration--and of the ethic at the very heart of Christianity. Not peace, not love, not understanding, but sacrifice -- the murder and torture of tall poppies -- the sacrifice of the Christian's highest possible for the sake of the meanest most rotten 'sinner,' whose redemption Christ's murder was supposed to buy.
To put it bluntly, the Easter myth that Bach dramatises so well is one of suffering and sacrifice and murder, and the collusion of a supposedly omnipotent and omniscient god in the murder of his own son -- and if you subscribe to the whole sick fantasy then that is what you are required to believe—to believe in every rotten, blood-dripping detail. For in the name of religion Bach shows us that the good (by Christian standards) must be sacrificed to the rotten; the constant to the inconstant; the talented and inspirational to the lumpen dross -- the ideal to the worthless.
For Christians, then, Easter is a time to revere that sacrifice and to remind themselves (and us) of the centrality of sacrifice to their fantasy. Oh yes, there's a 'rebirth' of sorts in their fantasy, but not one on this earth realm, and not before a celebration of intense pain and suffering that supposedly bought redemption and virtue for those who possessed neither.
As Robert Tracinski says so bluntly, "Easter's Mixture of the Benevolent and the Horrific Reveals Religion's Antagonism to Human Life." And so it does.
THERE IS ANOTHER STORY that stands in complete contrast to this one, that is in all senses its polar opposite. Unlike the anti-heroes of Bach's Passion--who murder their hero in a vain attempt to save their desiccated souls—or Dostoyevsky’s—who torture themselves with thoughts of a “malevolent universe” in which they are “trapped”--the heroes of Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead shun sacrifice and venerate their own human powers on this earth.
The hero of that novel, Howard Roark, appears in court in a similar position dramatically in which Bach has his own hero. Thrown to the mob and fighting for his life in court, rather than acquiesce as Bach’s hero does, Roark states instead—as clearly and categorically as he knows how—his own terms.
“I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.
"I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others.
"It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing.
"I wished to come here and say that the integrity of a man's creative work is of greater importance than any charitable endeavor. Those of you who do not understand this are the men who're destroying the world.
"I wished to come here and state my terms. I do not care to exist on any others.
"I recognize no obligations toward men except one: to respect their freedom and to take no part in a slave society.”
This time, the hero says, the sacrifice demanded by the mob is rejected.
The contrast to the other story is stark,wouldn’t you say?
The ethic of The Fountainhead, one for which each of the leading characters fights in their own way, is one in which genius has the right to live for its own sake. The contrast with the demand of Christianity that The Good inheres in the act of suffering and dying for the expiation of others could not be stronger, or the question more important! Rather than demanding and worshipping the sacrifice of the highest to the lowest -- or as Nietzsche did, retaining the ethic but reversing the beneficiary of the sacrifice by demanding the sacrifice of the lowest to the highest -- the ethic of The Fountainhead insists that The Good is not to suffer and to die, but to enjoy yourself and live -- without any sacrifice at all of anyone to anyone else.
In my book, that really is an ethic worthy of reverence.
NOW, I'M ALL TOO aware that if you believe the Easter Myth, then anything I say here is going to pass right by you. So if you do insist on venerating sacrifice this weekend, and especially if you're intending a bit of crucifixion yourself, or even just a bit of mildly flogging or self-torture, then here are a few simple Easter Safety Tips for you from the Church, which are not unfortunately intended as satire.
And now, for all the bureaucrats who are working today while they insist that others don’t, here's that Nick Kim cartoon again ...
Have a happy holiday!
“It's Easter. Once again, the masses will gawp in awe at a bizarre and unbelievable story…because it is such a good example of how religion will piggy-back on our cognitive biases.
“You all know the Easter story: a god turns into a man, gets tortured and killed, rises from the dead, and somehow this act makes us all better. It's a tale best left unexamined, because it makes no sense. We are supposed to wallow in an emotional thrill that taps deep into our social consciousness, not think about what the story actually says.
“The part of the story that works for us is the idea of self-sacrifice.”
See, that’s the part that doesn’t work for me. Doesn’t work at all, because the nobility of sacrifice is something I utterly reject.
“ ‘Sacrifice’ [says Rand] does not mean the rejection of the worthless, but of the precious. ‘Sacrifice’ does not mean the rejection of the evil for the sake of the good, but of the good for the sake of the evil. ‘Sacrifice’ is the surrender of that which you value in favor of that which you don’t.
That’s why of itself it is barbaric. It is, to quote Nietzsche, a revolt of everything that crawls against everything that’s high. That’s why the barbarity of the Christian sacrifice is so stark.
If it were true.
And if it were, there’s a few other beefs a rational individual might have with the god who set it up.
“Because, unfortunately [points out Myers], Jesus isn't saving us from anything real, and he made no change in the world with his death.”
UPDATE 2: Said Thomas Paine “Outrageous claims require outrageous proof.” And there are few claims more outrageous than the one on which the Christian church rests.
Former Pastor Dan Barker offers An Easter Challenge For Christians. Who’s up for it?
UPDATE 3: By the way, did you know that Jesus was God's 111th Killing?
“It's hard to imagine something worse than a father planning to kill his own son. Except maybe a father killing his son in order to keep himself from torturing billions of others forever.
" ‘He that spared not his own son’ shouldn't be trusted by anyone.”