In my last year of high school we read Shakespeare’s King Lear; it was a state school, largely Anglican, although I was raised a mittel-European Catholic by my Slovenian mum with tinges of sceptical Calvinism from my atheistic Dutch dad. I remember being profoundly disturbed and puzzled by the world view of the play; ok, I was unfamiliar with the niceties of Anglican theology. Only lately has it been discovered that Shakespeare was a closet, practising Catholic, under the reign of Elizabeth 1, when such behaviour attracted the death penalty. Its residue in Anglican dominated UK society is a persistent sneering at “the bells & smells” of Catholicism.
Therefore, it should have been no shock to watch an episode of Detective Morse, who enters a Catholic church, and an intense visual montage ensues of the gruesomely bloodied, religious statuary. Morse looks around, and more than usually morosely grumbles, ” I don’t like this sort of place.” My upbringing led me to meditate on the sufferings of both Christ & Mary, his mother, deliciously described as their “passion”. But to experience it as ennobled in the greatest music western Europe has produced, namely JS Bach’s Matthew Passion, makes it difficult to see the mindset for what it is: disturbed, disturbing, pathological, something that leads US author Armistead Maupin in his novel Michael Tolliver Lives, to describe Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, as an S&M snuff movie. And so it is; all that paranoid conspiratorial mythical rant about the “Opferschale” or grail cup cannot redeem the experience. Another movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, with its paradoxical nazi motif explores this aspect. See, another religiously loaded term there (redeem); as for the cup that celebrates the covernant between god n man, mystical treasure, yadda, yadda.
But doesn’t religion have that wonderful ability to en-noble unpalatable truths: 30 something Dante, Italy’s greatest poet, catches sight of 8 year old Beatrice and is in love with her for the rest of his life. He never met her, much less consummated the dubious infatuation; but because he wrote one of the greatest works of world literature, the Divine Comedy, he is celebrated as a genius and not a sleazy pedophile. How ironic that his first part of the trilogy, Hell, is full of Dante’s condemnation of his enemies, especially the sodomites.
Ethan Morrden’s book about Maria Callas in Venice is full of Pasolini planning a movie about the cannabalism of the ancient world, heroes slaying their children & offering them as an “exquisite” meal for the gods; how we sneer at such riotous pagan behaviour; yet both Old & New Testaments have thinly disguised accounts of religious cannibalism: Abraham being told by god to sacrifice his son; then Christ dies as a sacrificial offering to redeem mankind, and daily, christians devoutly follow his supposed exhortation: “eat my flesh, drink my blood”. How I revered these sacred words as an altar boy.
A whole other chapter could be devoted to the contemporary exceptions, for instance the 4 tzaddiks who abandoned blood sacrifice & preferred sheafs of wheat & wine instead: Melchizedek et al; then there are the obvious instances where history is rewritten to accord with the prevailing propaganda, such as the visual motifs of the early christians as found in the catacombs under the via Appia in Rome, not the crucifix & other motifs of the Passion but the good shepherd and the vine & branches, organic symbols of organisation. However, John Balfour in his wonderful tome Christianity Social Tolerance & Homosexuality covers this territory most convincingly.
Now, when I watch the far too hyperactive-making Jason Bourne movies, starring the divinely beautiful Matt Damon, it is just not difficult to see the religious, sacrificial mythology underlying the CIA conspiracy, the torture, the retribution, the redress. When will we ever grow out of this tormented stuff.
Of course, Australians have not really assimilated our dubious involvement in the Iraq Wars 1 and 2 under tracksuited, jogging Prime Minister John Howard (“I was misled”), and now under budgie-smuggler wearing, shirtfronting catholic Tony Abbott in Iraq War 3; we have not come to terms with the rendition (religious ritual) in a room in Cairo of Australian citizen Mamdour Habib, and the presence in the room of an official from the Australian Embassy; Jason Bourne indeed.
As educated middle class folk, we watch detective movies for the ritual of elusive justice they enshrine. But it’s just more religious tarradiddlium; I find I have to resort to sane, gently humorous fiction by Nancy Mitford or EF Benson, gentle mocking of social pretensions, to reach a mental space that is not pained or metaphorically bloodied; it is literary paracetamol I yearn for. Or possibly, my yoga class might redeem me?