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09 April 2004

Death of Christendom - part VI - Good Friday

It's not just me, you know. In my Google-fueled "research" for this installment, I came across this dissertation for PhD candidate John Mabry at the California Institute of Integral Studies. It has this to say:

Our liturgies are in desperate need of reform, especially the Eucharist . . . Eucharist rites themselves contain sexist language, support spirit-over-body and heaven-over-earth dualities, and promote an ecclesiastical manifest destiny . . . One woman . . . wondered whether or not she could continue to call herself a Christian at all if she had to accept uncritically the teachings of her church. Many women remain silent during offensive parts of their church's liturgy, since they cannot speak the creeds or other sections in good conscience.

Well, I don't know what's so special about women. (I guess it's because this dissertation is about some aspect of feminist theology.) But the thing is, I am comforted to know that others feel the same as I do, and I know it's not confined to women.

It's not the sexism, or even the body-spirit duality, that I find offensive. It's the sado-masochism of it. No, not even that. I am not sure that a little sado-masochism isn't a healthy thing, although at first glance it's a weird thing to base a religion on. But then I realize what it really is, and I think maybe it's not so strange. It's the whole theology of punishment and pay-back. It's the antithesis of Jesus's message of unconditional forgiveness and unconditional love. Or as this quote from Carter Heywood in the above paper says:

Any theology that is promulgated on an assumption that followers of Jesus, Christians, must welcome pain and death as a sign of faith is constructed upon a faulty hermeneutic of what Jesus was doing and of why he died. This theological masochism is completely devoid of passion. This notion of welcoming, or submitting oneself gladly to, injustice flies in the face of Jesus's own refusal to make concession to unjust relation.

Ha! Take that, Mel Gibson.

I also stumbled upon some interesting writings by cult stud types and psychotherapist types about the punishment motifs and homoerotic masochism in protrayals of "the Passion" and other Christian martyrdoms. (And these were written before Mel's film, too.) Lisa Starks here quotes an article by Kaja Silverman:

[In Christian masochistic fantasy,] the external audience is a structural necessity, although it may be either earthly or heavenly . . . the body is centrally on display, whether it is being consumed by ants or roasting over a fire . . . [and] behind all these 'scenes' or 'exhibits' is the master tableau or group fantasy--Christ nailed to the cross, head wreathed in thorns and blood dripping from his impaled sides. What is being beaten here is not so much the body as the "flesh," and beyond that sin itself, and the whole fallen world.

Consider if you will, the two-thousand years of abuse and punishment meted out to innocent children, by father or a Father of the church, or by mother standing in as a proxy, always with the image being fixed in their minds of the sad Saviour who had suffered and died to make them good, and now they were disappointing Him. Consider the violence of all the struggles for control of this engine of oppressive power that "Christ's" church had become, and all the punishment, slavery, wanton cruelty, exclusion and painful death that were visited on the losers in the struggle. (And all this in the name of one who allowed prostitutes to sit at his table, who forgave everyone he met, even those who tortured and killed him, and who made as plain a case as can be made that sacrifice was not what God wants, and that retaliation and punishment were the real root of all sin.)

So viewed from that angle, you can see why the focus on Jesus's gruesome death, and the expectation that Christians down through the ages would either re-live it, or "yearn for it" or feel guilty about it or at least struggle like mad to be "worthy of it" is actually an excellent basis for a religion. That is, if you see religion, not as its original meaning would imply, as a force that reconnects us to our most authentic selves and thus to God, (re-ligion, etymologically is "to re-tie") but rather as a hierarchical force for social control, that binds us to un-natural laws of thought and behaviour, and seeks our own cowed complicity in that binding. Well, I have made my case for which type of religion I choose and cherish.

So I celebrate Good Friday with chocolate and whisky and gratitude. Yes, Christ died on this day (although as DH says, "vat was two-fousand years ago, mate!") but not for my sins or the "sins of Mankind" (sic). Jesus died on this day to illustrate that death has no dominion, that we do not owe a sacrifice to an angry Father, that, indeed, there is no angry Father. He died as he lived, to teach a great lesson of love, forgiveness and freedom.

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