It’s Easter. [updated]
IT'S EASTER. GOOD FRIDAY. A day off. A day out. A day to get nailed up and talk about torture.
A day to sing hymns, sit in traffic and eat hot cross buns and Easter eggs. A day not to go shopping, of course, because today is one day the religionists still have control over us. A day when flunkies fan out around the country bearing clipboards, hoping to fine someone for the crime of selling someone a pot plant, or a pint of milk. Seeking to sacrifice shop-owners to the God of zealotry.
Meanwhile, the Christians who 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, it’s hardly a happy story to celebrate.
EVERY RELIGION HAS ITS own core myths portraying the very heart of their beliefs. The pagan Greeks told stories of their gods, those Attic super-men, consuming Ambrosia and gambolling on Olympus. The Norse heroes told stories of their gods lustily wenching and feasting in Valhalla while waiting for Ragnarok. And the Christians? They tell about the time when their 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.
Art reveals that 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, portrayed 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, when looking at a man nailed up to a piece of wood, it might be this: "How can you worship the destruction of your ideal?” “Why would you celebrate his torture?” Fair questions, especially when confronted with splatter-fests like Mel Gibson’s Passion, which lovingly depict every act of torture and every drop of blood in high-definition Technicolor.
That’s what paining and film can do. How about music? Bach’s St Matthew Passion musically and beautifully dramatises this Myth while revealing the true 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); a man known only for good deeds; 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.
THE SACRIFICE, YOU SEE, is the thing. Sacrifice is the central ethical thesis of Christianity—so important that an all-powerful god was supposed to sacrifice his own son (who is also himself) to himself just to make the important point: that sacrifice of a higher value—of the very highest—to everything that crawls on earth is central to the Christian ethics.In the Easter Myth giving voice to this ethic of sacrifice, we are invited to praise the willing sacrifice of the man they hold up as their ideal to a mob of the vilest sinners--sacrificed as a point of ethical and religious necessity in the most vile and bloodthirsty way imaginable.
It's of no avail whether in the Christ myth we hear that he was arrested for blasphemy, or for preaching without a police permit, or that he came to replace one stone-age form of witch-doctory for another. It's of no avail because none of those points are central to the Easter Myth, or of the central Christian ethic portrayed therein: they’re all just plot devices to get the story to Golgotha, and the god-son nailed up.
That is the vile story we are invited to admire and the ethic we are enjoined to emulate. What would Jesus do (WWJD)? Why, he would give his very life up to the mob, and his very body up to be tortured by it. Why? To save (somehow) all you miserable sinners.
The sacrifice, you see, is the thing. And just to be clear:
“Sacrifice” is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue. Thus, altruism gauges a man’s virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values…
That a story is celebrated in which a divine sacrifice, a human being, a son of the “all-powerful” is offered up in the most vile, most bloodthirsty way possible--to "save" a mob who, according to those same Christians, are created as vile sinners--and to "appease" a bloodthirsty and omnipotent God who intended all this to happen, and (according to the story) sent this ideal man down to earth to make sure that it did …. now if that's not a vile story, even if t'were true, then my name is Odin.
And there's certainly nothing enlightening there on which to base an ethics. And base an ethics on it the religionists certainly do. One they insist is “sublime.”
No wonder the religionists see nothing to apologise for today when priests quietly sacrifice young children to their own misbegotten lusts.
HANS HOBEIN’S ‘CHRIST AFTER CRUCIFIXION’ lays bare the reality of the sacrifice even more directly than Mel Gibson’s splatter movie.
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.
And the story itself was not even original. In the Norse myths (to quote just one of many similar myths) the head god Odin hung himself on the World Tree Yggdrasil—not to sacrifice himself to himself, but to achieve greater understanding. As the Icelandic Edda tells the story,
I ween that I hung of the windy tree,
Hung there for nights full nine;
With the spear I was wounded, and offered I was,
To Othin, myself to myself,
On the tree that none may ever know
what root beneath it runs.
None made me happy with loaf or horn,
And there below I looked;
I took up the runes, shrieking I took them,
And forthwith back I fell.
Then began I to thrive, and wisdom to get,
I grew and well I was;
Each word led me to another word,
Each deed to another deed.
As Joseph Campbell observes,
No one can miss the parallels here to the Gospel themes of Jesus’ three hours on the Cross (3 x 3 = 9), the spear in his side, his death and resurrection, and the boon of redemption thereby obtained. The phrase “and offered I was/To Othin, myself to myself” is interesting in the light of the Christian dogma of Christ and the Father as One.”
These are the stories the Christian myth supplanted. And in hijacking the pagan celebration of spring, they overtook a joyful celebration of growth and fertility, of peace and new understanding, and added to it a new ingredient: the ethic of 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.
IT’S SAID BY SOME THAT the real point of the Crucifixion Myth is not the torture but the resurrection; not death or the manner of it, but life. This is just nuts—but then, without the resurrection, there is no Christianity.
The myth erected by Paul on the back of some poor slaughtered Jewish prophet is intended to tell you how to live your life. To do so it offers a tale of torture grafted onto a fairy story about resurrection. (WWJD, eh?)
Even in the unlikely event the whole tawdry tale from earth to sky were proven true (and I invite you to take the Easter Challenge to tell us all precisely what happened on Easter), what would it prove for life here on this earth: It would still tell the story that the bloodthirsty Sky God who inflicted that torture on his son requires of you unconditional fawning of him, and unconditional sacrifice of yourself to others. As I said, that's just vile in and of itself, let alone as a basis on which to construct an ethics.
So it's an ethics based on a fairy story and founded in rottenness.
No wonder the early Christians grafted the tale about a murdered Jewish carpenter on to the Pagan Easter festival (which really did celebrate rebirth and fertility and new life) and then weaved the two together in this way--because they hoped to somehow that sacrifice is life-affirming instead of life-destroying. Sadly, however, all that their story shows is that unless you add a the supernatural to your fairy story, the result of sacrifice on this earth is not life and fertility and rebirth, but death, and destruction and torture.
In other words, if you want to erect a morality for life on this earth , then a good place to start is not one based upon sacrifice and suffering and torture. Not unless you wish to ensure the destruction of everything that you value.
THERE IS ANOTHER STORY that stands in complete contrast to this one however, 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 mechanistic “malevolent universe” in which they are somehow “trapped”—the heroes of Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead shun sacrifice and suffering and the temptations of another world, and venerate instead their own human powers on this earth.
The hero of that novel, Howard Roark, appears in court before another baying mob, in a similar position dramatically in which Bach places 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.
You might call my "world view" a "mechanistic one," which is odd really because because it's that view which is taken by Dostoyevksy in the passage I cite above (where he whines about being "trapped" in a malevolent "mechanistic universe").
But the universe is not "mechanistic": it is knowable; it is not causeless; it is open to our manifest human powers—it is not a mechanistic nightmare in which we are trapped, but a benevolent one in which we can both achieve our values and keep them, with no sacrifice at all from anyone, by anyone or to anyone.
I would have thought any honest commentator would find that idea compelling—if, that is, he weren't already imbued with the fatuous corruption of ethics that upholds sacrifice and suffering as a "noble" moral ideal.
SO IF, DESPITE MY best exhortations, if you still insist on venerating sacrifice this weekend and making yourself suffer, and especially if you're intending a bit of crucifixion yourself (or even just a mild bit of 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. They include advice on how to whip yourself safely, how to flay others without major injury, and which size nails to use to have yourself fixed firmly to a piece of wood.
And accept Richard Wagner’s sublime ‘Good Friday Spell’ from Parsifal, and a gorgeous Parsifal Fantasia, as balm to soothe your wounds both mental and physical.
And for all the bureaucrats who are working while they insist that others don’t, here's that Nick Kim cartoon again celebrating the sacrifice of the Easter Bunny...
Have a happy holiday!
PS: By the way, did you know that Jesus was Yahweh's 111th Killing? Pretty cool god, huh?
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.
UPDATE: Good Christian folk complain that “it’s not about the torture,” that “it’s all about the resurrection.”
Who are you trying to kid.
It really is all bout the suffering—all about sacrificing human joy to human pain.
No surprise then that suffering is the very thing thing that unites the crusaders against abortion (a hatred of sex plus a love of suffering) with the crusaders against voluntary euthanasia (a hatred of human choice plus a love of suffering).
The total, evil, vicious bastards.
On this day of rebirth, Easter Sunday, in the weekend named after the Persian goddess of fertility, I suggest we replace that Xtian symbol of torture, the cross, with this unabashed symbol of human joy below. Who’s with me?
Image source: Temple of the Human Spirit