I bow down your precious icon, deity of self-suppression
This effigy of flesh, corporeal christi, nailed
In submission to this false idol, seeking deliverance
From this spiritual hierarchy, downward spiraling, a corrupt throne
Of repression and guilt
Our will be done
Thy kingdom burn
On my knees, before this tormented flesh, in irreverence
In communion with this parasitic host of virtuous divinity
This imperious creed bears testament to the failures of our morality
Righteous durance is our cross we bear in stations
In stations of the lost
Our will be done
Thy kingdom burn – thy kingdom burn
Our will be done
From your knees arise
By your own hand, your god you scribe
The earth shall inherit the meek
Your god is dead
Bound down, in God we’re trussed, foul stature
Icons embodied in flesh, we nail
In servitude to deities fashioned in our self image
Shadows of eternal strife cast by those who serve
Serve a crown of pawns
If up until this point you weren’t sure how the band Carcass feels about religion, Embodiment states it completely and in no uncertain terms. The song is an outright renunciation of organized religion, Christianity in particular. The lyrics bubble with hatred and scorn for the self-annihilating principles that they believe mark the Christian outlook. I don’t share the disdain that the band feels for Christianity, but the force of the language used in their argument is highly compelling.
The song’s central argument is that Christianity is an advanced form of slavery. They make the case by dismissing the existence of any fathomable God and assuming that the goals of religion are to allow those who are in power to continue an unfettered hegemony over the practice of free will. Where some people see peace and comfort, Carcass perceives control and subjugation. Certainly, some of their argument is legitimate. There are plenty of historical examples of the misuse of religion to advance the selfish ends of a tyrannical elite. However, the song fails to address much of the comfort and solace that it has brought people for over 2000 years. Further, it would be facile minded to simply assume that the self-abnegation at the core of Christian thought is completely a bad thing. The giving up of one’s desires to benefit the community is on many occasions, inside or outside of a religious context, beneficial towards the human race as a whole.
In spite of the problems the argument presents, the language with which the case is made is striking. The core belief in the song is contained in the beautifully efficient and devastating pun “In God we’re trussed”. By taking an expression found on American money and perverting its message, Carcass is able to make several critical points. First, the use of a religious phrase in an economic context effectively links the agenda of today’s Christianity with the pursuit of financial gain. Then, they take the phrase and change trust (an act of faith) into trussed (to be tightly bound or in this case completely controlled). Essentially, they argue here that while you may choose to subvert your needs for the Church it will not extend you the same courtesy and, worse, it will take your belief and use it to hoodwink you into giving up your possessions and your liberty. In their eyes, it is the greatest hustle in human history.
What is truly lost for believers is contained in the heart-wrenching expression “the earth shall inherit the meek.” The original phrase “the meek shall inherit the earth” is an appeal to the Job-like masses that give so tirelessly but ask for little in return. They suffer in silence, but at the end of the day, they will be rewarded…or so the story goes. The good and humble people will come to control the earth and the wicked will be cast from it. The subversion of this expression contains allows for a very troubling message to be presented. If you suffer in silence and do the right thing your reward will be the grave. Death awaits us all and those who are pious and righteous are rewarded with the same eternal darkness that await those who pillage the world blind. There are no rewards in this life or any other for those who follow the words contained in the Bible. The meek will be buried right alongside those who engage in a Dionysian life of personal excess and unabated greed. The ground cannot tell the two apart.
If this argument is legitimate, it presents us with chilling questions about how we should live our lives that goes beyond religion. If there are truly no consequences for our actions, why not do whatever we want? Those with the most material, at the end of the day, are those who have benefitted most from a purely material world. If all that is promised to us for a good life is an eventual death, what is the motivation in living a justly?
I believe that the truth or untruth of God’s existence need not bear on whether someone acts morally. If every word of the Bible is true and God’s existence is exactly as portrayed in Christianity, we should act with as much kindness, patience and love to those around us as we are capable. If every word of the Bible is false and Christianity is an unholy scam perpetrated by on the masses by ruthless power mongers, we should act with as much kindness, patience and love to those around us as we are capable. The reward of living a just life is simply getting to live a just life. That’s all. The earth may inherit the meek, but at least the meek can lessen the suffering of those around them. Nothing else is promised and nothing else is certain. TS Eliot eloquently summarizes this principle in his poem “Choruses From The Rock”…..
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing
It is our station to care for one another to the best of our abilities regardless what the truth of the universe is. To love without condition is the greatest gift we could bestow on our world no matter what the terms of our existence are. Any philosophy that brings us closer to that ability, be it religious or atheistic, is worthy of our respect and consideration.
Greek Mythology has always been a source of great fascination to me. The Ancient Greeks had an uncanny way of explaining the random, capricious nature of life through their deities. The gods were wild and erratic. They could hand you a check for a million dollars one minute and throw you in a pit with a thousand rattlesnakes the next. Imagine the entire Old Testament was The Book of Job and you have a decent sense of how things worked for The Greeks.
The gods seemed to be a great way to explain anything and everything. At times, it can seem as if there were more gods then Greeks. Often, scholars spend their time focusing on the better-known gods like Zeus, Poseidon or Athena. However, there are many fascinating stories of gods that were widely worshiped in their day, but have disappeared into the great dustbin of history. Here are some great examples:
Arteriosclorities-The God of Deep Fried Foods
Beyond contributing democracy and many other key philosophical insights to our world, The Greeks are also the first society to deep-fry their foods. From yak to Snickers bars (a delicacy first created by Aristotle), the Greeks would throw nearly anything into a bubbling cauldron of oil. It is no wonder that the Greeks are believed to be the progenitors of Western medicine. Most Greeks weighed upwards of 300 pounds and were barely able to run. This fact tends to throw their achievements during the Olympic games into a whole different light.
Supposedly, Arteriosclorities was one of Zeus’ many sons from an affair with Eris, the goddess of strife and discord. In order to hide this affair from his wife Hera after the child was born, Zeus placed Arteriosclorities into the stomach of Dionysus while he was sleeping off a wild night of overeating and general debauchery. Dionysus awoke with a terrible feeling of discomfort and collapsed. Zeus, not meaning to have harmed Dionysus, sent Indigestius, the Greek god of stomach acid and ulcers, into his stomach to destroy Arteriosclorities. The two had a great battle, which was won by Indigestius. Dionysus finally awoke with terrible stomach pains that could only be allayed by eating massive amounts of antacids.
McKuenius-The God of Bad Poetry and Greeting Cards
The Greeks are known for creating some of the most poignant and moving poetry in human history. But, for every Homer, there were 1,000 less talented hacks trying to write their own Iliad. Many of these no talent writers ended up working for the Hallmark Corporation, which was founded in 654 B.C., with the mission of sending sappy, dull poetry to people on important days of their lives. Their patron saint is the god McKuenius.
McKuenius was known for writing terribly boring, pointless poetry and asking Hermes to deliver it. Hermes, the busy messenger god, was forced to deliver idiotic compositions like “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, You are a Goddess and Athena is too” to Aphrodite or “Poseidon likes water, Demeter is his sister, She gave birth to his daughter,” to the god of the sea. After growing tired of having to read this drivel, Hermes begged Zeus to punish McKuenius in order to make him stop writing. First, Zeus sentenced him to one hundred years of writing dirty limericks on bathroom stalls. However, Zeus quickly discovered that he was enjoying his job. Zeus realized he was a lost cause and sent him to pits of Tartarus and made him write a detailed description of Sisyphus rolling a rock up the hill for eternity. He is still there today, happily describing suffering and misery in a pithy, gleeful, and highly moronic way.
Aggasius-The God Of Male Pattern Baldness
The gods seemed to all have some sort of fatal flaw. Be it rage, greed, avarice or just plain old insanity, they all seemed to have something locked into their character that made them both all-powerful and amazingly vulnerable. One of the earliest examples of this is Aggasius, the god of male pattern baldness. Aggusius was one of the original Titan gods who were overthrown by Zeus and The Olympian gods at 4:22 PM on February 12th 3212 B.C. Aggasius was capable of creating tornadoes, causing earthquakes and smiting entire nations with a wave of his staff. However, he was unable to grow hair on the top of his head. The tragic irony of Agassius was that he could grow massive amounts on his back, his ears and even on his shoulders like Sonny Corleone in the first Godfather film. He tried several potions created by Greek pharmaceutical manufacturers, a terribly made hairpiece created from the beard of Hyperion, and even tried to rubbing pomegranate seeds on his head three times a day, nothing seemed to work. In spite of his great power, the other gods laughed at “The Bald One” whenever his back was turned. Eventually, he grew tired of the mockery, quit being a god and moved to a suburb of Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he still lives today working as a successful middle manager at a meat packing company.
Vladimir: So….you take a watch and you put it in a bag….
Estragon: What type of bag?
Vladimir: It doesn’t matter.
Estragon: Well, what type of watch is it?
Vladimir: Again…not important. You put the watch in a bag. Now, you take a hammer and you smash it.
Vladimir: Just see if you can follow me here. You smash the watch into a hundred pieces….
Estragon: Is it a digital watch or a nice one?
Vladimir: It doesn’t matter….You take the watch and you smash it into….
Estragon: Well, why are you smashing the watch?
Vladimir: Okay, that’s really not important! The important thing is…
Estragon: What kind of lunatic would break a perfectly good watch?
Vladimir: It’s a metaphor. Nobody is really breaking a watch with a hammer. The idea is to prove a point.
Estragon: But how can you prove a point using an example that is completely unrealistic.
Vladimir: I don’t know. It’s not important! Just listen.
Estragon: Well, if it is a digital watch with one of those plastic bands it’s not going to break with a hammer
Vladimir: Fine. It’s a Rolex. A really nice gold Rolex.
Estragon: A Rolex is really expensive. Why would you want to break an expensive watch? And I don’t know if a hammer will break a Rolex into a hundred pieces.
Vladimir: Fine. It is an inexpensive magical watch that magically will break into a hundred pieces. Can I get back to my point?
Vladimir: Okay, so you break the watch. You shake it up in the bag?
Vladimir: Does it re-form into the same watch?
Estragon: Well, of course not!
Estragon: See what? I’m not sure I follow.
Vladimir: Evolution is impossible.
Vladimir: Something has to be there to assemble the watch if it’s going to come back together, right?
Estragon: I guess.
Vladimir: And the watch has been reassembled into a perfect whole, right?
Estragon: That is what you said.
Vladimir: Well, then there has to be a watchmaker who has a plan, right?
Estragon: Uhmmm. Okay. So, who is the watchmaker?
Vladimir: God is the watchmaker! Otherwise the watch would still be in pieces.
Estragon: Wait…so God reassembled the watch?
Vladimir: What do you mean why? He’s God. He doesn’t need a good reason.
Estragon: So, God just goes around putting broken watches together? We’re not sure why. That’s just what he does.
Vladimir: Exactly. He loves us. Maybe he wants us to have a nice watch. Maybe he wants us to be happy. That’s for Him to know.
Estragon: If he wanted us to be happy, why didn’t he just stop us from breaking the watch in the first place?
Vladimir: Free will!
Estragon: So, wait, he loves us so much he is willing to fix the watch, but he won’t stop us from breaking it?
Estragon: That’s not a very efficient system.
Vladimir: Well, He doesn’t have to be efficient. He’s God. He doesn’t have to explain anything.
Estragon: Well, if he’s going to go around smashing watches, I think he owes somebody an explanation. That’s pretty rude. If he smashed my watch I’d be really angry!
Vladimir: Okay…forget the watch. We’ll use another example. Pick something.
Estragon: A piece of ham
Vladimir: So, you put a piece of ham in a bag…
Estragon: Ham….in a bag?
Vladimir: Yes! And you smash it into a million pieces.
Vladimir: It still tastes like ham and smells like ham and looks like ham. RIGHT?!?!?
Estragon: Yes…I think.
Vladimir: So there has to be some kind of ham designer, right?
Estragon: Yes…well….maybe…I guess….
Vladimir: Evolution couldn’t have designed ham.
Estragon: Wait…why not?
Vladimir: Because it is perfect.
Estragon: What is perfect?
Vladimir: Ham! Ham is perfect!
Estragon: Compared to what?
Vladimir: To a universe without ham.
Estragon: How can you tell?
Vladimir: God wouldn’t have created it if it weren’t perfect. Ham is in our universe. Therefore, ham is perfect.
Estragon: Okay, now I’m really confused. If God is perfect and created a world that is the most perfect possible world for us, why does he create people who smash ham and watches in bags?
Vladimir: To test us.
Vladimir: To see how much we love him.
Estragon: Oh…so we show him we love him by not smashing things in bags?
Estragon: I see. So that’s the point of the whole thing!
Vladimir: YES! That’s the point. We have the choice whether to smash ham or watches or even possums in bags. If we choose not to, we do it because we love God. And if we do that we will be rewarded.
Estragon: With a nice watch?
Vladimir: Maybe with a watch. Maybe with eternal happiness. We’re not exactly sure. We just know that the reward is going to be REALLY good.
Estragon: And if we smash things in bags?
Vladimir: Then bad things happen to us. REALLY bad things. Things like sickness or eternal suffering or boils on our face.
Estragon: Boils on our face?!?!?!
Vladimir: It won’t be a problem for you if you just do what you are supposed to.
Estragon: So these are the rules?
Estragon: And if I follow them, I’ll be…………happy???
Vladimir: Unless God has another plan for you. But eventually you’ll be happy. At some point.
Estragon: Will I get a watch?
Vladimir: If that is what you desire and that is God’s plan and you follow the rules then, yes, you will get a watch.
(At this exact moment, a giant meteor hits the earth obliterating smashing it into a million pieces. The entire human race, including Estragon and Vladimir, are destroyed in a firey, horrible instant without warning)
The Year is 2223. Reverend Scott E. Pippen the 29th stands in front of his congregation of 24,000 with his arms raised high in the air. He is a tall man, about 6 feet 8. He is wearing a gown with the number 23 embroidered on the front in gold. He is up on a stage with a golden basketball hoop mounted behind him. A hush falls over the capacity crowd.
“Today, I’d like to talk to you about greatness. Many religions have valued different things over the years. Some of the religions praised self-restraint, while others loved commitment and dedication. These qualities can be very good things, but their followers seemed to miss the bigger point. Trying really hard is not enough. In order to truly be worthy of God’s love you must win!”
“AMEN!!!!” screams a parishioner.
“The people of olden times used to worship martyrs! Do you believe it? They would cast their lot with people who tried really hard….but lost! Those martyrs were great men, but they couldn’t figure out how to triumph over evil. Sure, they would say that some of their martyrs rose from the dead, but many people had trouble believing that part. There wasn’t enough proof. Maybe they were successful, but they weren’t able to pull it off on the big stage! I mean, most messiahs wouldn’t make it in the NBA as a 12th man for the New Jersey Nets. For years, we could only choose between this losing messiah, that losing messiah or sometimes a messiah that hadn’t even shown up yet! Can you believe it people?”
“NO!!!!!” shouted the crowd wildly.
“Thankfully, on February 17th, 1963, that holiest of days, Michael Jordan was born in a barn in Brooklyn, New York. As a child, Jordan was a good player, but certainly not the messiah we know him as today. Everyone by now has heard the story of how he was cut from his High School basketball team. This was the first in a series of setbacks for His Airness, but each time he was given an obstacle, he learned how to climb over it and most importantly HOW…..TO…….WIN!!!!!!”
The crowd bursts into thunderous applause.
“When Georgetown tried to slow him down in the 1982 NCAA Final…HE WON! When the Pistons and Celtics stopped him early in his career he came back and….HE WON!!!! When the Knicks attacked and beat him game after game he rose up and….HE WON!!!!!! When Jordan retired for the third time, after his sixth NBA title everyone thought that was finished. Then, as a 60 year old man, Jordan returned to the NBA and led the Chicago Bulls to four more titles. Age tried to beat him down but…..HE WON!!!!!”
“JUST DO IT!!!!” screams the crowd.
“Those old-fashioned religions used to talk about an afterlife. They were preaching the gospel of weakness. Today, we know that the dead are just quitters! When Jordan turned 100 he proclaimed that he would never die. He went up to his basketball court built on the side of the greatest mountaintop and that is where he is still today. No one has talked to him in years, but he has promised that one day he will not only return to us, but return to the NBA. One day, when you go to your weekend sports temple to show your commitment to God and your home team he will emerge from the tunnel and HE…..WILL……PLAY………….AGAIN!!!!!!!!”
“YES!!!!!” “JUST DO IT!!!!!!” “AMEN!!!!!!”
“Those old fashioned religions told you that God loved everyone. Jordan taught us that they were wrong! The truth is that GOD LOVES A WINNER! You prove your devotion to him not by being beaten down by the opponent but though VICTORY! God has no time for losers. He will not give you a trophy just for competing. He has no time for lesser men. He is not going to hold your hand and tell you it is okay to fail. God values results! The simple truth is that God Hates Losers!!!!”
“PREACH IT!!!!” JUST DO IT!!!!”
“Jordan came to save us all from the pain and humiliation of losing. Whenever there is someone buying a pair of His Sneakers….HE’LL BE THERE! Whenever there is a team the overcomes the evil of losing….HE’LL BE THERE! And when we buy His shoes and praise His name and WHEN WE WIN……….HE’LL………BE……….THERE…..……TOOOOOO!”
The crowd erupts into a screaming, howling frenzy.
“And now I present to you the top ranked choir in the entire world….The beautiful and talented Jordan-Airs!!!!!!”
The choir begins to sing and basketball players in different throwback Jordan uniforms dunk golden basketballs into the hoop above the stage…
“To The Temple of Jordan Our Savior Went One Day,
And We Read That Phil The Baptist Met Him There,
And When Jordan Scored 60 in the Finals Versus Philly
The Mighty Power of God Filled The Air.
I’m On My Way
To The Temple of Jordan
Were Going To Win
At The Temple of Jordan
And Victory Will Cleanse My Soul”
This thing that I think that I am, sometimes, I am not. Looking at an X-Ray of my right foot has twisted my mind into knots for the past few weeks. It’s not that they found anything that disturbing. My doctor discovered a bone spur, which I was pretty sure that I had. No surprise there. I am having surgery tomorrow. Again, not a surprise. The thing that got in my head was the X-ray itself. If I am what’s in that picture…what am i?
There was this picture of the bones in my foot staring at me. The doctor was pointing to things and saying a bunch of words, but I was transfixed on the picture. There I am? There I AM! There I am?!?!?!? This picture is of the inside of me. Underneath all of this skin and blood are a set of bones. These bones have been with me all of my life. They were at my high school graduation, they were there when I got married, they attended the births of my two beautiful children, they have seen me laugh, they have seen me cry, they have been there when I thought I was alone. I couldn’t process it. These bones are actually me!
The me that I think I am is the thing that experiences the world consciously. I am aware of feelings and ideas. I make plans and I remember experiences. I see, I smell, I touch, I taste, I hear. I have no problem associating these things with me. Then, there are these bones. They are in me, they are part of me, but I can’t believe that they are me. This picture wasn’t some random x-ray they keep in the back and show everybody. These were my bones! Seeing them really sucked the magic out of everything. I tend to think of myself as more than the sum of my parts, but maybe I am nothing more than my parts. Maybe, I am just bones and skin and blood with a few organs floating around.
There are parts of myself I have never seen. I don’t know what my hip bone looks like. I don’t know what my liver looks like. My heart, my brain, my lungs…all highly valuable parts, but I couldn’t tell mine from my neighbors. The me that I know seems so special, so unique. My memories seem so important, as if they are part of some great mystery that I have a lifetime to solve. My thoughts, my ideas, my identity all seem to be pieces in the great “who am I?” puzzle. They all conspire to make me believe that I am an enigmatic character whose mythology is terribly important. And then, there is this picture of the inside of my foot. It is not special. It is not unique. It is simply mineralized osseous tissue housed in a pile of skin that is called “foot”. There are somewhere in the range of 14 billion of them and they all pretty much look and act the same. Sure, there are minor subtleties and nuances, but for the most part, what is the difference?
My foot does not find itself unique. It pushes against surfaces over and over throughout a day. It works, it rests. It does not feel loneliness or claustrophobia if it is trapped in a shoe for too long. It does not become jealous that I am favoring my other foot. It does not make plans to meet with my spleen for coffee. It does not become romantically involved with my esophagus. It does not ponder the mysteries of the universe and wonder what will happen to it when it dies. It is material and material has no time for enchantment. It simply is. When it ceases to work, it will waste away along with the rest of this thing that is me.
There is a part of me that cannot imagine that this is possible. There must be something else, there must be something more. I am more than that picture. I am not just bones. I am not just flesh. I am something mystical. I am more than those parts. I am more than words on a page saying “healthy, well-developed 35 year old male suffering from Hallux rigidus“. Right? Right?!?!?!
Maybe this identity of mine that I find so fascinating is just a bunch of electrical impulses. Maybe we are just piles of material walking around among other piles of material, thinking that thoughts and memories and ideas make us more. These self-important piles of material spend much of their time avoiding damage so that they can one day be part of creating new piles of material. And on and on with no direction, no meaning and no end. Thousands of them are created each day and thousands disintegrate. It does not matter…it is only matter.