Been following with interest the US Supreme Court deliberations on the right to gay marriage – a debate that has been going on in various other parts of the world too. What’s interesting is the vociferous nature of the opposition from religious groups on the right. I mean, they really hate this. Which is odd… because if ‘god is love’ then where the hell does all the hate come from?
It’s very extreme I know, but the Westboro Baptist church website is actually called GodHatesFags.com – with sub-sites ‘GodHatesIslam’ and ‘GodHatesTheWorld’ – all with an extraordinary side-bar that clocks exactly how many people God has cast into hell since you opened the page. (I couldn’t find their coffee morning rota, but sure it’s somewhere deep in the navigation)
God. Perfection. Hatred. Hell.
After Magic speaks directly into this (and can be got for 40% off for a few days now!) , arguing that the demonisation of ‘the other’ is an inevitable result of a theology that insists on super-nature. It has been the same through history: fundamentalist religions have required some group to be the focus of their hatred, be it Jews, blacks, gays, women, liberals, communists…
In Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy we see this same process at work. Gotham has some problems, but it opts to solve them not by taking a good look at its community structures or systemic inequality, but with a powerful short-cut: Batman. The use of a super-power to sort out the city is such a win: it’s cheap (Batman doesn’t need paying) and easy (Batman does all the hard work.)
But what Gotham is blind to is that the move to access this ‘higher’ super-nature is always balanced out by the emergence of the darker, ‘lower’ powers too. In short: you cannot have Batman without Bane. The tension that this creates requires some explanation. People want to know why. And thus the process of demonisation begins.
In Macbeth we Shakespeare very subtly set out this archetype in his use of the witches through the play. Macbeth was written for King James I – yes, he of the King James Bible, who was also responsible for the Daemonologie of 1597 – that begins with these terrifying lines:
The fearefull aboundinge at this time in this countrie, of these detestable slaves of the Devil, the Witches or enchaunters, hath moved me (beloved reader) to dispatch in post, this following treatise of mine (…) to resolve the doubting (…) both that such assaults of Satan are most certainly practised, and that the instrument thereof merits most severely to be punished.
James was an avid witch-hunter himself, but who were these women, and why were people so afraid of them? In the book I explore how the rise of witch-hunting was connected with the rise of Puritan religion. This absolutely holier-than-thou theology brought with it a connected huge rise in fear of the devil – and this required personification. Who shall we say is responsible for all this evil? Women. The unmarried, poor women:
‘People could attribute catastrophes to natural causes as well, but an expected blow – a violent storm; a mysterious, wasting sickness; an inexplicable case of impotence – set them grumbling menacingly at the poor, ugly, defenceless old woman in the hovel at the end of the lane.’
Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World, How Shakespeare became Shakespeare.
With the emphasis on unattainable holiness always comes a demonisation of those we consider responsible for tainting our perfect world. To put it shortly: those who elevate gods, raise devils.
From After Magic:
James had plenty who fawned around him, but his Bard was never so dim. In the witches of Macbeth James was confronted with that which appeared to condone his beliefs, yet in the subtle subversion that was as much as he could afford, Shakespeare also made his points: he who hands his fate to super-nature will be taken through madness and brought down by it and, more painfully, those who are most vulnerable, those on the edges of society, the poor, the outsider, will be demonised along the way, gruesomely violated and often murdered.
Tragically, we still see this today. Fundamentalist religion still requires demons to be created in order to protect itself from having to come to terms with its own internal fears. Those who are gay, those who are Muslim, those who are immigrants, those who are disabled, those who doubt, those who are women, those who are black – through history each of these groups has become a demonised other. They have had super-villain status projected onto them, and special powers have been attributed to them. They steal our jobs. They destroy marriage. They are the devil’s own spawn. They are whores. They are über-criminal. Yet each of these attributions comes, like James, only from the failure of religion to see beyond its fears, fears that are created by the move that diminishes its humanity through a caving in to the apparently infinite demand of super-nature.
Beyond Macbeth and into The Tempest Shakespeare showed how this humanity can yet be restored when his protagonists have the courage to lay down these undeniably ‘potent arts’ and see what comes ‘after magic.’ And yet, as we shall now see, this move of renunciation is the same one made at the very inception of the Christianity that James and others had so sourly twisted.
As the Supreme court in the US debates gay marriage, and ‘Christians’ protest vehemently at the way fags are bringing God’s punishment on the nation, we urgently need to see clearly what’s going on in their protests. It’s my hope that in After Magic there are some moves towards hope and resolution in this – beginning with the release of the ‘infinite demand’ that creates the atmosphere within with demonization flourishes.
(Oh, and by the way, apparently God condemned about 2500 people to hell while you read this. SHEEESH.)