Defying the Death Cult
It’s time for a frank conversation.
The US Supreme Court handed down a ruling this week that will be devastating to the environment. It casts into question the government’s authority to regulate environmental destruction in general. Pollution, death and rapine of habitat lands will result.
So let us speak very plainly.
I have posted before about the Overculture: the subtext of beliefs, values and norms that inform culture in the English-speaking world, and to some degree the entire Western world. The Overculture has a lot of very serious moral and ethical (and practical) problems. It doesn’t contribute to human happiness or fulfillment. It doesn’t work well for any save the very rich. And it’s killing the biosphere of which we are a part, and upon which we depend.
In recent days, though, and in light of things that are happening in my country and elsewhere, I feel less inclined to use the relatively neutral term “Overculture” when pointing the finger at the problem. And I’m not going to use “Abrahamic religions”, either, because except in Israel and some other enclaves where reactionary strains of Judaism cause harm, Judaism is not at fault for the Overculture, either.
Let’s face it: it’s Christianity.
Christianity is a death cult.
It’s not the only death cult; there are others. But Christianity and its paradigms dominate the English-speaking world, so that’s what I’m addressing.
As Atheopagan critical thinkers, we’re familiar with why supernaturalist religions like Christianity are rather obviously factually incorrect in their descriptions of the Universe and how it works, and with why it is harmful to promulgate such improbable ideas. But this isn’t about that.
It’s about values. It’s about morality.
Most of the core values of Christianity are simply unacceptable. History proves to us, over and over, that its articulated values (like loving your neighbor) are not what it is really about for the most influential elements of its institutions and adherents.
Christianity is a cult because it insists on forcing itself onto those who do not follow or want it, trying to lure, badger or threaten them into joining the cult or, failing that, to make them obey its rules by enshrining them in law. They call this proselytizing–a form of spiritual violence–“evangelism”. What it really is is an effort to impose theocracy: there shall be none who do not follow our edicts, or suffer dire consequences.
Christianity is a death cult in its obsessions with martyrdom and suffering and human sacrifice, with its ascription of supposed “original sin” and threats of eternal torment to all humanity, with its harsh judgment and relish for sadistic punishment, in its shame-filled, antisexual and pleasure-denying prudery, in its death denial and fearful hyperfocus on chasing an imaginary afterlife, in its disregard for the health and survival and well-being of a real adult human woman in the name of ensuring that a tiny clot of cells persists. In its insistence that a person riddled with terminal disease die in slow, excruciating misery rather than being able to make the decision to die with dignity.
Just to name a few of its problems.
It is a death cult in its terracidal relationship with the Earth–the real source of its adherents’ lives–viewing as commodifiable, nonliving, inanimate and trivial* the living fabric and soil of the planet, so its followers can exploit these and grind them into the ultimate death fetish: money.
Given its hierarchical authoritarianism, Christianity is–and has been, since the Roman Empire–built in a manner that comfortably accommodates the powerful and tyrannical. In fact, the Greek word for “tyrant” was removed from the King James translation more than 30 times because King James I of England was afraid it might imply that the rule of kings is not absolute**.
Christian institutions endorsed the genocidal program of colonization characterized as the “Age of Discovery”, participated and continue to participate in the ongoing American Native genocide, accommodated Hitler and stood by and said nothing about the Holocaust for its entire duration, while continuing to preach vile slurs about Jewish people from the pulpit…just as its bishops and priests railed against the Hutus to their Tutsi congregations in Rwanda, resulting in genocide once again. It continues to fight the distribution and usage of condoms in Africa, resulting in countless avoidable deaths from AIDS, and to push for the death penalty for homosexuality in African countries. It was the primary apologist for the barbarism of slavery, and its white evangelical denominations defend racism and xenophobia to this day. It has a particular hostility to indigenous cultures, seeking to eradicate them in favor of itself.
Today, Christianity is an apologist for and facilitator of vulture capitalism at its most exploitative. Even when being charitable, few Christian organizations will say a word about the ultimate systemic reasons why the people they serve are poor and without prospects. One might even say that having a reliable supply of poverty keeps them in business, and able to keep proclaiming their noble works.
Perhaps worst of all, Christianity promotes a theory that no matter how awful your acts, you can put them on someone else (Jesus), and then, through his death, have the responsibility for these awful acts expiated. In so doing, Christianity endorses the principle of the scapegoat, a crude Iron Age practice nonetheless performed weekly in symbolic form in modern Christianity.
What this means in practical terms for societies dominated by Christianity is the promotion of a slavish, obsequious relationship to religious authority, a willingness on the part of practitioners to absolve themselves of even the worst behavior, and laws which are completely skewed to favor the greedy and excessively privileged…and not infrequently cross over into brutal oppression of everyone else.
Our Overculture reflects this moral framing. These ideas, these paradigms saturate the cultures of the English-speaking world.
The Christian death cult means body-shaming and sexual repression and rigid, patriarchal relationship and gender roles. It means homophobia. It means treatment of women as possessions and livestock. It means hatred and oppression for all who are not straight men, especially monied white men.
It means vast amounts of unnecessary suffering and death.
Beyond this, it means the steady and inexorable murder by a million short-sighted cuts of the planet of which we are emergent aspects, and upon which we rely to survive. This, in the name of further enriching those who have already hoarded far too much.
That’s our Overculture, and it comes from Christianity.
Now, right about here is when some defender of all this will sail in and trumpet, but what about science, hmm? Aren’t you all about science, and didn’t that arise from the Christian West as well, by and large?
Science and Enlightenment values developed in spite of Christianity and as an alternative to it (and, to a significant degree, science actually arose in the Islamic world, before Islam congealed into a largely reactionary, humorless death cult of its own). Science had to fight its way up in the margins as the Roman Catholic Church played whack-a-mole trying to stamp it out.
And by whack-a-mole, I mean murder, in the most gruesome ways imaginable.
Christianity likes murder. It likes it when its adherents are murdered, because then it can fetishize their deaths. And it likes murdering anyone it sees as Other than itself. Its instruction manual provides directions for the various horrible way you are supposed to kill people it doesn’t like, or who refuse to be consumed by it.
History is littered with millions of corpses slain by the followers of the supposed “Prince of Peace”.
Now: it must be granted that the degree of subscription to the death cult can and does vary by organization and individual. For some who identify as Christian, it means that they subscribe to it only insofar as they like some of the groovier values supposedly expressed by their Major Dude before he was (pant, pant) sadistically killed. But for most, being a Christian includes at the very minimum a subscription to the death cult’s appalling sexual and gender values, its submissiveness to authority, and some amount of the bigotry that the most rabid of the cultists and their institutions exhibit in the extreme.
It is sickening. It is sad.
It is dangerous.
It is morally wrong. And we can’t be rid of it soon enough.
Modern Paganism–at least in its American forms, which is all I can speak to–rose in popularity during and as an element of the 1960s counterculture, and as such, ideally it was a movement of revolution, liberation and alternative values: peaceful values, environmental values, feminist values, egalitarian values. Now, there was a lot wrong with those days, and the nascent Pagan movement fell far short of its expressed values for a long time, falling prey to the appetites, lack of boundaries and sheer cluelessness of the young.
But there has been steady improvement on these fronts. Better environmental stewardship, embrace of consenting sexuality and gender and sexual diversity, and anti-racism have been adopted by much of the movement, and these trends are spreading, I believe.
At least we’re trying. And the vision of where we are trying to go is not filled with blood, torture, death and ecological catastrophe.
In Atheopaganism, a particular path within the broad category of Neo-Paganism, we are working not only to liberate ourselves and our fellow humans, but for societal transformation. We’re doing it with our feet firmly on the ground when it comes to claims about the nature of the Universe, using reason, evidence and the scientific method to help us to draw conclusions about what is likely to be factual, and what is likely myth. Things like virgin births, resurrections, talking bushes and snakes, and wooden boats filled with breeding pairs of all the fauna of the world fall into the latter category…as do fairies, gods and literal magic.
We’re pursuing this societal transformation with joy and genuine love, rather than shaming and hatred and rage (which followers of the death cult have the gall to characterize as “love”).
The problem isn’t religion writ large. The problem is bad religion, and unfortunately, the world’s dominant ones are pretty bad. Christianity is founded on authoritarian, shame-filled and oppressive values and it is not a positive contributor to our past, nor our present day. Its sadistic, bigoted, genocidal history shows that being Christian does not provide a moral frame worthy of adherence. If some of its followers choose benign or beneficial value sets, that is clearly due to their individual choices–not because being a Christian makes it so.
Fortunately, Americans are flooding away from Christianity, joining their European fellows, who have largely secularized at this point. This is probably mostly because the Christian brand has become so toxic that children of evangelicals are not staying in it. Younger people recognize the illogic, bigotry and misery sewn inherently into Christianity as a religious movement, and they see their nonwhite, non-male, non-straight, non-gender-conforming friends being harmed by Christian behavior.
It can’t happen soon enough. The death cult is a formula for misery and self-destruction.
It must be broken as a social force in our world.
Fortunately, it appears to be doing that to itself.
*This Supreme Court ruling, penned by right-wing Catholic fanatic and George W. Bush appointee to the Supreme Court Samuel Alito, ignores what science tells us about the nature of water cycles and wetlands, and opens the door to wholesale rapine of land and water resources throughout the United States. Whatever the legal rationale, no reasonable person of good moral character would opt for such a policy. Certainly no one who recognizes the central role of the living biosphere in all human endeavors would do so.
**It bears saying that modern democracy doesn’t, despite Overculture mythology, stem from the Greeks (who actually got most of their democratic ideas from–gasp!–brown-skinned Egyptians). It was devised by Enlightenment, science-informed progressives, most of whom rejected Christianity. They were Deists like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison or, as in the case of Thomas Paine, actual atheists–or liberal Christian Quakers like John Adams.