Tuesday, December 24, 2013

No, Virginia, there is no Brian

Ah, it's that lovely time of year again, the time of gifts and giving (unless you're rich - then it's the time for raking in the cash from all the suckers paying into your malls) and the time for such bounty and blessing that even farm animals begin to expect a bit of extra protein in their mangers.
What, too soon?

"His perfect kingdom of killing, suffering and pain
Demands devotion, atrocities done in his name." - NIN, Heresy

But, ok, maybe I should just stick to bashing Santa Claus - that's the low-hanging fruit, right? "Commercialization" the carolers decry, with a gift-card in one hand and a maxed-out credit-card in the other, flapping to escape their own hypocrisy while lip-synching to the latest pop-idol's re-branding of Jingle-Bells. Except I never know what to say about dodgy old Saint Nicked-Your-Cash beyond the simple fact that you're worshiping an eighty-year-old Coca Cola ad. Truth is stranger than religious fiction and let's face it, nothing popularized by word of mouth two thousand or two hundred years ago can compete with Coca Cola's marketing department.
Not that it's so different from how traditions spring up in general, including the religious ones. Let us now say grace (good bread, good meat, good God let's eat) burn an unboiled gluten-free noodle in offering to the Flying Spaghetti Monster and bow our heads in worship before the holy Gourd of Brian, for the hour of gullibility is upon us.

But mostly let's focus on the controversy around Monty Python's most carefully orchestrated and coherent work, Life of Brian. The facile religious accusation against the "blasphemous" film seems to have hinged on Brian himself being a parody of Jesus and while there's nothing wrong with satirizing religious and social reformers like that long-dead desert preacher, it would be giving the Pythons too little credit. Their great achievement, the nameless terror from which the religious mind reeled back into a fabrication of sectarian squabbles, was shining a spotlight on the irrationality of faith itself. Much like Anatole France's penguins, Brian and his various foils and antagonists ridicule not just individual idols but the faults in human behavior which allowed those idols to arise in the first place. The film's pivotal scene shows a crowd bleating "yes, we're all different" in a chorus. The main problem with faith shows from the start: if you had Jesus and Brian side by side in two mangers, you probably wouldn't know the difference. But you'd pray to whichever one you ran across first anyway.
It was in the interest of any religious leader, of every anti-intellectual charlatan hailing not just from Christianity but "the faithful of all faiths" as Nietzsche put it, to reduce the scope of the argument back to an attack against Jesus. It is the nature of every power structure that the few at the top, regardless of their in-fighting and fratricide, never hold such enmity for each other as they do for the lower classes. It was fruitful for them to brand Life of Brian as anti-Jesus because it was the anti-faith argument they feared. Just as for an entrenched aristocracy it's never the argument against count or duke such-and-such, the deposing of any of them but the argument against aristocracy that's the true threat, just as Coke and Pepsi's greatest enemy isn't each other but water and health regulations, the greatest threat to pulpit-pounding scheisters is not an attack against the belief in Jesus but an attack against belief itself.

As long as you believe in something you're still playing their game. As long as you pick one of them, Jesus, Brian, Amitabha or Mohammed, Coke or Pepsi, Microsoft or Apple, the U.S.A. or the U.S.S.R., Democrat or Republican, wife or mistress, mom or dad, as long as you declare your faith and undying devotion, you're still in the game and it remains their game. As long as you play by their rules, they own you, and they can just trade you among themselves in the zero-sum game of primate hierarchy power struggles. Only intellectual progress remains their true and common enemy, the advance of reason over gullibility.

"you can stop the truth from leaking if you never stop believing" - The Dresden Dolls, Mrs. O

So we come back to Santa Claus because that is the beginning of faith: childhood. The greatest unspoken crime we perpetrate against each younger generation is to use our innate dependency on parental authority to promote in the maturing brain, in the growing individual, the flaw and mental deficiency of faith. It is not kind to lie to children for no other reason than perpetuating the crimes inflicted on ourselves. I remember when I stopped believing in Santa Claus, from four to five years of age. I was proud of having seen through the lie, and yet it took me a year to bring up the subject with my parents because I was also confused and hurt at having been lied to. My parents, the object of my faith, infallible and all-knowing law-givers... had deceived me.
It of course does not cross our minds at the time of that first betrayal that we are only being initiated into a much greater betrayal. The damage inflicted by that morbidly obese home-invader is not the belief in Santa Claus himself, but the pattern of belief. It is the extension of our state of slavery as children mentally into a perpetual search for masters, in all the apish rituals of matrimony, political parties, temples, sports and all other methods of bleating "yes, we're all different" and no, Sirs and Madams who were some decades ago initiated yourselves into this cycle of sadomasochism, I refuse to acknowledge your perceived right to inflict some poisonous pedagogy in your own turn.

The adults who latch onto the discarded sandal of Brian as a sign of the Messiah were initiated into that blind faith by their parents years prior and it doesn't matter whether those stories were about Santa Claus or the boogeyman who'll get you if you don't eat your peas. The real crime has nothing to do with Santa Claus or Jesus or any other one idol.
The crucial moment is that point where your children grow suspicious, and instead of doing your duty as parents and encouraging them to pull on Santa's beard so they grow into critical, rational adults you slap their hands away and punish their intellectual growth, crippling them into a perpetual childish search for faith. So yes, when Brian the Messiah wanders along, it's a safe bet your children will be among those worshiping his sandal and imagining he made juniper berries appear, because you've taught them to latch on to irrationality.

"We all know
There's no Hell and no Hiroshima
Chernobyl was a cover-up
The world is really all in love
And oh, Mrs. O
Will you leave us hanging now that we are grown up and old?"

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