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Ramayana and the Birth of ‘High Morality’

The study of ancient literature, particularly the great mythologies, helps us decipher the origin of culture and society. We come to learn that within each heroic and magical tale, and beneath each culture that springs from that tale, is the story of a lynch mob and a sacrificed victim.

Take, for example, the great poem of Ramayana. This epic tells us the story of a banished prince who lives in exile as a hunter along with his wife. The name of this prince is Ram and his wife Sita. One day, a wicked king named Ravana deceives and kidnaps Sita; he takes her and imprisons her within his fortified kingdom of Lanka. Ram, the archetypal hero, must now undertake a hazardous journey out of his home and into the wild in order to save his wife. He raises an army and invades Lanka. After a fierce battle, he slays Ravana and thus saves his wife.

A Jungian analysis of this story reveals the archetypal hero’s journey. Much like St. George, Ram ventures out into the unknown, confronts the dragon, and saves the virgin. But a Girardian examination reveals a deeper truth–a truth that is more real and grittier than that of an extravagant fable with moral truths.

The text of Ramayana alludes to past struggles that may have occurred somewhere around 1500 BC between armies from Persia/Central Asia and the Dravidian peoples. In those days, it was not uncommon for scribes to romanticize the feats of their beloved patron kings. In the light of this knowledge, the Ramayana can be interpreted as a war between two kings, or maybe it is the sacrifice of a defeated king. In traditional artistic depictions, Ravana is usually painted or carved out as a powerful man with dark skin and features similar to that of Dravidians. Also, his kingdom of Lanka is thought to be situated somewhere around or within modern-day Sri Lanka.

Once Ram has defeated Ravana, he establishes a period of Ram Rajya–a culture/state of high morality. This is reminiscent of Cain’s feat after he murders his brother. Like Ram, Cain founds the first civilized society. And civilization, culture, society, and even language are all the result of violence, specifically the sacrifice of a single victim, who is later deified because of the catharsis that comes from his demise.

I have personally found Jung’s study of the unconscious mind fascinating, but I think Girard was right when he said Jung didn’t go deep enough. Had Jung gone deep enough in his study of mythological symbols, not only would he have been able to uncover the slain victims, but he would have also recognized the reverse mythology of the gospels that internalizes the sacrificing within the realm of the person.

When Christ saves the adulterous woman from getting stoned to death, he challenges each person to look within themselves, and in the process, he breaks the hypnotic frenzy of the crowd. The individual recognition that each of us has within us an inner persecutor, who is ready to burst out at any moment, is probably the most potent weapon against collectivism. It is this weapon that causes us to transform and start imitating Christ.

Today, we need not adhere to groupthink, and we need not sacrifice a scapegoat to keep our societies functioning. The ancient stories of good vs. evil, retold countless times today, were subtle cover-ups for violent scapegoating. The only real battle is within our hearts; any external battle is false and based on a lie. Once we realize that we are each potential persecutors, we create within us the heart of Christ. We develop a heart that naturally comes to love our neighbors, whether they be victims or oppressors. This was Paul’s Damascus experience, and it should be ours as well.

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

Media Myths Fall Like Lightning

David Gornoski starts the episode with a telling critique of the institutions that perpetuate theft and anti-western indoctrination. How does Woke Corporate-Fascism compare to Christianity and the myths of old? David reads from the work of Rene Girard and helps us understand how the Christian Gospel lays bare the concoction of narratives by power brokers. Will social-distancing taboos work in favor of the modern-day mythmakers? Can society ever hide its victims behind myths again? Listen to the full episode to find out.

Humpty Dumpty Can Never Return

“How many people of color overseas were bombed or led to starvation? Say their names, New York Times.” In this episode, David Gornoski provides a scorching critique of the New York Times’ pro-war and pro-injustice narratives disguised as social justice. What lies behind the phenomenon of rich kids wanting to overthrow capitalism? What causes rich millenials to be angry with themselves and to project their frustration onto others? Can the Humpty-Dumpty of ritual human sacrifice be put back together again as these rich socialists desire? Listen to the full episode to find out and more.

Meeting Goliath with the Truth

“We have to be mindful of the content we consume.” Join David Gornoski as he dissects and highlights how the new media–imitative of the old TV media–never seem to make you into a better person. How does the media obfuscate our moral responsibility? How does the media manipulate us into thinking that words are violence and actual violence is passé? “Barack Obama had the house and the senate,” David says, “but he didn’t do a thing for criminal justice reform.” How do we get people out of the hive mind of Big Tech-engineered hate and division? Listen to the full episode to find out and more.

THINGS HIDDEN 22: Twilight of the American Gods

Shannon Braswell and David Gornoski return for another exciting episode of THINGS HIDDEN. The two address Kanye West’s appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast, the concept of the holy fool, the cultural decline in France, the rise of suicide terrorism, the rise of troll culture, the need for distinctions and role models in society, and more. How do we cultivate good role models in today’s culture of top-down coercion? What does putting skin in the game mean? How does Christianity help us in overcoming human barriers in a way other religions could not? Listen to the full podcast to find out.

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.

How Mythology Unmasks Fake News

The concoction of fake news is very closely connected to how mythologies were spun in ancient times. Both are written by the winners and both deal with expelling crowd-designated scapegoats. Christianity, on the other hand, reveals the persecution and sacrifice at play in myth-making; it has made it impossible for society to scapegoat the other. Where did our fascination with underdogs come from? Who are the ‘witches’ in today’s witch hunts and how do the media and the establishment help us scapegoat them? Listen to the full episode to find out and more.

THINGS HIDDEN 14: Memoirs of a Gaijin

 

Dr. Paul Axton, theologian and host of the Forging Ploughshares podcast, sits down with David Gornoski to talk about his experience of living in Japan, the idea of shame in death, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and seeing Japanese culture through Christian eyes.

While pointing out that Romans 7 is absolutely essential for understanding what it is to imitate Jesus, Dr. Axton observes that death is “an orientation of violence and what we’re continuously spreading as we go.”

Dr. Axton further explains that the problem of scapegoating is rooted in theological development and that we often mistakenly think that scapegoating is our salvation. The theologian highlights that refusal to scapegoat is resisting the enthroned sacrificial powers through an analysis of Shusaku Endo’s novel ‘Silence’ and the historical persecution of Christians during the Tokugawa shogunate.

Why is there such a high suicide rate in Japan? What can Japan teach the rest of the world in being both a high-functioning and scapegoating society? Listen to the full podcast for an intriguing conversation on culture, politics, and the juxtaposition between scapegoating and technological rise in modern Japanese society.

Listen to the podcast:

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.