Reclaiming Good Friday | ‘Day of the Dead’

by , under Philosophy, Theology

A few weeks ago I was loitering in art bookshop on Charing Cross Road waiting for a film in Leicester Square, and came across this book of postcards, all with images celebrating the Mexican Día de Muertos. The pictures are gloriously macabre, and yet somehow comic too.

The original festival is pre-Columbian in origin, but now has Catholic undertones as people place pictures of dead loved ones on altars with crosses and candles, or visit and decorate grave sites.

In the writing of After Magic it struck me that this Día de Muertos could be worth appropriating – partly as a radical theological reinvigoration of the festival of Easter.

I never quite got round to it this year, but I wanted to send out the postcards in the book as ‘Death Day Cards’ to arrive in time for Good Friday. I have this idea that in the RT tradition, it would be Good Friday, as much as  Christmas, that would be the major rite of celebration, with giving of gifts and sending of cards.

In this cycle, Christmas is celebrated as the incarnation of God – the stepping out of divinity and birth into human form. It is the son of God becoming the son of man. Good Friday then becomes the natural completion of that celebration: the son of man dies. Actually dies.

Why is this a cause for celebration? Because in this divine-human-death we see the death of religion, we see the putting to death of our constant deferral to super-nature.

This is really the core of the argument in After Magic: what we see in so many stories is the dehumanising effect of super-power on protagonists, and, connectedly, their heroism in giving up ‘magic’ at the turn of the tale.

Bringing this into the religious sphere, Good Friday becomes a celebration of our return to humanity as we crucify the ‘infinite demand’ that God’s existence puts on us. God’s death is ‘good’ because it releases us not only from religion, but from the power of all other large systems to control us. Good Friday should also thus be the focus of Christian anti-capitalist agitation.

Where then does that leave Easter Day? To fully answer that I’d encourage you to read After Magic where I address that head on. (Seriously – you should! Kindle version here.) One thing to say though: this is not necessarily about a turn to atheism (something that might set me apart from others in the RT movement.) What it is about is a very different sort of resurrection, a ‘prestige’ that avoids us returning to a place of religion and the demand that an actually-existing-god places on us.

As I write in the concluding chapter of After Magic:

But this is where the true kernel of Christianity is so radical, for what follows this disappearance of the body is not some transcendent ‘prestige’ – an act that would lead back to an infinite demand – nor the emergence of a vacuum into which some other infinitely demanding system might grow, but the dispersed, material prestige of the gathered community becoming the body that is returned. The power of this trick of extant non-existence is that the violent and dehumanising power of the infinite demand is removed, and yet in its place emerges a self-organising demand that is fully located in the gathering of the community.

Is this not what Jesus means when he speaks about being present ‘when two or three are gathered’? This is not some magic trick of god becoming present, but rather the ongoing prestige of a gathered community willing to act and respond to the continuing demands of an unjust and hurting world. Thus Critchley’s urge for practical and material actions is satisfied, while Žižek’s insistence that the ‘big other’ is removed is satisfied too. In this way Christianity becomes not a personal salvation by an infinite God, but a salvation from all infinite and large demands – whether religious, political, social or economic. It transcends a narrow religious pattern to become a way of stepping out from the madness that super-nature brings and the violence that its demand perpetuates.

Really hope you enjoy reading the book – lots of people have been saying they’re using it as a basis for their Easter reflection… Hope it’s a good week for everyone. Happy Dead Day.


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  1. chris

    Love your talk about moving beyond magic. My wife and I have been watching a show here in the United States called “Once Upon a Time” in which all the fairy tale characters have been banished to “Storybrooke” a small rural town in the Northeast United States. One of the central themes of the first season was that “magic comes with a price” and now in the second season we see one of the main protagonists seeking to destroy magic because of what it has done to the people that he loves.

    http://beta.abc.go.com/shows/once-upon-a-time

    If you are able to view the episodes you could try watching the recent “Welcome to Storybrooke” to see what I am talking about.

  2. KB

    Grrr – won’t let me view it from outside the US! But I’ll find a way to check it out… sounds excellent – thank you!

  3. james

    Thank you kester – I really like your thinking and work here. I ‘lost my religion’ awhile ago – well the magic | non-sense part and find it difficult to participate in an institution that has relegated the senses, elements and especially the body. Most theology that I have come across is stuck in dualistic thinking which as you mentioned in previous posts will always demonise those ‘not like us’ Psychologically this type of thinking is based in fear, anxiety and insecurity creating a dogma and herd that shores up this vulnerability. It spawns children and will not allow them to develop and grow up.

    My interest in this area is the role that men, masculinity and male centred theology has played in the whole formation of dogma and therefore the creation of magic and senseless or non-sense institutions. Within my therapeutic work with hundreds of boys and men the common issue is emotional immaturity which often results in boys struggling to grow up and ultimately leaving them stranded in adult boy land. My view us that stunted emotional men then create dogmas that support their lack of growth spawning institutions, fundamentalism, power, greed and dualistic thinking. Will Christianity ever evolve while it is led by men (and women) who are threatened by different thinking, people not like them and theology that threatens to destabilise their security?