Christ – The Answer to Dystopia

It would be a mistake to say that we are currently living in good times; more so, it would be downright deceiving. To say that this phase of evolution (if it is okay to term it as such) is somehow “good” is to treat human existence as some kind of trivial sports game, where human beings are divided up as collective entities and the conflict that permeates throughout these entities are just there for mere amusement. It would be far more appropriate to say that our current state is more akin to a dysfunctional family.

Our daily life consists of, more or less, incessant political posturing while attempting to one-up our neighbors in every regard. When normal, everyday people have conversations it is done quite frequently from behind avatars–inanimate images which in no way conveys uniqueness but rather seeks to blend in with the herd, both aesthetically and spiritually. To sum up this observation one only needs to imagine scrolling through the endless newsfeed of social media, through the countless profile pictures that do not even show the face of a person but are instead political slogans, advertisements, anime characters, etc.

In his book Understanding the Media, Marshall McLuhan wrote the following:

“It is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium–that is, of any extension of ourselves–result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”

With the advent of social media, we see clearly the change in thought processes and speech, and we can observe how they are shaped by our interactions with each other online. When we engage in conversation with people online, we largely engage with their avatars rather than with their persons. We engage with the slogans, the one-liners, and, at best, their ideologies; as a result, our attitude devolves into that of detachment and our language shortened, as if to say our neighbors aren’t worthy of our time. This is true not only of internet discourses but also real-world conversations. One affects the other as McLuhan points out.

The social media effect–the devaluing of persons–is just a micro-example of a larger issue. Our Enlightenment-era presuppositions give the impression that humanity has been elevated by secularist philosophies; quite the opposite is true. A movement of renaissance must always elevate the human person and not subject him to the environment. Berdyaev writes:

The fact that man receives light from the sun and that his life turns round the sun is an important sign of man’s subjection. The fact that the sun lighted man from without is an eternal reminder that man, like all things of this world, is by himself in everlasting darkness, having in himself no source of light. The sun should be in man, the centre of the cosmos: man himself should be the sun of the world, round which everything else revolved. The Logos-Sun within man should be giving light.1

Most of us are familiar with the dystopias depicted in countless science fiction stories of our time. It is probably safe to conclude that we today live in a much grittier and less fantastical version of those dystopias depicted in art. A common theme in those stories has always been technology, often artificial intelligence, overshadowing humanity to the point of making it a speck in an enormous neon jungle. In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, humanity has become a giant meat-grinding machine, leading us to sympathize with the created replicants. The devaluing of humanity, namely personhood, leads to the trivialization of relationships and, ultimately, the expulsion of those considered expendable.

Many are aware of this stark reality that we inhabit. As a result, many try to find solace in things such as activism, politics, spirituality, occultism, arts, etc. But these are all lifeless things–meaningless without the person aware of the intrinsic value of his personhood. Therefore, the value must come from somewhere historically and personally. This source must be none other than Jesus Christ–the God-man.

Why must it be Christ? Berdyaev makes the case for this:

Man is a microcosm; his is a rightly central and royal place in the world, because human nature mystically resembles the nature of the Absolute Man, Christ, and thus participates in the nature of the Holy Trinity. Man is not a simple creature, together with other created things, because the only-begotten Son of God, begotten before all worlds and of equal worth with His Father, is not only absolute God but Absolute Man. Christology is the only true anthropology. Christ, the Absolute Man, appeared on earth and in humanity and hence for ever confirmed a central significance in the universe for man and for the earth. Neither Copernicus’s astronomy nor Darwin’s biology can overthrow Christological anthropology, which surpasses this world, a truth which is truly before all worlds. Before the world was created the image of man already in the Son of God, born of the Father, before all time. Only the Christology of man, the reverse side of the anthropology of Christ, reveals in man the genuine image and likeness of God, the Creator.2

Once we have read the Gospel accounts and understood the person of Christ, we can see quite clearly that Christ speaks to our modern-day dysfunctional society like no one else. In this highly digitized age where we feel extreme isolation and alienation from the rest of humanity, Jesus’ example shows us how we must proceed. Take, for instance, Christ’s encounter with Zacchaeus in Jericho (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a member of a profession known to be despised because of their servitude to the Roman occupiers. In short, the people didn’t see Zacchaeus, they saw his avatar. When Jesus was passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus wanted to see who this famous Rabbi was, but there was one problem, he was a very short person and he couldn’t see Jesus over the crowd. So he ran and climbed to the top of a sycamore-fig tree to see Him.

Jesus caught sight of Zacchaeus and called to him. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately,” Jesus said, “I must stay at your house today.” Here, we must be reminded that it is very easy to look past certain cultural norms in ancient societies–norms that dictated how a person was to be treated based on his/her group identity. The crowd was astonished at Jesus’ words–that He would disregard the norms of the day so boldly. “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner,” they muttered. Indeed, Christ’s actions were earth-shattering, to say the least.

But let us take this story and place it in our modern-day context. Today, our group identities are our avatars dictated to us by politicians, technocrats, and the zeitgeist. We intensely argue with or ignore our fellow human beings, but barely know anything about them. Those who are staunch proponents of either capitalism or socialism say that human beings should be compensated based on their productivity, and that’s that; as if man lives on bread alone. But this is not the way of Jesus who calls us by our names and wants to dine with us.

Jesus not only gives us bread for our stomachs, as he gave to the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21), but he also gives us that what is ever lacking in the kingdoms of this world: acknowledgment of personhood. In other words, if Jesus were present on social media today, there is a bigger possibility of Him sending you a DM and getting to know you than there is of Him saying something bombastic on Twitter.* The visions and trends of Big Tech companies would be meaningless to Christ; they are mere blips on His radar.

It is understandable to see why many of us remain disenchanted whilst going through our cubicles in a mundane manner. Imagine, for a second, a world where Christ’s recognition of our personhood spreads through each of us, individually, like wildfire in our highly digitized and connected age. What if we acknowledged that behind each “profile picture” or avatar there is a person who has an entire history and memories filled with joy, sorrow, grief, pain, concern, potential, love, etc? What if we spent more time on social media seeing our neighbors as “microcosms,” as Berdyaev put it, and “loving our neighbors as ourselves?”

“Community standards” would be trivial. Censorship would be obsolete. In the larger scheme of things, it must be safe to assume that our world wouldn’t be a dystopia anymore; but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The method with which Jesus approached Zacchaeus yields the result that Zacchaeus displayed after conversing with Jesus. “Look, Lord!” Zacchaeus declared, “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” To say that our world wouldn’t be a dystopia would be an enormous understatement.

*If Jesus did post something bombastic on Twitter, it would be something like, “Make Your Neighbor Great Again!”

  1. Nikolai Berdyaev, The Meaning of the Creative Act.
  2. Ibid.

Lost Highway – A Film Analysis

Lost Highway is a 1997 psychological thriller directed by David Lynch of Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive fame. This movie, alongside Mulholland Drive, is known for being one of the hardest films to follow. There have been all kinds of speculation to its underlying meaning due to the lack of a grounded plot, but the themes that Lynch presents to us are quite apparent. In fact, Lost Highway has quite a lot to teach us about the cyclical nature of envy and violence, and how these evils are planted within our psyche.

We are straightaway introduced to the character of Fred Madison whose last name gives us a hint of what he is about to venture into. But why does he go mad and what is the nature of his madness? Deconstructing insanity is no safe task; it requires us to go into the mind of the insane subject ourselves. And so, David Lynch takes us through some uncomfortable scenes filled with violence, eroticism, and frightening imagery, the result of which is a surreal nightmarish landscape–a typical Lynch narrative.

Through the initial scenes of the movie, we come to know that Fred possesses some characteristics that are a precursor to insanity. The first sign is that Fred does not like video recordings. When asked why he despises video recordings, Fred answers that he “likes to remember things his own way, not necessarily the way they happened.” This is indicative that Fred is not particularly interested in objective reality or concrete truths, which are the prime foundations for reason and understanding. Not only is he not interested in truth but he despises truth, and we will see this coming back to haunt him again and again.

The second sign is that Fred does not trust his wife Renee; she doesn’t seem to have anything beyond platonic feelings for him. Fred Madison’s distrust of Renee eventually leads to jealousy and paranoia. He begins to question her whenever she is away or whenever she is with another person. Here, Lynch enters a character who resembles something like that of a ghoul–a character that will stalk Fred throughout the film.

In one of the film’s most bizarre scenes (and there are plenty), this mysterious, satanic character (portrayed by Robert Blake) walks up to Fred in the middle of a party and nonchalantly claims to have met him before. Fred is puzzled but the stranger insists, “You invited me. It is not my custom to go where I am not wanted.” Who is this Mystery Man that shows up suddenly to haunt Fred Madison?

It is perhaps not too far-reaching to assume that the creation of the Mystery Man has much to do with Lynch’s understanding of far-eastern philosophy, namely the aspects that center around desire. It’s highly likely that the Mystery Man, according to the heavily monist worldview of Lynch, is a manifestation of Fred’s ego. The Mystery Man frequently terrorizes Fred, often bringing him out of his illusory state and reminding him of who he is and what he must do, thus leading him to a state of “emptiness” through a reverse Bodhi of sorts.

It is worth noting here that Lynch is not consciously working from a Christian worldview, but it should be obvious to anyone that the Mystery Man is unmistakably Satan in the anthropological sense, not because he provides the truth (as it may seem from Lynch’s viewpoint) but because he acts as chief prosecutor and even co-conspirator in Fred Madison’s impending and atrocious crime. In a jealous rage, the cause of which seems to be Renee’s infidelity, Fred Madison brutally murders his wife. He is promptly arrested and sentenced to the electric chair.

While on death row, Fred Madison is in mental agony; he is unable to sleep. It is here that we slip into a kind of coping fantasy designed by Fred’s mind. As the fantasy progresses, we catch a glimpse of Fred’s deepest desires: cheerful friends, understanding parents, magical mechanical skills, a peaceful suburban home, and a faithful girlfriend. At first glance, we think Fred–now in the body of a young man named Pete–is wholly satisfied, but the fabric of this “all-American” dream (which Lynch seems to be poking at) evidently starts to tear.

All myths must have a hint of truth, and it turns out that Pete’s life has nothing in common with Fred’s. In an attempt to rectify this, Fred unconsciously constructs a much more pleasing and seductive version of his wife Renee. Here, we have to remember, once again, the cause of Fred’s crime, which is mimetic desire. It is precisely because Fred’s crime is uxoricide that Pete must have “Alice,” who turns out to be Renee’s double.

Alice shows up as a kind of femme fatale who honeytraps Pete into a dangerous situation which proves to be yet another tear in the fantasy of Fred Madison. The myth must not only have a hint of truth, it must also reflect the murder in some way. In the Christian worldview, the murder beneath ancient myths is showcased par excellence by the crucifixion of Christ. The Passion narrative, therefore, manages to short circuit humanity in such a way that it is no longer able to construct fantasies by which the murder remains hidden.

Lynch’s narrative achieves this to some effect but, due to the absence of a Christian-infected worldview, it fails to redeem the human person in any concrete way. Lynch’s vision of unity between creator and creation is ultimately cyclical as he compares the universe with the symbol of the Ouroboros–the serpent eating its own tail.1 This is why Fred’s further revision of his myth finally involves a murder, not of the wife but the wife’s lover.

In the climactic scenes of the movie, Fred’s fantasy fails to save him, exactly because the murder is exposed, and instead places him right back at the beginning of the story–the genesis of his paranoia, thus completing the circle of the serpent. He is stuck in a prison as the Mystery Man tells him at one point. The Mystery Man even expands, albeit chillingly, on the prison metaphor: “In the East, the Far East, when a person is sentenced to death, they’re sent to a place where they can’t escape, never knowing when an executioner may step up behind them, and fire a bullet into the back of their head.”

Fred’s fantasy is most certainly a prison–a state of Maya–that has trapped him. It is worth noting that the prison metaphor deals with contemporary society on multiple planes with its depiction of hedonism, infidelity, sadism, nefarious figures pulling the strings, murder, etc. It serves as an important tool, through the dual worlds of Zeus and Hades, to bring to light the American nightmare underneath the American dream. It brilliantly dissects the state of modern man and his futile existence in a post-Christian society.

All being said, Lost Highway is ultimately the film form of the Ouroboros–a reminder of how violence sustains societal order to a certain degree. The lack of any final say, however, might be the film’s unintentional moral message. The sheer demonic nature of the plot and the lack of redemption in any of the characters may remind us, above all, of its opposite: the protoevangelium, wherein God mentions that the seed of Eve would “crush the head of the serpent.”2

 

  1. https://www.wallpaper.com/guest-editor/david-lynch
  2. Genesis 3:15

The Birth of Mercy

Recently, a psychology professor by the name of Erik Sprankle stated that the Virgin Mary may not have given ‘consent’ when the angel Gabriel told her that she would give birth to Jesus. Besides showing the utter ignorance that is overwhelming in academia, the professor proved how much contemporary thought is possessed by ideological and identitarian groupthink.

In reality, it is hard for ideologues to shape a crucifixion-haunted world into their own image, for Christ had already shattered the very foundation of ideology: violent force. The virgin birth story speaks of something remarkable and unprecedented in human history. It gives us a completely new perspective on the role of human beings voluntarily creating an underground society that would ultimately reshape the world in the image of Jesus Christ.

In the times before Christ and outside the Hebrew people, the world had been largely dominated by grand narratives that empowered lynch mobs and thus gave rise to the notion of ‘might is right.’ We know these narratives today as the classical myths of the ancient world. These myths, such as the birth of Dionysus, contain evidence that reveals the empowering of the accusing mob in ancient pagan societies.

In his book, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, René Girard explains the violent origins of the pagan birth myths:

Stories of this kind always involve more than a hint of violence. Zeus bears down on Semele, the mother of Dionysus, like a beast of prey upon its victim, and in effect strikes her with lightning. The birth of the gods is always a kind of rape…These monstrous couplings between men, gods and beasts are in close correspondence with the phenomenon of reciprocal violence and its method of working itself out. The orgasm that appeases the god is a metaphor for collective violence.

It is almost as if the virgin birth account of the New Testament were written as a response to the birth myths of the Greek gods. In the gospels, Mary’s status, unlike that of Semele’s, is elevated by God to that of nobility. In the gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel greets Mary by saying, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” God makes known to Mary that she will bring forth his son, to which Mary replies, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” There is a complete absence of violence and coercion in the virgin birth story. There is no element of force whatsoever.

For centuries, humanity has operated under a principle of ritual sacrifice, where the sacrifice of one may bring the temporal unity of many. Our modern-day society, despite the lack of extravagant mythologies, still operates under this same principle. We divide ourselves into factions and are forever in search for that one sacrifice, that one execution which will bring us nearer to utopia. Mass incarceration of innocents to rid ourselves of crime, abortion to bring family stability, and war to bring peace. This is the story of the rape of Semele, of achieving good through coercion. The mortal and vulnerable becomes nothing more than a means to an end. It is not so with the God of the Bible.

When Christ was born, singing could be heard coming down from heaven. “Glory to God in the highest,” the angels sang, “And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” The image of a lowly teenage girl giving birth to the Son of God, among animals and poor shepherds in a manger, turns the powers and principalities of the world on their heads. This was God and the human race working together to create a kingdom of peace on earth, one that the prophet Daniel predicted will outlast the empires of men.

The God of the Bible brings order and peace through mercy and self-sacrifice. The mortal and the vulnerable is proclaimed to be the image bearer of God, and Mary is given the honor to become the mother of divinity. The young Mary accepts this honor, and in doing so she becomes a precursor to her own son dying on the cross. This divine dance of self-sacrifice would come full circle when Mary, an old woman by now, would stand at the feet of the cross upon which her son would die for the sins of the world.

With Christ’s birth, Mary is bestowed with the privilege of becoming the mother of the divine emperor Jesus. She represents mankind voluntarily partaking with God in bringing the kingdom of God to a world riddled with violence and degeneracy. The birth of a child signifies how Jesus’ kingdom would undermine the mob-rule and totalitarian nature of power in our age. The way of God is of self-sacrifice–the willingness to be expelled from the confines of worldly power–in such a way as to deconstruct and lay bare the evil of worldly power to all of humanity, thus enabling us to forsake violence and embrace mercy.

Mercy can only come about when we see others as children of God, and when we think of children we see the infant Jesus, innocence and vulnerability personified, lying in the bosom of a human mother. Nothing is as dangerous to a sacrificial machinery as a small child and his mother carrying within them an overwhelming value—the spark of divinity. The birth of Christ, like the crucifixion, calls on us to treat our neighbor as we would the child Christ and his mother Mary; it calls us to imitate these two brilliant self-sacrificing personalities, and through imitation, it calls us to compassion. The way of Zeus raping Semele is dead, and nothing, not even our ideological saber-toothed concern for victims, can ever replace it, except for self-sacrifice, voluntary negotiation, and mercy.

This article originally appeared on LibertarianChristians.com

Berdyaev vs Slavery

Man is a riddle in the world, and it may be, the greatest riddle. Man is a riddle not because he is an animal, not because he is a social being, not as a part of nature and society. It is as a person that he is a riddle—just that precisely; it is because he possesses personality.
–Nikolai Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom

It is not surprising to see that, despite many advances in science, technology, and overall knowledge, humanity is deeply enslaved to both physical and metaphysical idols. The root cause of this, according to Russian existentialist philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, is connected to the departure from focusing on personality and the entrance into objectivization.

Given Berdyaev’s experience in witnessing and standing against the rise of Communism in early twentieth-century Russia, it must be said that Berdyaev’s literary works deserve our utmost attention, especially as we ourselves witness the emergence of subtler and far more destructive totalitarian systems of our time. It would benefit us to know what made the man whom Solzhenitsyn described as a “brilliant defender of human freedom against ideology.”1

Berdyaev lays the problem of enslavement at the feet of objectivization. What is objectivization? Berdyaev writes that “objectivization is impersonality, the ejection of man into the world of determinism.”2 Berdyaev faults modernity with objectifying almost everything within its sight. The objectification of man causes him to be enslaved to the State, class, mammon, ideology, nature, society, civilization, civilization, culture, and even God.

Let us look at some of Berdyaev’s critiques on the various kinds of slavery that have gripped mankind in the modern age.

On the concept of the State, Berdyaev writes that “the state always repeats the words of Caiaphas; it is the state’s confession of faith.” The words of Caiaphas, of course, are: “It is better for us that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish.” “That which has been considered immoral for a person,” Berdyaev continues, “has been considered entirely moral for the state.”3

On excessive patriotism, Berdyaev says: “National egocentricity, national self-containment, and xenophobia, are in no degree better than personal egocentricity, self-containment and hostility to other people…” Nationalism, Berdyaev writes, “insists upon hatred, it requires hostility towards and contempt for other nations. Nationalism is already potential war.”4

Slavery can be manifest even in Christendom, particularly when we objectify God. “God is not an object to personality,” Berdyaev says, “He is a subject with whom existential relations exist.” It is blindingly obvious that once we objectify God we turn into Dostoevsky’s infamous Grand Inquisitor—one who wants to engineer society through violence into serving God.

In Berdyaev’s critiques, we find a similarity that helps us get to the core of the problem. In every mode of slavery, we see an erasure of personal accountability. We see, with the transformation of persons into things, the rise of utilitarianism. This naturally gives rise to all kinds of exploitation and oppression. Berdyaev writes:

In the cultural and ideal tendencies of our epoch, dehumanization moves in two directions, toward naturalism and toward technicism. Man is subject either to cosmic forces or to technical civilization. It is not enough to say that he subjects himself: he is dissolved and disappears either in cosmic life or else in almighty technics; he takes upon himself the image, either of nature or of the machine. But in either case he loses his own image and is dissolved into his component elements. Man as a whole being, as a creature centered within himself, disappears; he ceases to be a being with a spiritual center, retaining his inner continuity and his unity.5

With the advent of the industrial revolution, we see human persons turning into mechanized units—mere disposable flesh and blood, ready to be exploited by the dominating class. Man turns into a domesticated beast, ready to plow the concrete fields of the modern landscape; his uniqueness and worth all but forgotten. For this reason, Berdyaev initially turned to the doctrine of Marxism.

Witnessing the full onslaught of the Russian revolution and the consolidation of power by the Bolshevik regime, Berdyaev disowned Marxism while, at the same time, clinging on to its criticism of capitalism and the bourgeois spirit. His criticism of Bolshevik totalitarianism led to him being interrogated by the notorious head of the Cheka (the Soviet Secret Police) and one of the architects of the Red Terror, Felix Dzerzhinsky.6 Berdyaev stood his ground and defended personhood in the face of collectivist terror, and won. He was then forced into exile.

Berdyaev’s problem with violent revolutions can be seen in the fact that they are born from the envy of the bourgeois spirit rather than transcending it. “Socialism and communism,” Berdyaev says, “may give effect to a just and equitable distribution of the bourgeois spirit!” Of course, Berdyaev had no desire to perpetuate the bourgeois mentality of pride and aloofness simply because it could not be reconciled with his Christian worldview. He writes:

At one time in Egypt the dignity of immortality was attributed only to the king; all the rest of the people were mortal. In Greece to begin with only gods or demi-gods or heroes and supermen were regarded as immortal; the people were mortal. Christianity alone has recognized all men worthy of immortality, that is to say it makes the idea of immortality absolutely democratic… Christianity has overthrown the principles of Greco-Roman culture, and in so doing has affirmed the dignity of every man, of his sonship to God. It has affirmed the image of God in every man, and Christianity alone is able to unite democracy, the equality of man in the sight of God, with the aristocratic principle of personality, the spiritual equality of persons, which is not dependent upon society and the masses.7

What liberates man from slavery? Berdyaev’s answer is a call to “true aristocracy,” namely one that ascends beyond the impersonal—the herd—and descends to those who are suffering and abandoned. “The principal mark of true aristocracy,” he writes, “is not exaltation but self-sacrifice and magnanimity, which are derived from inward riches, a readiness to descend, inability to feel ressentinment.”8

“True aristocracy,” according to Berdyaev, manifests in creativity, not of the vain kind but towards the betterment of one’s own neighbor. “Great creative men,” Berdyaev writes, “have always thought of themselves as called to service, they have a universal mission.” Not only is creativeness the act of love towards fellow man, but it is also a manifestation of God’s energy in His creation.

Creativeness is liberation from slavery. Man is free when he finds himself in a state of creative activity. Creativeness leads to ecstasy of the moment. The products of creativeness are within time, but the creative act itself lies outside time.9

Indeed, Berdyaev’s answer to theodicy is “anthropodicy,” a justification of man as co-creator in God’s work. This is not far from Jesus’ statement: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do” (John 14:12). The answer to slavery, therefore, is not another political theory but, rather, the recognition that each and every individual is God’s image-bearer. With the voluntary realization of this principle comes true liberation.

1. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 3
2. N. Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom
3. Ibid
4. Ibid
5. N. Berdyaev, The Fate of Man in the Modern World
6. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 3
7. N. Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom
8. Ibid
9. Ibid

The Serving Monarch

The role of the monarch in human history proves to be a fascinating subject. It is fascinating not only from the perspective of governance but also from that of religion and ethics. The anthropological trajectory of Ethiopia, according to its legend and history, is one example where this observation of ethical development can be made. 

It is said in the Tarich-Negus chronicle that the first king of Ethiopia was a hybrid serpent-human named Arwe who ruled tyrannically through human sacrifice. Legend says that to appease Arwe, the reptilian king was fed a steady diet of milk and virgins.1 This ruthless king would be outwitted by a warrior named Angabo who fed Arwe a poisoned sheep. Angabo was then rewarded by the people with the throne of the Emperor. 

This peculiar combination of monarchy, hybrid animal-human beings, and human sacrifice should not surprise anyone who has looked at the works of anthropologist René Girard. In fact, the Ethiopian chronicles give a far clearer indication of Girard’s work than any other ancient texts. Girard says that an understanding of monarchy is only possible on the basis of an understanding of sacrifice.2

Why did Arwe bear the semblance of a snake? In ancient societies, Girard claimed, the sacrificed person would often be remade into a non-human personality—an otherized creature.3 What could be the reason for Arwe’s insistence on sacrifice? We have reason to believe that, despite scanty evidence, human sacrifices were carried out during pre-Christian times4 and, also recently, in tribal parts of Ethiopia.5 What is most interesting, however, is the break from human sacrifice, that correlated with the ascent of Queen Makeda, otherwise known as the Queen of Sheba. 

The interaction between the ancient Hebrews and the Ethiopians may have provided the foundation upon which the gradual but certain break from human sacrifice occurred. Skeptics will object here that human sacrifices were still carried out in Ethiopia as recently as the early 2010s, but that is overlooking the slow, human volition-dependent way the Biblical revelation seeps into culture and gradually overturns its sacrificial mechanism. 

In ancient times, the monarch was judge, jury, and executioner, regardless of any morality that existed outside the crowd. Monarchs could sacrifice whoever and for whatever reasons; it is for this very reason that pagan monarchs were often worshiped as deities by the masses. This might-makes-right morality is reversed in the scriptures where the prophet Nathan boldly rebukes King David for coveting Bathsheba and killing his neighbor in the process (2 Sam. 12). King David, being subject to the divine rule of God, submitted to Nathan’s rebuke and accepted judgment. 

In the New Testament, the world’s idea of a monarch is subverted even more with the advent of Jesus. The ultimate ruler of the cosmos, despite fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies, is born into the shantytown of Bethlehem. This King would then preach to everyone that “the greatest among you will be your servant” (Matt. 23:11). Jesus would exemplify the Serving Monarch, just before His death on the cross, by washing the feet of His disciples (Matt. 26). 

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul encourages us to follow Christ and thus imitate the archetype of the Serving Monarch: 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 

(Philippians 2:5-8, NIV) 

At the doorsteps of the Second World War, Emperor Haile Selassie, with the vengeful forces of Mussolini in sight, had two options: he could fight the Italians to the last man as his predecessors did, or he could take a far more humbling and diplomatic route. Haile Selassie, at the insistence of his advisors, chose the latter. 

Emperor Selassie sailed to England where he would spend time in exile but not in defeat. He would continue to ask his people not to lose hope while he stepped up his appeal to the League of Nations which was failing miserably to see the Fascist threat that was about to engulf the whole of Europe. 

At the League of Nations, Selassie boldly asked the great nations of Europe and America to help his people who were being exterminated by chemical weapons. The British elites had already snubbed him and the American mainstream media, as it is often the case, were duped by Mussolini’s propaganda and myth-spewing mistress Margherita Sarfatti. The New York Times ran multiple headlines like, “Il Duce insists the chief aim of Italian policy is peace”6 and “MUSSOLINI, HOPE OF YOUTH, ITALY’S ‘MAN OF TOMORROW’; HARD WORK HIS CREED.”7

The greater nations of the League were all but taken in by the grand mythologies that Mussolini had fed them. It is here that we can observe how the ancient mythologies take their course, grinding down a morality of might-makes-right. The more powerful nations could afford to let Ethiopia be the scapegoat for Mussolini so that the dictator may stop after he’d had his fill of blood. 

The smaller nations, however, were alarmed by Emperor Selassie’s warnings. Ghana’s president was furious with the League.8 A Czech spectator at the assembly shot himself after crying out for the fate of small countries.9 This proved that the mythologizing in favor of Mussolini was not entirely successful, and this was due to Emperor Selassie’s realistic description of the horrors faced by his countrymen. It was also the Christian revelation of Calvary, something that had seeped into the nations through trade and interaction, which made it impossible for the myth of Mussolini to unanimously take hold. As a result, a large movement arose in America, particularly among the black community, in support of Emperor Selassie. 

What defines the Serving Monarch? The existence of such a ruler could only be possible with the revolutionary idea that Jesus brought forward with His earthly life. Christ said to His disciples: 

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…” 

(Matthew 20:24-26, NIV) 

This revelation instilled a sense of value into the lives of every human person and, as a result, gone was the notion that the subjects of an emperor could be stepped over and sacrificed for “the greater good” of the whole. This also meant that emperors, or rulers of any kind, now had a greater duty to their people. They must start serving their people. 

Haile Selassie, being in the line of the first Christian monarchy in history, was the first to voluntarily initiate a constitution for his nation. He brokered peace and urged cooperation between many African nations. He also initiated a program of building and developing power supply, roads, schools, hospitals, the arts, and many other modern-day necessities. But the Emperor was too slow, according to western reporters, and Ethiopia still backward. The New York Times wrote: “It is absurd to pretend that Ethiopia is a civilized nation in any Western sense of the word.”10 

The serpent-king of Ethiopian folklore would come back under a new guise. Emperor Selassie would succeed in driving out fascism from his country, thanks to the outbreak of the Second World War, but he would be dethroned and murdered by socialism. Fascism would not succeed in killing him because the world today is largely haunted by the cross of Calvary. The death of the innocent Christ had stirred the notion in the minds of men that it is no longer acceptable to step over or trod on the lesser of society. 

Socialism on the other hand thrives on violent sacrifice while feigning concern for the “least of these.” Thanks to the influence of socialist uprisings in Europe, liberal newspapers in America, and military aid from the Soviet Union, the socialists were able to kill Emperor Selassie. The left sacrificed Selassie on the alter of utopia, but the socialist dream never came true as their ascent to power led to the ruination of Ethiopia, culminating in the horrible famine of the 1980s. 

Again, what is the definition of the Serving Monarch? The Serving Monarch is the anthropological effect of God the Son lowering Himself to the level of the human person and then, as God-incarnate, serving other human persons—washing their feet and dying on the cross at the hands of violent people. The incarnation of the Son of God means that we cannot afford to shun our neighbors for the sake of the ideal. The leftist revolutionaries realized this but they failed to grasp its radical message of voluntary servitude and self-sacrifice. 

But what implication does the Christian revelation have on societies at large? Haile Selassie’s sacrifice at the hands of the DERG was one that failed in propelling progress. Our sacrificial tendencies, fueled by the accusatory spirit of the serpent-king, urge us to demand more sacrifices as our modern-day sacrifices fail in repetition. But there are no real monarchs in today’s world. Christ says we are all monarchs in His kingdom. “You are gods,” Jesus says (John 10:34) while instilling in us that we are His image-bearers and, therefore, treasured.  

The key to escaping man-made sorrow and sacrificial violence lies in this revelation. The accusatory spirit of satan tries to reverse this to mean that we are all worthy to be sacrificed on the altar of progressive ideologies, but satan is trapped in a vicious circle as Christ reveals the truth about violence despite its many disguises. This is why Christ says that satan already stands condemned before us all (John 16:11). 

  1. Dr. Sergew Hable Selassie, Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History
  2. Girard, The Violence and the Sacred
  3. Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
  4. https://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/aethiopica/article/view/737/823
  5. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/august/ethiopiariverdeath.html
  6. Dean W. Arnold, Unknown Empire: The Story of Mysterious Ethiopia and the Future Ark of Civilization
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/1922/11/05/archives/mussolini-hope-of-youth-italys-man-of-tomorrow-hard-work-his-creed.html
  8. Dean W. Arnold, Unknown Empire: The Story of Mysterious Ethiopia and the Future Ark of Civilization
  9. Anthony Eden, Facing the Dictators: The Eden Memoirs
  10. Dean W. Arnold, Unknown Empire: The Story of Mysterious Ethiopia and the Future Ark of Civilization

The Godfather – A Film Analysis

At the start of The Godfather: Part II (directed by Francis Ford Coppola), we see a grim exchange between a corrupt politician and the head of a Sicilian Mafia family. The politician, a reputed senator, denies the Mafia Don’s request for a Vegas gambling license, saying: “I despise your masquerade, the dishonest way you pose yourself.” The Mafia Don, Michael Corleone (portrayed by Al Pacino), replies: “We’re both part of the same hypocrisy, senator.”

When we see our current socio-political climate (“current” meaning the whole of our lifetime) it is fair to conclude that Mario Puzo’s The Godfather speaks volumes about the rampant hypocrisy running deep in our society. What is hypocrisy? The Greek hypokrisis is closely connected to envy and theatrics. A common subject for the theater in ancient times was, no doubt, mythology.

The Godfather saga can be considered a modern myth—a continuation of the drama of the Greek gods—albeit with a post-Calvary dynamic. In ancient Greece, Zeus was considered the king of the gods and, therefore, the most worthy of worship. Hades, the god of the underworld, on the other hand, is mostly avoided out of fear by the masses. Zeus is the popular face of the gods, the representation of the light: the kind of savior for which people yearn. Hades is the representation of the things that, socially, are best left unsaid.

What’s best left unsaid is the mirroring of the two forces and the source of evil. The rule of Zeus is publicized—presentable. The rule of Hades is an open secret—an incrimination of Zeus. Both rule via murder, coercion, and persecution. This order of mythology is channeled in the Godfather saga. Don Vito Corleone (portrayed by Marlon Brando), Michael’s father and mentor, recognizes this and refers to the politicians, clergy, lawyers, doctors, and professors as pezzonovante: “big shots.”

It is worthwhile to observe the developing relationship between Vito Corleone and the pezzonovante. In his novel, Mario Puzo sketches a history of the Corleone family that is very much grounded in reality. Vito Corleone ascends the underworld by running bootlegging operations during the Prohibition era. During that time, he becomes enormously powerful. The politicians and lawyers see a valuable use for him seeing how black market operations can be beneficial to them. Likewise, Don Corleone pockets these respectable public faces for his own endeavors.

The modern-day relationship between Zeus and Hades is a sophisticated version of the ancient myths. Both employ violence to achieve their ends; both do so in a manner of mutual understanding. This is made all the more obvious when we notice how the Mafia structure works. The Don is at the top of the hierarchy followed by the consigliere (counselor), the caporegimes (commanders), and then the “button men,” the foot soldiers. The Don never gives an order directly to the soldier; it always comes down through the hierarchy.

The structure of our modern-day governments is more or less the same. Why are the hierarchies like this? It is precisely due to the fact that both seek to hide the source of the violence under anonymity. Thus, the sacredness of the structures is maintained. Mario Puzo hammers this point home in an interaction between Michael and his future wife Kay (portrayed by Diane Keaton).

Michael: “My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.”
Kay: “Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.”
Michael: “Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?”

Michael’s story is a tragedy for this very reason. He, like his father, has recognized the truth but he is trapped inside it like a bird in a cage. In the beginning of the story, he is, like Kay and most of us, naive about the power structures of society. In defiance of his father, he enlists in the marines and goes off to war. He comes back a war hero and chooses to marry an American girl to further his rebellion.

The scales fall away from his eyes, however, when a mob hit on his father’s life fails. In the hospital, as he races to save his wounded father from another hit, Michael realizes how corrupt the police can be, who are bought off by rival gang lords. This realization, that the life of a pezzonovante means the life of a puppet, leads to Michael killing a police captain and thus cementing his entrance into the underworld.

Things grow much bleaker over the span of two films, as we see Michael’s violent actions coming back to haunt him. With the death of his father, Michael grows more sinister and isolated after witnessing betrayal after betrayal; he trusts no one. The violence which he must employ to keep the wolves away ultimately spills into his family in unspeakable ways.

It is here that Mario Puzo’s Catholic sensibilities are noticeable. When Michael’s wife willingly commits an abortion, it is made certain to us through Kay’s very own words that her abortion is an “abomination” done to stop another child from entering Hades’ underworld of violence and death. Also, Michael’s own brother Fredo betrays him. All of this culminates in Michael having his brother assassinated; it is an event that would haunt him for the remainder of his life.

Puzo does not mythologize Hades. He certainly romanticizes some characters to a degree but never beyond belief. What Puzo does with Michael’s character is humanize him and make him relatable. How on earth can we relate to a cold and calculating Mafia boss? For this, we will come again to the mirroring of the two hierarchies.

The Mafia structure which Puzo writes about is centuries old, built on the traditional system of the old mythologies. In our world, we might be inclined to think that our nation’s leaders are the political equivalent to the Mafia Dons. But when we look closely, we will see that the leaders are mere “button men.” After all, the leaders are elected and brought into office by popular consensus.

Who then are the Mafia Dons in our midst? The answer: whoever that wishes to hide within the anonymity of the crowd and have others carry out their dark fantasies. Think of a “respectable” person who threatens his/her neighbor by calling the police when something unruly occurs. This tiny illustration should be sufficient to convict us. It also tells us why the ancient Mafia system has died out. The Mafia has died out because we—the average citizens—have chosen to be the replacement. It is no coincidence that Mario Puzo chooses to tell the tale of Hades in a manner of realism and from the perspective of a mortal.

The violence that haunts the Corleones is symbolic of the unrest and decline in moral values that grips a society when it decides to play God. When a society decides to take the role of a democratic judge, jury, and executioner, and by proxy eliminates all those who are non-violent yet disorderly and non-conforming, that society short circuits because the Calvary event does not allow for anonymity to last.

In the last scene of the Godfather: Part II, we see Michael Corleone seated all alone in contemplation. He has become the most powerful man in the underworld but there is no joy in his triumph. How can he celebrate when he sees very clearly the bones of his very own brother, among the others whom he has murdered, as the foundation of his empire? We are left with only one thing: the fate that waits for us if we continue down the same path of hypocrisy.

Celebrity – The Cornerstone of Modern America

Told the devil that I’m going on a strike
Told the devil when I see him, on sight
I’ve been working for you my whole life
Told the devil that I’m going on a strike
I’ve been working for you my whole life

Kanye West, ‘Hands On’

In the 1991 film ‘The Doors,’ Oliver Stone treats singer Jim Morrison as a modern-day incarnation of the ancient Greek deity Dionysus. It is apt that Stone treats the story of Morrison as a modern-day myth rather than a documentary-style factual narrative. After all, one of America’s biggest cultural exports (if not the greatest) and modern-day mythmaking consists of the celebrity.

Why export celebrity? Why not let it be confined within its borders? Jim Morrison, played by Val Kilmer, himself provides the answer in the film when he quotes Nietzsche: “All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.” The celebrity, in all certainty, is a mask or, more accurately, it is a persona that is meant to be a model for worship and emulation.

Various celebrities, whether they be rock stars, movie stars, politicians, or even Church personalities, embody various types of personas. In Jungian psychoanalysis they are archetypes. In pro-wrestling they are ‘gimmicks.’ Dionysus is one such ancient gimmick; it has scraped through the inquisitions and witch hunts right into our modern-day embrace as the primary form of stardom.

Stone, very clearly and intentionally, portrays Jim Morrison as Dionysus with Morrison being intoxicated and promiscuous in almost the entirety of the movie’s duration. The rock and roll star was the tip of the thrust that was the 1960s sexual revolution—an era dominated by Vietnam war newreels and footages of naked, intoxicated hippies copulating en masse at events like New York’s ‘Woodstock’ and San Francisco’s ‘Summer of Love.’

The juxtaposition of the Vietnam war and hippie culture is to be seen as the break from something that should have been a common occurrence in ancient times. Violence and sex have always been used interchangeably in mythological narratives due to the proximity between taboo and death; an example is Zeus’ rape of Semele. During the 60s, however, the hippies raged against the Vietnam war, and not only did it rebel against the war but it did so as the first-ever extra-Christian attempt at protesting against war as a mass human sacrifice.

The hippie movement should be seen as the rise of a new adolescent religion that seeks to resurrect paganism without the element of human sacrifice. Anthropologist René Girard spoke of this naivety and argues that such an undertaking is bound to fail.

The indefinite multiplication of primitive and pagan gods look like an amiable fantasy to many in our time, something created for no serious reason—playful, we might say, or rather “ludic,” since the word is à la mode. It is a playful fantasy of which an overly serious monotheism, not playful at all, tries to deprive us. In reality, however, the primitive and pagan gods are not playful; they are mournful and destructive.
~ Girard, ‘I See Satan Fall Like Lightning’

The reason hippie culture fails (and has failed historically) is because it deifies celebrities as secular ‘icons.’ Celebrities such as Jim Morrison are not only the answer to Christian iconography but also cultural and temporal monarchs fattened for sacrifice. The reverie that exists around these icons is unmistakable; who wants to see a fat and dead Elvis Presley on the toilet seat or a vomit soaked Anna Nicole Smith dead in her bed? We’d rather remember these icons for their cultural and political boldness: the speech at the concert or the awards show, the endorsing of political candidates, the ‘speaking out’ against bigotry, the righteous twitter rants, etc.

One reason why Oliver Stone’s The Doors is impeccable is because it blurs the line between classical mythology and celebrity biography. In one scene, Morrison sings about killing his father and having sex with his mother, a scandalous nod to Oedipus—one that causes instant outrage but also hysterical adoration. In another scene, Morrison’s girlfriend Patricia Kennealy says that the crowd outside are calling for him and Morrison replies, “They don’t want me, they want my death… ripped to pieces.”

Patricia Kennealy earlier hints to the five-day riot carnival that witches would undertake in medieval times. During these five days, the witches would wander the hills, looting and devouring themselves and wild animals whilst “looking for Dionysus” whom they would “rip to pieces.” But in those days, the Dionysus—the victim—whom they would murder were often disfigured or marginalized outcasts. Today, this cannibalistic phenomenon has rid itself of coercion and, therefore, the victim has become willing and submissive to the ritual.

In The Doors, this voluntary sacrifice of Jim Morrison is alluded to in the movie’s ending. Morrison quietly says goodbye to his bandmates and one of them says he “made music with Dionysus himself.” A few minutes later, Morrison is shown dead in his bathtub. With his death, Morrison cements himself as the modern-day version of the dying and resurrecting god of old. It is perhaps in irony that the music playing in the background is the climactic chorus of LA Woman.

In secular imagination, the early death of celebrities is a guarantor of instant deification. Artists like Jim Morrison are today’s gods of a culture infatuated by stardom and, therefore, are models considered worthy of emulation. What is the ‘x-factor’ that talent hunters seek in aspiring artists? Why is this x-factor so ambiguous in its definition? It is because this unknown quality is made known in the narratives of ancient mythology. If one is puzzled by this line of reasoning then one should look at the current controversial Netflix feature Cuties; by doing so one can conclude how the emulation of Dionysus affects future generations.

The gospels, especially the Passion narratives, unearth the ancient human sacrificial ritual and robs it of its glimmer. But whether it will do so in modern times, where the victim and oppressors mutually carry out the sacrifice, we shall try to predict. In America and the rest of western civilization, where the mantra of ‘do as thou wilt’ remains more or less a primary force of how freedom is to be dictated, how can the Gospel, as it is perceived in the western psyche, defeat the sacrificial mechanism?

The issue becomes even more complex when we consider how, with the advent of social media, every single individual can now claim his/her very own Dionysian pedestal and, ultimately, the right to be sacrificed. With this phase of evolution, the American cornerstone has become a global cornerstone. Certainly, the Gospel can provide the shock treatment that might unravel this modern myth too.

Because of the contagious nature of imitation, we are seeing Christ’s shock treatment as an inversion of the Dionysian myth. The sheer ridiculousness of twitter culture has ensured that the gap between celebrities and their fans is non-existent. In a state of growing undifferentiation, celebrities now argue with fans online all the time. Why has this occurred and where is this heading? We must remember that the crucifixion of Christ has annihilated the pagan art of mythmaking, i.e. deifying the victims of sacred murder rituals.

The cross of Calvary has injected a sense of parody in the myth of Dionysus. Whereas the ancient Greek deity was a sacralization of drunkenness and chaos, the sacred drunkard today is ridiculed and mocked by a thousand other aspiring gods of drunkenness. A few like Kanye West have figured this out and has, remarkably, taken the path of inverting the Dionysian spirit of stardom through making a mockery out of the music industry. The celebrity is turning into the holy fool.

If society strives to “do as thou wilt,” Christ reverses that to mean “do what I do,” and He does so through making a mockery of pagan mythology just as He had done during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Will there be a Christian end to the story of Dionysus? Only time will tell.

Gaslight – A Film Analysis

The secret to discovering a well-disguised tyranny is to understand the mind of a serial predator.

The 1944 psychological thriller Gaslight, directed by George Cukor, is reminiscent of the Hitchcockian thrillers that were very popular during the war and post-war years, though the move itself is not directed by Hitchcock. It is also perhaps one of the finest microcosmic representations of how fear and manipulation can be used to exert power and control.

The film’s protagonist is the orphaned character of Paula Alquist (portrayed by Ingrid Bergman), and the prologue tells of Paula’s traumatic aftermath just after she had witnessed the body of her aunt Alice Alquist, a famous singer, lying motionless underneath an enormous portrait of herself. Paula is escorted out of London to help her start a new life. In the next scene, we learn that she is training to be a singer in Italy.

It is in Italy where Paula meets a man named Gregory Anton (portrayed by Charles Boyer) and falls in love with him, later marrying him. Little does she know that Gregory who exudes politeness and concern at every turn is, in fact, a heavily disturbed individual. Gregory’s behavior is worth observing because he expresses a particular kind of illustrative control that is highly manipulative and sinister.

When Paula thinks of the places where they’d move to begin their new life together, Gregory suggests London. Paula is immediately struck by this suggestion but she agrees. Upon arriving in London, Paula is transfixed at the many reminders of her murdered aunt. To her, the portraits and the furnishings are like skeletons from a violent past; but Paula also somehow knows that these belongings of her aunt are valuable to her.

Gregory, on the other hand, is too anxious to get rid of these reminders while claiming that he does not want his wife’s new life to be haunted by tragedy. It is here where we will observe the cult leader-like nature of Gregory; examining this nature is key to understanding power and control that exists around us on a much bigger scale.

First, we observe that Gregory intends to separate his wife from all reminders of her past, especially those involving her aunt, and by doing so, Gregory effectively hides the event of Alice Alquist’s murder and also the identity of the murderer. A murderer and persecutor is always aware that the past in its completeness convicts the true wrongdoer.

Knowing the past—complete with its glories and tragedies—is essential to a future devoid of delusion. Hiding the past, the tragic murder, however, creates a state of delusion and a steady spiral into madness.

When Paula happens upon a letter—one that was written by a man named Sergis Bauer to her aunt—Gregory is alarmed; he immediately and violently snatches the letter from his wife’s hands. The control, alienation, and isolation start from this point onwards.

The next thing that Gregory does is to take advantage of his wife’s childlike naivety; he starts playing with Paula’s memories. He intentionally misplaces valuable items and convinces Paula that it is she who is misplacing them. Due to this clever tactic, Paula grows increasingly detached and numb.

Notice how this technique of “gaslighting” (a term made famous by this movie) is ever-present in the world around us. Censorship, canceling out the past because it is “problematic” for us, and inducing guilt in the form of false memories are some of the elements that are required for totalitarian control. They are used all the time in our media-driven world.

Gregory Anton’s technique of guilt-inducing is particularly useful for imposing complete isolation on the chosen subject. The subject is declared sick and therefore must be enclosed for her own good. This point is hammered down in a scene where Paula and Gregory attend a concert. During the performance, Gregory tells Paula that he is unable to find his watch and then “discovers” it, much to Paula’s horror, inside her purse. She breaks down and is escorted out in front of a bewildered audience.

It is important to note here that Gregory’s abuse is not undertaken by him alone. Persecution, to be effective, must be carried out by a multitude of actors, which is why Gregory plants seeds of resentment towards Paula among the maidservants of the house while presenting himself as an agent of Paula’s stern and lofty personality.

In one scene, Paula is keen to warm the fireplace by herself but she is reproached by her husband and is instead encouraged to call for the servant. The servant arrives and, upon hearing Paula’s command to put coal in the fireplace, eyes her mistress with a hint of contempt. Meanwhile, Gregory himself cleverly interacts as a person who wishes to bridge the gap between the servant and the mistress.

Gregory’s approach of sowing resentment and envy serves a twofold purpose. First, it would allow him to accomplish his goal unhindered, which we will come to later. Second, it would cement Paula’s alienation and ensure that she wouldn’t receive empathy in her state of detachment. Indeed, when Paula hears footsteps of a mysterious intruder in the middle of the night, her claims are dismissed even by the most upright of her servants as mere imagination.

Envy, resentment, and discord—these are familiar enough words to describe our political and cultural discourse. But Gregory Anton’s approach is one that will be eerily familiar to those who analyze political history. Just as Gregory sows resentment in his household, so do the rulers and influencers of our time. Just as Gregory’s co-conspirators are unconscious in their persecution, so are the vast majority of people around us who rely on the designated priestly media class to instruct and direct them.

Our own participation in the machinations of violence is often overlooked and, instead, we find ourselves directed by fear and envy towards another—one who is innocent. Upon realizing this scapegoat mechanism, our first instinct is to recognize ourselves as the scapegoat, but this is where we must quickly caution ourselves. Paula’s descent into the inferno of self-doubt is not where she redeems herself; she will do that later.

First, we must note Paula’s own failure to escape the mimetic rivalry that is being set up for her. When commanded by her husband to ring for the servant, she begins in earnest by saying, “We should consider them a little.” But she allows herself to succumb to her husband’s intent; and she succumbs because she thinks her husband is incapable of evil. Paula’s gullibility reminds us of ourselves and our blind faith in the tyrannical powers that pit us against each other.

Once we are aligned on the battlefield—once the lines are drawn—the criminal nature of coercive, predatory power swings into action. In Gregory’s case, the object of theft are Alice Alquist’s royal jewels. In the case of predatory, tyrannical power, the object is always our inherent worth as human beings and as icons of the Creator.

In the climactic scenes of the movie, we see an inspector named Brian Cameron (portrayed by Joseph Cotten) seek out Paula and confront her with reality. She isn’t going crazy, Brian assures her, she is completely sane. He reveals to her that he was an admirer of Paula’s aunt and gives her a glove that was gifted to him by Alice Alquist, a valuable piece of the past that would’ve never found its way into Paula’s hands had Gregory’s cancel culture-esque scheme been perfected.

Brian also helps Paula discover the letter that Gregory had snatched and hidden from her; the letter identifies that Gregory is her aunt’s murderer. After a brief struggle, Gregory is apprehended and tied to a chair. In desperation, Gregory demands to see his wife. She agrees.

Paula sees before her the man who’d almost driven her insane. “Take the knife and cut me free,” Gregory tells her in a last-ditch effort of manipulation. Paula takes the knife in her hand and is visibly tempted to punish her husband just as he’d punished her. The viewer here wonders whether she will cut him free or kill him. But Paula pulls away, deciding to let justice takes its course.

Gaslight is a rare film that does not employ the sacrificing of the villain as the narrative’s problem solver. Too many times we see the hero get his revenge on the villain, often in the exact manner as the previous act of violence. But Paula proves herself to be miles apart from other protagonists. The filmmakers maintain the purity of her character while giving the viewer an important lesson that innocence needs not be tainted for justice to prevail.

The key to stopping tyranny is not to mimic its evildoing but to walk away from its contagious grasp. In doing so, it will be rendered obsolete.

Our Christian Duty

I recently came across an article published by an Oxford University journal which made the following claim:

“… The Bhagavad Gita has proven to be an accurate guide for living a fulfilling life—a life aligned with dharma… Krishna’s advice to Arjuna was simple. Being a warrior committed to protecting his people, Arjuna’s only dharma was to fight, and not worry who he was fighting or the outcome of the war. To be able to do what is needed without becoming attached to the result is the way of living a skilful life. To have a goal is not the problem—to become so entangled in the goal where the action is tainted lends itself to suffering… Now, in the midst of a pandemic, the Bhagavad Gita is more relevant than ever—the healthcare worker is Arjuna, hospitals are battlegrounds for the war against the virus and misinformation, the lack of a cure or an effective containment strategy, and a system that has failed us.”

The article is referring to the ancient Hindu mythology that narrates the battle of Kurukshetra. In this battle, the hero Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna, the chief god of Hinduism as per Vaishnavi thought, are faced with an enormous army on the opposite side of the battlefield. But this wasn’t just any army; this was an army made up of Arjuna’s relatives and friends. These were people whom Arjuna had grown to respect, admire, and love. The realization of this fact by Arjuna is made explicit in the following texts:

Arjuna said: O Krsna, seeing these relatives and friends who have assembled here with the intention of fighting, my limbs give way and my mouth becomes completely dry. And there is trembling in my body, and there are cold shivers; the Gandiva (bow) slips from the hand and even the skin burns intensely… I do not see any good (to be derived) from killing my own people in battle… Having said so, Arjuna, with a mind afflicted with sorrow, sat down on the chariot in the midst of the battle, casting aside the bow along with the arrows.
~Chapter 1, Bhagavad Gita

Arjuna’s charioteer Krishna, however, urges Arjuna to ignore his qualms about killing.

The Blessed Lord said: You grieve for those who are not to be grieved for; and you speak words of wisdom! The learned do not grieve for the departed and those who have not departed… These destructible bodies are said to belong to the everlasting, indestructible, indeterminable, embodied One. Therefore, O descendant of Bharata, join the battle… if you will not fight this righteous battle, then, forsaking your own duty and fame, you will incur sin.
~Chapter 2, Bhagavad Gita

Krishna’s reply to Arjuna, to the Calvary-haunted Western audience, will seem odd. What is even more striking is how the mythological narrative is being put forward as a model for emulation in a global pandemic-stricken society.

When one observes closely, an imitation of an impersonal deity, such as the supersoul—the one—revealed by Krishna, leads to an impersonal treatment of family, friends, and neighbors. This Aristotelian concept of the impersonal divine, at first glance, can certainly be touted as an exemplar for unbiased participation in the grand scheme of things; but it falls short of transforming society from that of an accusation-based system to a self-sacrificial community.

Indeed, self-sacrifice is folly in the eyes of a mythological-based society. Mythology is the empowerment of the crowd where individuals are masked in anonymity. Mythology allows for the shunning of responsibility and self-reflection. According to mythology, dharma—the concept of duty—is nothing but a mask of anonymity and the quelling of conscience in a world of pandemics, injustice, suffering, and violence.

Here, I will describe what the mythological dharma looks like in a real-life setting. During my brief stay in a hospital, I saw several doctors and nurses work tirelessly to salvage the many patients miserably warded there. I use the word salvage because the patients were more or less mere objects whose salvation depended solely on their ability to compensate the staff at the hospital.

There was a man—a person in his early thirties—who stayed in that hospital because his mother was admitted with severe head injuries. That man was mostly clueless as to his role in his mother’s treatment and, therefore, depended on the instructions of the nurses and doctors. I remember that the man was initially not able to pay for his mother’s treatment; he was waiting for money to come in. But the chief doctor did not have the same level of patience, so the person was subjected to constant haranguing; the doctor even threatened to have his mother transferred to a cheaper hospital if he didn’t pay up immediately.

Of course, the man came up with the money later; but what remained distinct in my memory is his futile calls for help when his mother suddenly awakened and wanted to use the restroom. The nurses failed to arrive, so the man took his mother by the arm and crudely but surely carried her to a restroom so dirty that the toilet seat was covered with feces. When a nurse did show up she gasped at the sight of the mother defecating in full view of her son. It is, apparently, improper for a mother to be in a compromising situation in front of her son.

The point of this entire narration: what good is dharma if it discards the familial aspect which makes the project of healing desirable in the first place? If one is to arrive at the vocation of healing with an impersonal worldview what guarantee is there that the “healer” will decide not to pull the plug and get it all over with? Wouldn’t this impersonal, indifferent approach betray a lack of interest in the saving of human life altogether as it does in war?

The aesthetic of mythology is a cold one wherein the radiance and diversity of personhood is nowhere to be found. The individual is treated as a spoke on the greater wheel of society and the best of healers, upon seeing the broken spoke, attempts to fix that person as if he or she were a mere object devoid of any thought or will. It is no wonder that much of the world, including those that profess to be Christian, decided to impose nationwide lockdowns in the face of a pandemic which resulted in mental disintegration, unemployment, starvation, closing down of businesses, domestic abuse, and suicide, all for the betterment of society.

It is likely that with all of this in mind, the apostle Paul wrote the following:

… For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
~Romans 8: 20-21 (New Revised Standard Version)

Such is the nature of human sacrifice.

In the New Testament, we are faced with a Creator who sees this cold indifference in humanity. Moreover, we see a Creator who listens to our cries due to the cold state of existence institutionalized by our sacrificial authorities and culture. This fact is wonderfully illustrated in the Gospel of John where Jesus, upon hearing of the death of his friend Lazarus, goes to Bethany and there he is confronted by Lazarus’ grieving sisters, Martha and Mary:

… Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
~John 11:21-35 (New King James Version)

Feeling, emotion, and affection are often seen in today’s highly dialectical world as negative traits yet they are valid expressions of the divine. Feelings, because of being co-opted by victimist ideologies, are considered irrelevant but they are not evil by their mere existence; they can be windows to that which is beyond rationality.

In Scripture, God has created humanity in His own image and it is for this reason the Creator considers all of us His children. Not only that, Christ, the God-man, leaves His throne and considers us brothers and sisters. In appropriating human nature, Christ shares in our pain and sorrow and delights in our joys as well. Jesus’ affection and love for us is exactly why He chooses to heal the sick and raise the dead. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead because He sees the grief of Lazarus’ sisters. Jesus raises the widow’s son at Nain because He sees a mother grieving over the loss of her only child (Luke 7:11-17).

In chapter 5 of John’s gospel, why does Christ ask a disabled man this question: “Do you want to be made well?” From those of us claiming to be enlightened, isn’t it obvious that an unwell man has every desire to get well? We may assume that is the case, but Christ is the creator, sustainer, and respecter of personhood. He says: “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” This may seem like a paradox but it makes perfect sense when we consider that God Himself is a unique person. Though we all share the common nature of humanity, God created each person distinctly separate from the other and proclaims all of us, both sinner and saint, as His image-bearers.

In Christ, dharma is non-existent without love. Duty is shallow if it isn’t accompanied by affection. The apostle Paul writes the following:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
~1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (New American Standard Bible)

We do not have an indifferent Creator, unaware of what we’re going through. Know that if you have a loved one, bed-ridden beside you from sickness or unjustly locked away in a dungeon, Christ is right there, soothing the tortured whilst bearing the marks of crucifixion.

Jesus’ historical life exists as a model that we can emulate with great effect. At Calvary, He redesigns our faulty concept of duty and changes the way we think about our neighbors. He rewrites mythology and gives real meaning to it. He removes the mask of anonymity and gives everyone the ability to see our neighbors as images of God; and by doing so He shatters the sacrificial framework of our society.

Look not to the impersonal, shadowy figure of the unknown but to the One who reveals Himself in the form of our Brother. The One who lays down His life so that we may have eternal life.

The Purge – A Film Analysis

In ancient societies, people would collectively vent their anger and frustration within a fixed time on the calendar, and they would unleash their violence as a collective on a single victim in the form of sacrifice. These times are what we know today as carnivals; the subject is addressed at length by David Gornoski and Justin Murphy in their discussion together. 

The 2013 movie The Purge brings back ancient carnivals in the form of a dystopian thriller. In the film’s narrative, we are told that the government, in full consent with its citizens, has set aside an annual day for unchecked murder on the streets; anyone and everyone may be targeted. The result of this purging, we are told, is that “the United States has become virtually crime-free and the unemployment rate has dropped to 1%.” 

The introductory text containing the statistics of low crime and low unemployment is a strong rebuttal to empiricists who argue that the world is getting better. Do these champions of the Enlightenment include the numbers of non-violent victims thrown into prison and the violence they suffer there? Do the empiricists count in their statistics the number of fetuses being aborted every year? If they did, a pandora’s box would be opened on their very presuppositions.

To the movie’s premise, one might ask: how can an enlightened and secular society adhere to such a barbaric norm? A casual response would be that the premise is just that of a movie and not to be taken seriously. But what any serious anthropologist must consider is that humanity still adheres to the ancient rule of the carnival; and it does so in the form of sporadic riots and revolutions; only the religiosity has been dressed over with fractured socio-political ideologies.

The Purge is told from the perspective of a white, privileged family that enjoys a life of security and relative prosperity. The father is under the illusion that his high-tech security barricades will protect his family during the 24 hours of carnage. He assures his wife, son, and daughter that they are safe under the “lockdown.” The family is also, quite clearly, under the allure of the purge’s secular mythology: they, like other families, believe that the purge is necessary for cleansing its participants of their violent nature. 

In a strange sense, the movie combines, almost prophetically, the pandemic lockdowns and the violent civil unrest in American society into a single narrative. The proponents of the lockdown believe that their advocacy is for the good of society. According to them, a disease is spreading and killing people outside, so it is only logical to let the disease take its course and protect one’s own life. In short, it is common sense to confine yourself and let others rot outside.

Another unwitting giveaway by the filmmakers is that mass, uncontrolled violence is often initiated and backed by an institutional and authoritative entity.  One does not need to look further than recent history for examples. We can see elite-funded revolutions in Egypt, Serbia, and Syria among others. These examples point to the reality that mass violence is often utilized as a ritual of dethronement and enthronement—the ultimate sacrifice—while using average human beings as the pawns—local sacrifices.

The movie’s purging ritual is abruptly disrupted by the youngest child—the son—in the protagonist’s family. The son is visibly disturbed at seeing the killing outside of his home; he sees a wounded black man on the street crying out for help as he is chased by a masked group of elites. The wounded man is one of society’s marginalized and his depiction of being hunted is the director’s subtle way of portraying the racist undertones of American societal violence. We will, however, come to a different conclusion which is contrary to the “Woke” ideology of the filmmakers.

The child lets the man into his family’s house but the masked elites discover where their prey has taken refuge. As a result of an ultimatum presented by the masked antagonists, a conflict breaks out within the family. The son wants to help the wounded man but the father binds the man and prepares to turn him over to the mob waiting outside. In the chase and struggle, the man is revealed to be a military veteran. The father, upon hearing his wife’s pleas and seeing the dog tags hanging from the man’s neck, is no longer convicted of making the sacrifice for his family. 

The military veteran in American society holds enormous sacralizing power. The veteran, whether he be a high-ranking politician or a homeless drifter, is an unconscious symbol of state religiosity. Neither the Democrat nor Republican side of the political system would ever dare go against this symbol; to do so would be Trump-like in its sacrilege. Unbeknownst to many people, the military veteran, just like the black person, in American society is a secular Christ-figure—one that is fading away as the Calvary event takes an increasingly firmer hold of culture. 

How do we see the victim of the accusatory mob in our society today? Ideologies play an important role in how we perceive the marginalized of our time. To a leftist, that victim may be a non-white person. To the conservative-leaning, the victim may be the serviceman who has sacrificed himself for the nation’s freedom. The truth, however, is that it is somewhat both. 

The black man in The Purge is an unconscious symbol of the individual in history who is constantly oppressed by tyrannical powers. Likewise, his veteran status symbolizes the individual who is utilized as a pawn in the mass sacrificial machine by the authorities. The filmmakers’ depiction of the black man’s failure to instill mercy into the white father is an attempt to paint a racial narrative to the scapegoating mechanism.  

The filmmakers portray the military veteran as a far more successful conviction of the Christ-haunted white patriarch of the family. But the irony here is that, in their attempt at convicting the “privileged” white audience, the filmmakers themselves are convicted of the senselessness of scapegoating. This clinging onto the sacrificial mechanism under a ultra-Christian guise reveals that we need to escape the brokenness of ideological perspectives so that we are able to deconstruct the sacrificial mechanism as a whole. 

The West’s failure to unite against scapegoats unanimously is the very reason the day of purging exists both in the movie and in reality. Current events show us what a desperate and reckless search for scapegoats leads to, namely rioting, looting, and the indiscriminate killing of more innocents. 

Ultimately, it is not the black man who is the victim, and it is not the military veteran; it is, as revealed at Calvary, all mankind who is the victim of Satan. The Purge attempts to wake us up to that realization in a very narrow and fragmented way, which is why it fails to redeem both its naive protagonists and caricatured antagonists. As for our salvation, it will take more than a purge or a riot to cleanse our souls.