This is the fifth in a series of articles analyzing the lyrics from the 1993 Carcass album “Heartwork”.
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.
#1 by John Erickson on September 30, 2011 - 3:57 PM
Goodness, there have been a large number of posts on this exact topic lately. Makes me wonder just a bit….
In another post elsewhere, I believe I referred to religion (among serving other needs) as a “social lubricant”. I also made the point that religion introduces both a set of morals (which I also argued could exist WITHOUT religion 😉 ), and a “carrot and stick” method of enforcement. And the beauty of it is that the punishment cannot be verified, leaving all those lingering doubts.
I have no problem with a belief in God, something I happen to share. I have HUGE problems with organised religions that work toward their own end, that impose themselves on people’s lives, and that require marching to a (pardon the phrase) dogmatic regimen.
By the by, rent or catch “Dogma” by Kevin Smith. It’s a funny but also interesting and thought-provoking look at Christianity and the Roman Catholic religion’s relationship therewith.
Great post, my friend! Well-written AND well-reasoned.
#2 by Keith Spillett on October 5, 2011 - 6:44 AM
Thank you kindly, sir!
I’m in the same boat is you with this one, John. I had a great argument with someone a while back about it. He seemed to believe that morality was impossible without religion. I didn’t really buy the argument. It struck me as fantastically cynical. Humans are so wildly unrestrained that they need a “noble lie”, as Plato reasoned in the Republic, in order to be kept from doing things that would harm their neighbors on a constant basis? I just don’t believe that. I’ve seen too many people, religious and non-religious, who have acted selflessly and given of themselves for no reason other than they wanted to show caring towards one another. I think the argument that the person made, although highly nuanced in presentation, showed a very simplistic view of the human race. No doubt, the argument is right on some occasions and under some circumstances but to rely on a reification like “human nature” and to even pretend to know the full content of it struck me as being silly. To create an artificial edifice to control this presumption about the nature of humans seemed like something straight out of Thomas Hobbes. If God is real, then all bets are off, but to assume that people are better off being convinced of something that isn’t true by people who aren’t sure in order to control impulses that aren’t always there seemed like it was completely insane.
Dogma is an excellent film, although having a moderately talented pop singer playing God was one of the weaker bits of stunt casting I’ve seen in a while. I’d have seen if they could have revived George Burns. He really played God well. I loved all 3 of the Oh God! movies, even though they were mindless pap.