The Christian religion contains a paradox. It claims to be about love and life, while containing, in all its denominations and off-shoots, strong manifestations of death-orientation or necrophilia.
The term necrophilia is used in its broadest sense, defined thus: the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid; the passion to transform something alive into something unalive, and to destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical or inanimate; the passion to tear apart living structures; the hatred of life, of its growth and development and its sources.
Necrophilia shows itself in many forms, some relatively benign and passive, some more active and dangerous. Any form can transmute into any other, depending on the circumstances and on opportunities presented.
Examples follow of necrophilous manifestations in Christianity. After these, it will be suggested how the paradox might be resolved.
The central prominent symbol of Christianity is the same as the death symbol – the cross. It represents death, in the shape of the means of execution in ancient Rome. Often a model corpse is nailed to the cross.
A tendency towards dark clothing, plain designs, sombre shades, gloomy interiors. Such things have traditionally seemed more proper to Christianity than light, colour and beauty. During the Protestant reformation, the aspects of Catholicism rejected by the reformers in trying to get back to true Christianity included most of the ornamental, artistic side of it. Bright vestments, elaborate ornament, great music were discarded as improper, ‘Popish Trumperies’. Martin Luther spoke and wrote in strongly scatological terms. It is regarded as more Christian to walk a grey path through life, to deny sensual pleasure and beauty and gratification, to regard this life as a wretched interval, and to look forward to the ‘hereafter’ the ‘afterlife’, ostensibly meaning a better life in a perfect place not on earth, but in reality meaning death.
Laughter and fun and sensual delight are at best regarded as slightly naughty, tolerable only under restriction, treated as a lapse from the proper mode of behaviour. Solemnity is virtue.
St Augustine of Hippo was an adherent of Manichaeism before his conversion to Christianity. The Manichaeist philosophy taught that existence was a conflict between the powers of darkness and the powers of light. Flesh and all fleshly things were on the dark side, they were identified as evil and one had to deny, mortify and eventually shed the living body and everything to do with it to cleave towards the powers of light.
This is a necrophilous doctrine. Augustine found it easy to become a Christian after years of devotion to this doctrine. He never abandoned Manichaeism – rather, he continued to promote it. It worked its way comfortably into Christianity at that time, and Augustine was made a bishop and eventually canonised as a saint. It is true that Manichaeism was always condemned as a heresy by the church and finally stamped out, but history is full of conflicts between doctrines, where doctrine A sucks the substance from doctrine B and stamps on the shell. Also, destructive rivalry tends to be stronger between doctrines when they are most similar rather than when they are most different.
The Roman empire became increasingly necrophilous with age. Yet it was in its last stages that Christianity took hold. There was never great wrenching conflict between the new, supposedly life-loving philosophy and the imploding cess-pit culture. Was it because Rome was too weak to resist, or was it because the new religion, despite its outward claims, was fundamentally a natural graft onto the culture?
Every human society has always, quite rightly, needed to regulate the whole process of parenting and rearing children. But Christianity in particular has always been hostile to sex as such. Societies in which Christianity is or has been dominant are becoming ever more secular, but they reflect the attitudes to sex that spring from Christianity. Even the extreme forms of permissiveness visible in recent decades, and the sex industry of brothels, strip shows, ‘dirty’ books and videos and porn sites are consistent with the traditional restrictiveness, in the sense that they degrade sex and women where the old restrictions denied and suppressed sex and women.
It is regarded as best never to have had sex at all. The mother of Christ was supposed never to have had it. This is the Christian ideal. She is described as immaculate, without spot of sin. Virginity is also called virtue or chastity. The clear implication of the use of these words is that sex, the means by which new life is constantly generated, is dirty and evil. That it is the very fount of life and expression of love doesn’t seem to redeem it. Perhaps these qualities are its main faults in Christian eyes?
In Christian societies the words ‘virgin’ and ‘maiden’ are used generally to mean unspoilt, untouched, in the best state, as though the loss of virginity always meant defilement and degradation.
Giving up sex has always been necessary to advance in religious life, as though God represented the opposite to the life-and-love force of sex.
Killing is permissible for Christians, even desirable in a ‘just war’ or to ‘defend the country against enemies, especially atheistic ones’ (actual quote from an Australian catholic priest). War, even annihilating nuclear war, is regarded as preferable to atheistic communism. Surely even North Korea is better off under communism than it would be after a nuclear war? The Spanish Inquisition, formed to defend the catholic faith, is still a byword for atrocious tortures and disgusting executions. Many other examples could be found.
Violence was spread across the large and small screen for decades, while it was not permitted to show a man and woman in bed together. Often children were allowed to see a war film as long as it didn’t contain any kissing scenes. Only today, with sexually explicit scenes on the screen, are Christians trying to get TV and films cleaned up. It’s true that ‘sex and violence’ are ostensibly the targets, but when there was only violence, there was no clean-up campaign.
It is seen as quite all right to festoon Christian churches with guns and swords for ornament. It sounds insane to suggest that instead, they should be decorated with pictures of naked women, babies, lovers. But why?
Another manifestation of necrophilia is the bias of Christians towards ‘free enterprise’ as an economic and political system. This system is necrophilous, as the following show:
(i) It presents the endless accumulation of inanimate material goods and money as the prime aim of individuals and society.
(ii) It progressively decreases the life-supporting capacity of the environment, converting living structures to lifeless chaos at an ever-increasing rate (communism did this too, but less efficiently).
(iii) In its adherence to the principle of consuming as much as you can today, ignoring tomorrow, it denies the concern for the future that is a mark of biophilia, life-lovingness, expressed in the urge to have children.
(iv) Free enterprise degrades the role of sex as the fount of life and gives primacy to a role for it as a pleasant sensation to be used as an advertising tool; in effect to serve inanimateness, lifelessness, rather than life.
It is notable that some of the shrillest opposition to the idea that global warming is happening, or that anything should be done about it, comes from Christian organisations. Obviously the free enterprise system cannot cope with admitting, or doing anything about, global warming.
Living things evolve over time to become better adapted, more advanced, life-forms, for example the evolution of apes into human beings. Evolution is intrinsic to life. It is denied by fundamentalist Christianity, according to which all life-forms were created at a definite time not long ago and remain the same until ‘the end of the world’ which is always being eagerly awaited. This is a necrophilous, life-hating view in that it imposes on living things qualities more suited to dead or inanimate things.
The ceremony of holy communion, in which bread and wine representing God’s body and blood are eaten to give divine grace to the eater, is strongly necrophilous.
Christians tend to take the strongest ‘right wing’ and anti-life stands on issues: in favour of nuclear weapons build-up, against gun control, anti-environmentalism, against social welfare spending, tolerant or supportive of racism, materialism, militarism.
The most devoutly Christian states of the United States of America, known as the ‘bible belt’ are also those who most cruelly oppressed African-Americans through history. They fought a war for the right to keep African-Americans in slavery. For a century after that war was lost, African-Americans were denied any equality and were killed or tortured if they tried to achieve it.
They are also those who take the strongest stand against abortion. This appears to be a life-loving concern, but consider the following.
Necrophilia is evident in the greater care of practitioners of religion for people after death than during life. Much prayer and elaborate funerals and obituaries are often devoted to people who, while alive, were allowed to cough and starve in neglect and loneliness. It could be said that the concern for people before birth, even at the moment of conception, is motivated by necrophilia, analogous to the concern for them after death, at the expense of the living person in between. Also, an abortion is often performed out of concern for the life and health of the mother.
Of course many anti-abortionists are motivated by the sincere belief that killing unborn children is murder and therefore not an acceptable solution to the problems that drive women to seek abortion.
How can this paradox, of a religion that claims to be about life while being riddled with necrophilia, be resolved?
We could assume that Christianity is fundamentally good and that evil people have turned it to evil purposes and tainted it with evil. Or that love of life is the founding principle of Christianity and that the elements of necrophilia are alien to it, introduced by people who wished to turn it to the service of death and other inanimate things.
But what if we turn these assumptions on their heads?
Assume that religion is fundamentally evil and that the good in it has been put there by good, life-loving, people trying to turn it to good purposes? The singer, not the song?
Assume that necrophilia is the founding principle, the essential nature, of religion, and that any life-love is alien to it, put there by lovers of life (including Christ himself) who wished it to be a vehicle for their love?
If this were true, how could it be explained?
Human beings, alone among creatures, are aware of their inevitable death, and the intelligence that brings this awareness brings fear of death. The complete dissolution into black nothingness of everything one knows and loves is fearful and hard to accept. But it won’t go away. How to deal with it?
One way is by cloaking the unacceptable face of death in a mask that makes it acceptable, even lovely. No longer an enemy that waits to tip us into nothingness, death becomes a beautiful friend who waits to take us into a new life, not only infinitely better than this one, but eternal, no end, no death.
On our fear of death and its working out through necrophilia the whole structure of religion is built.
God and the Devil are both anthropomorphisms for the same thing – death. God represents the false face of death, a beautiful loving friend. The Devil, Satan, represents the true face of death that we must shun, hate, and fear.
So, necrophilia is that black heart of religion. It keeps popping through in various forms in every aspect of religion. It taints everything it touches.
If we look again at religion on this basis, everything falls into place.
Christ himself was an anomaly; he tried to make the religion of his time and place into a force for life-love. But after he was gone it reverted to the same old thing, though with different outward forms. Christ remains trapped like a fly in amber, as a corpse nailed to a cross or to be eaten symbolically; identified with God, ever present in the hearts of the ‘saved’ as a friend, more important than the living people around them and eliminating the other great human fear, that of being alone.
Religion is a phase in human development through which we must pass, not an essential or permanent part of human nature. We have to find some other way of coming to terms with the reality and inevitability of death. We have to exchange one paradox for another. We have to escape from the paradox of being alive, but death-loving; and embrace the paradox of loving life while understanding that we all must die.
That final paradox is resolved when we realise that though we die as individuals, the human race lives on, and our life after death takes place through our children and through our creative efforts during life.
It follows from this post that people concerned for the conservation and enhancement of life on earth must oppose religion and strive to eliminate it, particularly the most widespread and aggressive forms of it.
Incoming search terms:
can we please move on from religion;