Wednesday, January 19, 2005
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, Part II.
The zombies do not operate quite the same as the rest of us. In a way, they’re somewhat childlike-—tend to believe whatever they’re told, no matter how strange or surreal. You can just lie to them all day and they won’t mind a bit. In fact, the more you lie to them, the better they seem to like it. So, if their king comes on television and tells them there’s a two-headed Cyclops (one eye for each head) walking around some little fiefdom somewhere, they will immediately get excited and begin strutting around, feverishly waving their little flags. Once they start doing that, the king can tell them just about anything and they will go for it. He could throw in a couple dozen fire-breathing dragons for good measure. The zombies will be so keyed up, they will just about bust a spleen wanting to do something about it. At that point, if the king tells them the only way to rid themselves of this menace is to send their children over a cliff, then you may be sure they will send their children over the cliff, no questions asked.
This is somewhat different from the way the rest of us operate. Most of us would at least like to see the Cyclops, a photograph of a dragon, a footprint, anything. But if we find out you’ve been lying to us all along-—if, for example, we discover the Cyclops really isn’t a Cyclops, after all; that, in fact, he’s really pretty weak, and certainly doesn’t possess any fire-breathing dragons; and should we further learn that this minute country we’ve attacked outright actually had nothing to do with an attack on our own country (another whopper the king keeps telling), we tend to get a little upset about that. Our rather reasonable response is to hold in contempt a leader and his followers who would make up lies and distortions, putting our children at risk for no reason, other than, possibly, to enrich himself and all his lords on that country’s resources and riches. Indeed, we would probably not think it unreasonable to demand the resignation, or even begin impeachment proceedings against such an infamous scoundrel. And if the civilian death toll in that minute country began to be estimated at around a hundred-thousand from this unprovoked invasion, we might go a bit further and consider prosecuting said scoundrel as a war criminal.
The body snatchers will make no such demands. For one thing, oddly enough, the zombies only believe in impeachment in the event a king tells a lie in order to cover up a minor sex act with a consenting partner. That’s it. That’s their standard for impeachment. (Sex really seems to unnerve the zombies, for some reason.)
But let that king lie to them in order to bring on a senseless war in which whole cities could be destroyed, thousands of innocents killed, and their own children returned to them in body bags or maimed, and by golly, they will give that rascal their undying loyalty. He may even have deserted his own soldier service years before, and the newspapers and all the town criers in the land could have found him out, furnished up proofs and exposed him beyond all doubt as a liar and a fraud; it will not matter one iota. Oddly enough, it only seems to make the zombies love their king even more.
The fact is, in some way that no one has been able to explain, lies appear to have an almost addictive effect on the zombies, like liquor or a hallucinogenic drug. Falsehoods trigger something in their brains. We’re not sure what the trigger is, exactly--scientists are working on it. But all the king has to do-—and somehow he always knows this-—is just keep telling the same old lies over and over. While the rest of us, having read the papers and seen the proofs, will be saying, “Ah, there goes that sneaky bastard again, telling his old lies,” the effect on the zombies will be dramatically different.
For one thing, they seldom bother to read at all. The zombies are virtually indifferent to science and history. Therefore, proofs or evidence of anything, from global warming to corporate malfeasance to evolution, have about as much effect on them as spitballs thrown at brick walls. When it comes to their king, you may be certain any evidence suggesting a possible link between him and sewage is apt to meet with hostility. For in their leader, the zombies invariably place all their trust and beliefs, as if he were their daddy, say, or God, Himself. Little wonder that those brave few who dare to speak or print the truth will likely find themselves at greater risk than the king will ever be from anyone actually hearing the truth or reading it.
It is all rather strange, indeed. Apparently, what the body snatchers have in common is a deep distrust of reality. The king could be standing before them just inches from the bloody corpse, holding the pistol whose barrel is still smoking and hot, with twenty witnesses lined up ready to testify they saw him do it; the zombies will say, “What pistol? What corpse? What witnesses?”
And whenever they see this fraud out in public, they will be drawn to him like cattle to a salt-lick. As the crowd gathers and grows, the real drug effect kicks in. Then the zombies may become agitated or giddy, their hearts will tend to palpitate at an accelerated rate, they may start to hyperventilate, their eyes may even roll up in their heads. If the leader is particularly effective or charismatic, if he assumes a somewhat military air, say, if he dons a uniform and swaggers or struts about, the masses of zombies gathered around him could become so fervid and euphoric that they may spontaneously begin chanting in unison some phrase or word, perhaps the king’s name or title, over and over, increasing in loudness and intensity until the sound becomes almost deafening; this may be accompanied by other signs or demonstrations of their outward affection and loyalty to the leader, some sort of salute, perhaps, like an upraised extended arm. . . .
THE BODY SNATCHERS, PART III
MORE THOUGHTS ON WAR AND RELIGION
The zombies believe in Santa Claus, they believe in angels, the tooth fairy, they believe the earth was created in six days, they believe Adam and Eve rose from the mud to young adulthood in a single day, less than four-thousand years ago, as tanned, perfect, and witless as the specimens in a Calvin Klein blue jean ad.
They will fume and rail against abortion, they may even shoot abortion doctors on sight, but give them half a chance to send their first-born to war, and I’ll wager my farm against your Hummer you won’t be able to hold them back. The body snatchers love the Bible and they love war. War is their drink of choice; it’s the best booze on the planet. No other drug or elixir can get them half so intoxicated.
AS FOR THE BIBLE. . .
Unfortunately, in the hands of the zombies, this benighted book is no longer an instrument of peace and spirituality. Instead, it is the instrument they use to justify their love of war, inasmuch as the only parts of it that seem to interest them these days are the parts pertaining to the so-called “End Time,” of Zechariah, Armageddon and the Rapture. Whatever will get them there, even if it’s nuclear war, so much the better.
Whatever this is, it is not religion. It is a monstrosity of religion.
The zombies seem to have an outright antagonism toward anything that smacks of real knowledge about the world. They appear to have little or no curiosity about people (other than themselves), human history, science, or even their own religion. They will steadfastly maintain that every word of the Bible is true, but this seems only to apply to the parts of the Book that interest them or support their agenda.
Take Jesus, for instance. The zombies tend to fixate mostly on the baby Jesus—-the soft, cuddly thing in the manger; and the other one, Mel Gibson’s favorite—-the flayed-alive victim nailed to the cross.
But between this beginning and tragic end, appear to be mostly blank pages. Yet, I know the Bible isn’t blank on the rest of Jesus’ interesting life, a life of activism, a life in service to the poor, a life dedicated to challenging the established order.
The Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford, writing in The Guardian, Christmas Eve, 2004, raises some interesting questions: What happened to the Jesus between his birth and death? Where is the Jesus who described his mission as being to “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”? Where is the Jesus who insisted that the social outcast be loved and cared for? Where’s the one who said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter heaven? And how come we never hear of the Jesus who spoke of forgiveness and the redistribution of wealth, the one who was accused of blasphemy for attacking the religious authorities as self-serving hypocrits? Indeed, where is He who spoke these words:
“. . .Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . .Dr. Fraser reminds us that the Nicene religion of the baby and the cross gives us Christianity without the politics. Thus--
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. . .
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. . .
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”?
The Posh and Becks nativity scene is the perfect tableau into which to place this baby, for like the much-lauded celebrity, this Christ is there to be gazed upon and adored—-but not to be heard or heeded. In a similar vein, modern evangelical choruses offer wave upon wave of praise to the name of Jesus, but offer little political or economic content to trouble his adoring fans.In the constant retelling of the Crucifixion story, when are we ever treated to a factual account of what brought Jesus to his execution at Golgotha by the Roman state? As Dr. Giles points out, “it should be obvious to anyone who has actually read the Christmas stories that the gospel regards the incarnation as challenging the existing order.” He goes on to say that even the pregnant Mary anticipates Christ’s birth with some fiery political theology of her own: God, she says, “has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” These are not the words of the sweetly haloed Hallmark card image. In fact, they seem more closely allied to the likes of Rosa Parks or Mother Jones. Yet, the only Mary most people seem remotely aware of is just the decorative painted image, surrounded in a golden light, always beautiful, but mute: no words issue from her lips.
Born among farm labourers, yet worshipped by kings, Christ announces an astonishing reversal of political authority. The local imperial stooge, King Herod, is so threatened by rumours of (Jesus’) birth that he sends troops to Bethlehem to find the child and kill him. Herod recognized that to claim Jesus is lord and king is to say that Caesar isn’t. Christ’s birth is not a silent night-—it’s the beginning of a revolution that threatened to undermine the whole basis of Roman power.But the zombies are not interested in the real flesh and blood Jesus (unless his blood happens to be spilling out on the ground). They will not and cannot claim this grownup activist man for their own, and still maintain their fixation on sin and punishment, heaven and hell, their worship of power, wealth and war, their blind obedience to the authority of the church and the state. To really know and accept the true history of their own religion might mean the zombies would have to quit it altogether, or else begin to practice what it preaches.
The Reverend Dr. Fraser moves us to a discussion of that history: “Christianity,” he says, “became the official religion of the Roman empire with the conversion of the emperor Constantine in 312, after which the church began to backpedal on the more radical demands of the adult Christ.” Dr. Fraser reminds us that it was the Roman emperor who invented Christmas-—a festival completely unknown to the early church:
It was Constantine who decided that December 25 was to be the date on which Christians were to celebrate the birth of Christ, and it was Constantine who ordered the building of the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem. . .And from Constantine onwards, the radical Christ worshipped by the early church would be pushed to the margins of Christian history to be replaced with the infinitely more accommodating religion of the baby and the cross.Constantine, Dr. Fraser tells us, was converted to Christianity by a vision that came to him on the eve of the battle of Milvian Bridge: “He saw with his own eyes, up in the sky and resting over the sun, a cross-shaped trophy formed from light, and a text attached to it which said, “By this sign, conquer.’”
Soon the cross would morph from being a hated symbol of Roman brutality into the universally recognizable logo of the Holy Roman Empire. Within a century, St. Augustine would develop the novel idea of just war, trimming the church’s originally pacifist message to the needs of the imperial war machine. Like Constantine, George Bush has borrowed the language of Christianity to support and justify his military ambition. And just like that of Constantine, the Christianity of this new Rome offers another carefully edited version of the Bible. Once again, the religion that speaks of forgiving enemies and turning the other cheek is pressed into military service.But as I've said, the zombies have no real interest in this history, which is curious, given that it so enriches and opens up the life story of the central heroic figure of their own religion. Is there any hope the prevailing winds will ever change? Certainly not in the short term, not now, when the body snatchers, under the leadership of their chief zombie, George Bush, have gotten their first real taste of power. Power, after all, is what it is all about-—ironically, the very thing against which Jesus (who had none of it) posed the greatest threat, and paid for it with his life.
There have been a few shining examples of men and women who did bother to learn the history of Jesus, the Christ, and, having learned it, took it to heart, and followed his example: the abolitionist, John Brown, comes to mind. And Harriet Tubman, and Ghandi, and Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
And there was Father Philip Berrigan, and his brother, Daniel, who, along with seven others, went to prison for burning draft records on the steps of the Catonsville, Maryland draft board office during the Vietnam War. Father Dan penned this “Meditation” at the time of the Catonsville incident:
Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. . . . We say: killing is disorder, life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize. For the sake of that order, we risk our liberty, our good name. The time is past when good men can remain silent, when obedience can segregate men from public risk, when the poor can die without defense.
Perhaps it is not too late to learn. . . .
A PARTING THOUGHT
"We can still draw inspiration and sustenance from the old, old stories--not forgetting that they are old, and that they are stories, and that we made them up." David Boulton, Writer, New Internationalist (Aug. 2004).