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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

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.

Did Neanderthals Dream?

Human beings are primarily storytelling creatures; and storytelling is crucial for us. Which story should our society bind itself around? Many, including Karl Marx, have tried to distort Jesus’ concern for victims, and each has failed to tell the non-violent, redemptive story of Christ. “The McWoke crowd intends to justify themselves by donning the god-mask of victims to sacrifice their neighbors,” David says while reflecting on today’s social justice movements. Why has the word ‘Neanderthal’ become synonymous with ‘not smart?’ What does it mean for us when we see the evidence of humanity’s violent earliest stages? Listen to the full episode for a fascinating exploration of history, evolution, and how Jesus unshackles us from violence.

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