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.

The Stones Cry Out

I am blown away in discovering Jesus’s seemingly hyperbolic symbolic aside at the entrance of Jerusalem is actually a prophecy:
Luke 19:37-40:

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

The stones crying out is a reference to the prophet Habakkuk in his dealings with Judah and the Chaldeans hundreds of years earlier.
Habakkuk 2:11-12: “The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.’Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice!'”

The “stones” are the places–foundation stones of a city–where victims were buried in the founding of a new order. These human sacrifices’ bones have been uncovered in cornerstones from the Middle East to South America. In the next chapter, he reveals that he is the stone the builders rejected; he’s become the capstone. The cornerstone was the first stone laid and the capstone was an irregular shaped stone that was put aside by the builders until the final piece was needed. From the Alpha–the cornerstone of hidden victims–to the Omega, the capstone, the prized final piece of a fortress: Jesus reveals it all.

His crowds are indeed silenced by the mimetic power of group think. They abandon him during his trial and crucifixion. But in their silence, the stones–all the victims hidden our cornerstones since the foundation of human society–cry out upon Jesus’s resurrection. The Gospel unlocks the hidden power of sacrificial violence and exposes it to the daylight. The corpse stones cry out when the Gospel’s deconstruction of myth reveals what happened to them in the Passion of the Christ. He, the misfit stone, himself perfect target for sacrifice, was saved for last–and when he was sacrificed– becomes the capstone of a new world order: one that reveals the innocence of those hidden ones we founded our old order on–in the alpha-first-corner stones at the beginning of our cities.

And as the very next chapter of Luke says,

“Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

Jesus–The Capstone–whose stony grave is empty for all to see the futility of his community’s sacrifice of him–will break your conscience and society’s conscience–your peace–to pieces if you stumble upon him. And his Capstone is crushing all systems of power that try to continue to found works of glory and social order on the hidden victims they bury.

The Past Cannot be Undone

“The past cannot be undone”. I don’t know how many times I have heard this. I generally dislike it. Of course the past cannot be undone, which is why I’m unsure why I recently used the phrase in a motion to the court asking for compassionate release. I am a non-violent, first time offender serving a life without parole sentence in federal prison.

In 2004, Hurricanes Charlie, Frances and Jean ripped through Florida destroying the east coast.  I’m a native Floridian and have been through my share of hurricanes, but that season devastated my mothers, grandmothers, and my home, my boat and the marina where I operated my charter fishing business.  My childhood dreams of fishing for a living were on hold. Business until this point was decent. I had a “gift” for fishing (at least that was what I was told). Producing happy fishing memories for my clients came naturally.

After the storms, blue tarps on roofs, clean-up, rebuilding(you never forget a post hurricane, no air conditioning Florida summer) things normalized with one exception. No one was interested in fishing excursions aside from a few out of town insurance adjusters. This was the tipping point. I desperately needed to earn a living and post hurricane business was slow. The bills piled up. I had options and choices but it would mean giving up fishing and finding other work. Instead, I went to the Bahamas where the hurricanes didn’t impact the fishing industry. I could still fish somewhat successfully. It didn’t take long before I was offered the chance for some “easy money.” It was simple. All I had to do was allow these guys to use my boat to transport some drugs while I looked the other way. Unfortunately, it made sense to me at the time. I justified it. I rationalized it. I talked myself into it. I convinced myself I wasn’t doing anything that bad. This is how I got involved in a cocaine conspiracy—a drug I had never even seen before.

Of course we got caught. In July of 2006 my boat was intercepted by the Coast Guard coming from the Bahamas. The two Bahamians on board using the boat were arrested and put in jail. I was terrified. I had never even had a speeding ticket. I got a lawyer and surrendered to the courthouse. In December of that year I exercised my right to trial. The two Bahamians on board testified that I was just letting them use the boat: never handling, selling or seeing the drugs. They were sentenced to 7 years in prison. I was sentenced to life without parole. This functionally means I am sentenced to die in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. They say there is no such thing as a trial penalty (go to trial, get a longer sentence). Ask anyone who went to trial and they would beg to differ.

Not one day goes by that I do not regret my decision to get involved. I live in sorrow for what I have done. Drugs have a major negative impact on society at all levels. Never did I intend to harm a soul by my actions. Being the boat provider and not directly involving myself with any drugs does not minimize the impact those drugs have on our community or the harm they cause to people’s lives. I wish I could redo that fateful day, but “the past cannot be undone.”

I compromised my honesty and integrity and became a criminal. As I recently tried to explain my rehabilitation to the judge who sentenced me, I cannot right my wrongs from back then. I can only become a better man from that day forward. Which is exactly what I have tried my absolute best to do these last 14 years. We always speak of forgiveness. I can easily forgive others. I ask GOD for forgiveness, but I don’t feel I can ever forgive myself for what I have done to my family. There is just too much sorrow and regret in my heart.

I feel GOD answers my pleas for forgiveness through the gracious work of criminal justice advocates.  Amy Povah of CAN-DO Clemency has done incredible work highlighting my case, David Gornoski airing my story on the radio, Rufus Rochelle, Malik, Maurice and so many others. I am humbled and extremely thankful for all of the support and hope they bring. I know deep within my heart I am a much better man than I was 14 years ago. I am truly sorry for what I have done. I have asked the court for compassion. I have asked President Trump for his clemency. I agree that I deserved to be punished, but I don’t feel I deserve to be sentence to die in prison. I beg for mercy now, because now I have hope that at least this part of “the past CAN be undone.”

John Bolen is currently serving life sentence without parole for a first time drug offense. Support his appeal for clemency at CAN-DO Clemency.

A Great Anthropological First: An Honest Conversation About Race

This article originally appeared on The Aquila Report.

It’s time to acknowledge simultaneously that we have come a long way from where we once were, and we still have a long way to go. These are not only consecutive narratives, they are concurrent narratives of the racial journey we are on in this country. If the true story is ever going to be fully appreciated for what it actually is, then it needs to be told in such a way that does justice to both realities.

There are two truths that many Americans are either unable or unwilling to admit. These truths seem “incompatible at first, yet they are both true simultaneously.”[i]

The first truth, is that we are undoubtedly among the most racist of all societies. This proposition is self-evident and needs neither defending nor documenting. It is a settled matter.

The second truth is that we are among the first nations in history to care one iota about racism. No civilization, outside of Western civilization, ever cared at all about racism. Certainly, no other society ever thought to chastise itself over its own racist behavior the way we have. As Rene Girard reminds us, we may not have “invented compassion, but we did universalize it.”

Read the history of all other nations and cultures and you will find racism everywhere. What you will not find anywhere, however, is any concern or condemnation of it. Examine the ancient civilizations of China, India, Japan, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In all of these places it is the perpetrators of racism who are everywhere glorified, and their victims who are scorned and condemned. Whole myths were created in order to perpetuate and institutionalize this system of racism.

Search all the religions of the world, except one, and you will find only rationalization and justification of racism. Only one religion has called it what it is—SIN. Only one religion has condemned it and considered it Satanic. Only one religion, in its infancy, has withstood it to its face, and denounced it when discovered within its own ranks (Galatians 2:11-14).

This is so obvious that even without naming this religion you intuitively know which one I am talking about because it too is self-evident. If aliens suddenly landed on the planet, they would have little trouble sorting things out and determining the source of compassion towards other races. They may wonder why it took so long, or why progress was so slow, but they would have no difficulty determining the source.

Cultures influenced by biblical Christianity are the only ones who dared to be self-critical of their own racist views. Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Islam have no such self-awareness. Of course, the church at different times and in different places, is more or less pure, more or less biblical, more or less truly Christian, and more or less racist. Sometimes a church is no church at all, but a racist synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:9; see also the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25, “Of The Church”). Nevertheless, it is only biblical Christianity that provided a basis for self-criticism regarding racism. No other religion has done this except to the extent that it has been informed by Christianity.

Throughout America’s short history it has struggled with the problem of racism, and its most obnoxious consequence—slavery. It is a less than flattering picture. Indeed, it is ugly, grotesque, and evil. Compared to an absolute standard we are guilty of unthinkable and nearly unforgivable crimes against God and against His image bearers. Full stop.

Yet, and this is a big yet, relative to all other countries and cultures we are the least racist of any culture in history. In fact, one might say “we invented the concept” of racial equality. Even if it is true that our concern for other races is superficial, we are still the only society in history to conceive of this “intellectual activity.” This phenomenon is what Girard has rightly called “a great anthropological first.”

The fact that we continually confess our crimes and faults, and constantly shame ourselves for acknowledging even the slightest bit of progress regarding civil rights and race relations, is itself proof of its uniqueness. No other culture or country outside the influence of Christianity has ever done this before—bar none.

However, this is not the time for a self-congratulatory declaration of all of our accomplishments. It is not the time for triumphalism. It is not the time for dueling statistics that prove and disprove that we are at once and the same time the most racist and least racist of all people. But neither is it the time for self-flagellation. Both of these attitudes have more than a whiff of self-righteousness, and insincerity. One can almost feel the chill as each side ascends further up the opposite sides of the moral high ground.

It’s time to accept these propositions as self-evident, and simultaneously true. It’s time to acknowledge simultaneously that we have come a long way from where we once were, and we still have a long way to go. These are not only consecutive narratives, they are concurrent narratives of the racial journey we are on in this country.

If the true story is ever going to be fully appreciated for what it actually is, then it needs to be told in such a way that does justice to both realities. The truth is, ours is the “worst of all worlds,” and the “best of all worlds.” We are in “competition with no one but ourselves.”

One thing is sure, until we are able and willing to admit the simultaneity of these truths it is unlikely that we will have the honest conversation that so many are advocating for today.

Jim Fitzgerald is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a missionary with Equipping Pastors International.

The Exorcism of a Possessed Market

Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days.
But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.
And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely.
~Acts 16:16-23 (New King James Version)

In the modern world of economics, there is much debate on the extent of government control for the smooth functioning of markets. Should we strengthen regulatory laws to make sure that standards of equality and fairness are upheld? Or should we do away with regulations altogether in favor of complete freedom? These are important questions that have split thinking individuals from all walks of life. But the questions are much more severe than we’d like to think. For example, the fate of many people who are now languishing in prison depends entirely on what we decide.

The above-mentioned passages of Timothy narrating one of Paul’s many miraculous deeds and his subsequent arrest indicate what should or shouldn’t be done. Here we see two imitators of Christ—Paul and Silas—walking into a bustling urban space akin to the angels entering the city of Sodom. A slave girl, owned from top to bottom by exploitative merchants with ties to powerful authority figures, directs all attention to these two apostles. She tells the truth about the two men but she does so in order to stir up a scandal.

There are all sorts of symbolism to be picked up here in an otherwise short and simple story. The slave girl is possessed by a demonic spirit. In the gospels, the text refers to the possessive spirit numerous times as collective forces attacking a singular host (see Mark 5:9, Luke 8:30 and Matthew 12:45). In anthropology, the demonic act of possession can be compared to the attacks of a persecuting crowd upon a single person. All things considered, we can assume that the slave girl is possessed not only by an entity of spiritual nature but also one that is very real in the social sphere as we shall see.

The slave girl points to the apostles and says they are “servants of the Most High God.” Her words are true but they are an incomplete truth which is the very nature of a crowd possessed by ideologies. The apostle James identifies half-truths as recognizing facts yet failing to act on them (James 2:19). He said: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” In anthropology, the slave girl’s recognition is typical of bipartisan posturing.

A possessed crowd will recognize the enormous cracks in a system that enslaves them but, oddly enough, they will still cling to that system. This is quite clearly evident in the world in which we live and, especially, with what is unfolding in the socio-political realm. In other words, during times of crisis, we keep going back to the game of conservatives vs. liberals or Democrats vs. Republicans whilst being ignorant of the fact that playing this binary game lands us within the crisis in the first place.

We read that the possessed slave girl profits her owners by the sinful act of fortune-telling. The apostles are not conscious of this fact, though they will be very soon. In a reading analogous to our modern-day existence, the slave girl is the crowd subject to big corporations and their government accomplices. As a result of an unholy partnership of monopolizing power, the corporations and their ruling allies end up profiting twice as much through illegal, immoral, and unfair means. It is perhaps worth noting that in this reading the concepts of immorality and illegality are intentionally combined, thus emphasizing that morality and legislation cannot exist separately.

Paul gets annoyed with the girl and proceeds to rid her of the invasive spirit. The owners of the slave girl, seeing that Paul has just taken away their business, seize both apostles and exercise their monopolizing power. In their sacrificial bloodlust, they even display a bit of bipartisan rhetoric by referring to Paul and Silas as ‘Jews’ in front of the authorities. How often does one get called ‘Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian’ in an accusatory manner? In any case, Paul and his companion soon find themselves beaten and thrown into prison. Hence, we see a perfect demonstration of government regulatory power and its sacrificial underpinning.

In these passages, the sacrificial system of using coercion to dictate market economy is utterly deconstructed and laid bare for all to see. The non-violent exorcism of Paul is treated as a violent crime thanks to the violent power of monopoly. But the exorcism of Paul had far-reaching consequences. Just as Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary had started a chain-reaction of dismantling mob-violence, so too had Paul’s exorcism of the possessed slave girl. We can find this gradual spreading of Christ’s mercy, love, and self-sacrifice in the passages just following Paul and Silas’ arrest.

It turns out that Paul and Silas were miraculously set free from their chains in prison. The jailer, shocked at seeing the two men free, drew his sword and attempted to kill himself. But he was stopped by Paul. The story continues:

Then he [the Jailer] called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.
~Acts 16:29-34 (New King James Version)

Now that the coercive institutions and systems have been deconstructed, we witness the freeing of captives. The deconstruction of scapegoating leads to nothing else except the liberation of the victims of violence. Instead of the tearing apart of families we see families rejoicing. What started at Calvary cannot be undone, no matter how much we try to bury or subvert it. We see this in the story of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment and we can certainly see it today as many are rightfully pointing out the injustices committed by the forces of monopoly power and lawless justice.

Can we impose regulations through the threat of violence? Jesus and Paul’s story has made it clear that we cannot. How then do we shape a free and virtuous market? That is where repentance comes into play. A free and prosperous economy depends on voluntary Christ-like interaction. If we live by the sword we shall perish by the sword; the same applies to economics as well as legislation. Morality and law cannot be separated. More precisely, Christ and the world with its economics, criminal justice, and governance cannot be separated.

The Prisoner

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
~Fyodor Dostoevsky

Before the Gospel revelation, justice consisted of directing the guilt of the entire society against a single victim. It was widely experienced, just as it is today, that shifting the blame onto another is an effective way of postponing an imminent violent outbreak that often results from mimetic desire. The ancient societies carried out this phenomenon under the ritual of human sacrifice. And as recent as the twentieth century, we see this phenomenon repeated in ideological and secular dressing with the atrocities committed in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

But what we often overlook, due to clueless academic reading of ancient texts, are other forms of sacrifice—sacrifice not involving outright murder but instead refined to expulsion or confinement. Imprisonment is the most accurate word for this type of sacrifice. While a case can be made that imprisonment in and of itself does not comprise human sacrifice, it does not negate the current widespread injustice that can be traced back to the sacrificial origins of the practice.

In Greek mythology, we find that imprisonment was sacralized (and even deified) as Tartarus. It is widely accepted that in ancient mythology the concept of creation ex nihilo is nowhere to be found. What should also be known is that the creation stories in mythologies were filled with sacrificial beginnings. Tartarus is one of the outcomes of such a violent beginning. Once the abyss reserved for the dehumanized fallen enemies of the victorious gods, Tartarus later became the prison for sinful mortals, many of whom were kings and warriors.

The transition from the abyss for gods and titans to eternal prison for rebellious mortals is not surprising if one takes into account the role of religion in shaping culture and institutions. For any institution to carry out its task in an efficient manner, a transcendental founding is necessary. It is for this reason that the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Rome, and Babylon had prisons while Israel had none. The prison-filled civilizations all had one thing in common: a founding myth concealing a murder.

Contrast the pagan view of the prisoner with the Biblical accounts. In mythology, the confinement or expulsion of the single victim is a necessity for the temporary prevention of violent conflict. Therefore, prisons became a necessity, and the prisoner, post sacrifice, was deified as a sacred victim—a god through whom society derived their momentary peace. On the other hand, texts like that of Joseph in the Old Testament proclaimed the victim as innocent and the recipient of an unjust prison sentence.

Fast forward to the Gospels and here, in the passion narrative, we have a direct response to pagan mythology. The God-man Christ Jesus, after being sentenced to die by the Sanhedrin, is first imprisoned and then crucified—confined and sacrificed. It is absolutely intentional, to put it in a literary way, that Christ is both divine and human, for Tartarus was the abyss of both gods and men. The crucifixion of Christ is the careful dissecting and utter deconstruction of the pagan Tartarus myth. The anthropological impact of this story is beyond compare.

With Christ’s crucifixion, a reverse-mythology is set in place, and its effects have reached into the deepest subconsciousness of the human psyche. No longer do we consider the prisoner as an essential human sacrifice for the good of the many, for the prisoner has been proclaimed innocent. In light of this revelation, the modern-day mythmaking for mass incarceration is shaken to its very foundation. The prisoner has been humanized and the structures laid bare.

With Christ’s crucifixion, not only do we see the innocence of the victim but we also see true justice as God’s reign on Earth. During His trial, Jesus, the personification of innocence, was condemned to death while freedom was granted by the crowd and ruler to the violent revolutionary Barabbas. Here, we see the contrast between true justice and sacrificial justice. Violent institutions give rise to violent revolutions. It is not surprising that our modern-day prison-industrial complex unleashes countless Barabbases into the population; crime is multiplied. As a result, the cycle of violence is spinning on and on.

Justice, as revealed at Calvary, is the rehabilitation of our neighbors. Whereas the world locks up non-violent, vice-ridden individuals in the violent abyss of Tartarus and throws away the key, godly justice is the healing of the sick, the rehabilitation of the addicted, and the exorcism of the possessed. This is not naivety; this is the commandment of our Lord. The apostle Paul said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is the proven method of introducing peace in the realms of governance and legislation as observed in Christianity’s gradual effect on society, particularly in terms of individual and property rights.

As Christ-haunted nations, it is very clear: we cannot put non-violent law offenders in prisons where violence is rampant. While it is logical and sensible to detain violent criminals for the good of our loved ones, it is equally diabolical to throw non-violent drug offenders, unlicensed farmers, whistleblowers, and others into cages filled with wild violence. The Christ-captivated conscience of our society does not allow for such barbarism, even if it is written into law. Why then do we allow such lawlessness to be perpetuated by the government?

Perhaps it is time to direct our Christ-haunted society once again to the Lord’s prayer wherein Jesus says: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. To be ruled by Prince of peace is to set the captives free, and we cannot ignore the countless captives languishing in prison. No matter how safe we feel, our conscience will not allow it.