Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
In 1224, two years before he died, St. Francis of Assisi had a vision of a seraph with six wings who gave him stigmata. He was the first one to do that schtick, wounds magically appearing on the body at the points where crucified Jesus had them.
I remember, at maybe age twelve, when I first read about people developing stigmata in, I think, The People’s Almanac, edited by the father-son duo who were two-thirds of the editorial team that brought us The Book of Lists, Irving Wallace and David Wallechinsky. It inspired me to seek more such entertainment. My world, for a while, was a magical one in which Sasquatches, yeti, and Moth Men appeared and disappeared, evading empirical confirmation of their existence. Mysterious meteors with no apparent source punctured car windshields on cliffside roads somewhere in the British Isles. Frogs, or yellow rain, or fish, fell from the skies, reported by locals but defying explanation by experts. On stone plains, ancient aliens once made uncanny designs, still visible, but only from high above the Earth. Kaspar Hauser, The Elephant Man, lycanthropes, and other historical human enigmas peopled my inner universe, along with disembodied spirits. I grew up in the boring suburbs, so a Fortian cosmology was my escape.
So by what right dare I mock those who say there’ll be pie in the sky when you die?
I suppose there are many who believe in the sky pie. After all, crazy beliefs run rampant these days. There’s a huge number of voters devoted to Donald Dump, the actual worst human being under all circumstances: at a party, he’s boorish, social climb-y, pussy-grabby, and a crappy dancer. In politics, he’s a liar, a kleptocrat, and a narcissistic, capricious sack of bile. In business, he’s a cheat, a purveyor of poor-quality goods, and a deadbeat debtor. On the golf course, he’s a wiffer, a piker, a poor sport, a cheat, and he cuts a gruesomely ungainly figure in his garbage attire and even trashier torso. These devotees believe he’s being persecuted worse than Jesus was.
Cicero asserted that all peoples, regardless of the silliness of their specific beliefs, have some concept of the divine. He considered human belief in divine power, or divine something, to be a law of nature. Although we balk at generalities like this about human nature, or nature vis-à-vis humans, it’s hard to disagree with him, just looking around at people. Including myself.
In any case, at least since the 13th Century, when St. Francis first started spontaneously spouting blood from holes in his hands, feet, and side, the idea of sacred suffering in spiritual union with the passion of Jesus has provided an entertaining twist on the idea that all the nastiness of life is somehow worth it.
From the perspective of secular history, these ideas are meant to convince those screwed by the power imbalance of an unjust society that it’s actually okay that things are unfair. In the world of the dead, rewards and punishments will be distributed according to the perfect justice of God, unlike here on Earth, where the sinful flesh of humanity causes those in power to pervert justice to their advantage. Boy, are they in for a rude awakening in the world to come, huh?
But is it really such an ordeal to have stigmata? Women bleed every month, and, while they’ve been known to complain about it, you generally don’t see them trying to use menstruation as a ticket into paradise, or a get-out-of-Hell-free card, let alone claiming it’s comparable to the suffering of the saints. Stigmata shmigshmata. Get over yourself.
A few consider themselves lucky enough to have been chosen to suffer in harmonic sympathy with Jesus. They are Victim Souls. To make themselves holy, they might even mortify their flesh with self-flagellation, penitential self-denial, and wear uncomfortable underwear made of scratchy burlap, or even barbed wire. Hey, no pain, no gain!
The Victim Soul is a Catholic thing, mostly, but it’s an old idea. Some of the Talmudic rabbis were tortured to death, a process reputed to have brought merit to their souls. And in the beliefs coming down from the Vedas in India, fasting and other self-denial can bring divine merit, even to someone with impure motives. Also in the Vedic legacy, we find the idea that economic class and duty are divinely ordained. Pretty convenient for those born to rule, and as for those born to serve, they get an intangible blessing as a lovely parting gift.
I guess in a world in which suffering is unavoidable, it’s just good old positive thinking to believe misery, persecution, disease, poverty and such, serve some function in the divine scheme. In some ways, the belief gets its pithiest explanation from Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the music and lyrics for the 1970s musical, Godspell, in the song, “All for the Best.”
The song explains that, well, let’s suppose your life is rough, while
“Some men are born to live at ease, doing what they please, Richer than the bees are in honey [...]
The best in every town, best at shaking down Best at making mountains of money”
If you’re feeling unhappy and resentful
“Don't forget that when you get to Heaven you'll be blessed! [...] all your wrongs will be redressed”
“Someone's got to be oppressed! Yes, it's all for the best!!!”
The Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian, ends with a cheerful character played by Eric Idle being hoisted on a crucifix next to Graham Chapman’s long-suffering Brian, and leading all the crucified in the song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It’s not just a humorous juxtaposition, a Golgotha hillside of people nailed to crosses, left to die, whistling and singing a happy tune. It’s really a jab at one of Christianity’s main functions: to control the people’s disgruntlement with the social order. It’s a pretty deep satirical cut at the godspiels. You know, the godspiels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Them apostles, with their godspiels.
Bob Geldoff, anti-poverty activist, former front man of the Boomtown Rats, and portrayer of Pink Floyd in the movie of The Wall, met Mother Teresa, nurse, nun, and erstwhile bête noire of deceased drunk contrarian Christopher Hitchens, in Ethiopia in 1985, while gearing up for the Live Aid concert Bob was organizing. I think Teresa was going to sit in on drums with Twisted Sister. Or maybe I dreamed that. Now, he’s Sir Bob, and she’s Blessed Teresa and dead. At the time, the two argued a lot as they ministered to the impoverished Ethiopians. One thing they argued about was Teresa’s claim to see the suffering of Christ in the face of every famine- afflicted child. Bob, contrary to Cicero, had no concept of the divine, and found the conceptual transformation of actual suffering people into symbols of totemic martyrdom, dehumanizing, objectifying, and distasteful.
Because, what is a Victim Soul, but a martyr, or at least a person thought to share in the martyrdom of the world’s most famous martyr, Donald Dump? I mean, Jesus?
And that’s what the defenders of the poor, persecuted über-wealthy, and their pundit mouthpieces, want us all to be. Except they don’t value the martyrdom of Jesus. They consider Jesus a sucker, or at best a victim of his own magical thinking. Expect a lot of that sentiment this year, especially if Bernie wins the nomination. “Oh, sure. let’s just give everyone free health care and education! And a pony!” Because that’s what we are to them: either spoiled children, or suckers gullible enough to accept our sacred suffering. If we fight, we’re jealous; if we acquiesce, we’re stupid. It’s called, blaming the Victim Soul.
In the meantime, the real Victim Souls are the rank-and-file white people who resent the moral burden of having to care about anyone outside their tribe. They feel victimized by the PC Police, who insist they take into account those in the world who’ve been robbed, raped, and enslaved by conquering armies whose descendants still profit with privilege. Oh, how great is the pain of the white man! O, his eternal suffering. Ecce Albus Homo, Behold the White Man, The White Man of Sorrows. Remember, he had to render unto Caesar, too. Except he only remembers that when he wants to criticize those demanding equality, never when he should be holding the über- wealthy accountable for sucking up and despoiling all the riches of the Earth.
The Victim Souls, whether followers of Jesus or of Dump, are a paradox, which is the one good thing about them. They feel like they’re his special children, and yet in a way they’re very specially forsaken by him.
It’s uncanny how long this idea that suffering is good for the soul has maintained its power. The solutions to our problems are difficult, they’ll require effort, but it’s not complicated. It’s not brain science or rocket surgery: suffering is bad for you. It makes you suffer! Misery is not ennobling; it makes you miserable. Poverty can be cured by transferring wealth to the poor from those with an obscene surplus, and from the war, finance, and environmental destruction industries.
Renounce the Victim Soul con. It’s a grift. See through it, and don’t play their shell game anymore. If we don’t get Bernie, or if they thwart him, or assassinate him, or even just assassinate his character, we’re still going fight. We’re the people! All governments, profiteers, and religions fear us, or else why would they constantly try to deceive and control us? We will have our way, by ballot or blood.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!