Resistance to Christianity


The rising tide of the commodity has not left standing a single traditional value of the past on the shore where two thousand years of the Christian era have come to an end. By ruining the mass ideologies that had zealously brought down the religious edifice, at a time when the State took over for God in the conduct of [terrestrial] affairs, did not this tide inevitably push towards annihilation the remains of a Church whose mysteries were socialized by The Council of the Vatican II?

The indifference into which the beliefs governed by rituals performed by the Party or the ecclesiastical bureaucracy are today stuck awakens an interest in their history that no longer supports an obsolete worry, no matter if it is apologetic or denigrating, but quite simply the curiosity preoccupied with its own pleasure and taking pride in the game of discovering what the official truths were so zealous to bury under the ultima ratio[1] of their dogmatic canon.

Could one imagine that Christianity, cleansed of the sacred apparatus by the great waters of commercialism [affairisme] would be able to escape from the crusher that has, in less than a half-century, broken the sacrificial rocks that the generations adored, with a mixture of fascination and terror, under the names of nationalism, liberalism, socialism, fascism and communism?

Now that nothing exists of the shipwrecks of yore than a sea that is slack and weakly agitated by the fixed grin of mockery, it is a manner of archaeology that suits the objects that have long been sprinkled with a gangue of holiness; arousing respect or profanation, they have until now hardly solicited, I wouldn’t say impartiality, but the naïve indiscretion of a discoverer devoid of prejudices and guile.

In the same way that it is now permitted to examine the birth, development and decline of Bolshevism, without exposing oneself to accusations of materialism, spiritualism, Marxism, revisionism, Stalinism or Trotskyism – which today give rise to smiles and yet are paid for in blood – focus on the Christian religion has been cleansed of the repudiations and praises of theology and philosophy, of the archaic trompe-l’oeil confrontation in which the God of some and the non-God of the others meet up in the heaven of ideas at the same vanishing point, at the same abstraction of corporeal and earthy reality.

With the feeling for the pre-eminence of the living mingles an astonishment that, for the one who remains naïve [pour candide qu’il demeure], experiences the desire to know why and by which channels the world of ideas has so often required in exchange for chimerical horizons its pound of flesh slashed in the heart.

The crisis of transformation, which today corners the economy into destroying itself or into reconstructing itself (in either case, taking the world along with it), at least has the merit of opening up minds to the origin of inhumanity and the means of remedying it. The politics of sterilization that has made gangrenous the planet, [whole] societies, mindsets and bodies has demonstrated, by the pertinence of its extreme situation, how mankind – subjecting nature and his fellow men to market exploitation – produces, at the expense of the living, an economy that subjugates the living to a power that, at first, is mythical and then ideological.

Moved by a system of exchanges that they had created and that, while tearing themselves from themselves, determined them without ever completely mechanizing their bodies, their consciousnesses or their Unconscious, individuals, over the course of the millennia, have been nothing with respect to the formidable power that feeds upon their blood. How could their miserable lot not induce them to put the halo of an absolute authority as perfect as the celestial vault on the transcendence of a Father whose decrees managed fortune with the misfortune that proclaimed its eternal and capricious instance for generations on end?

Invested with an extra-terrestrial sovereignty, the mythical meaning of which only the priests had the power to decrypt, the economy, nevertheless, was inclined to unveil its fundamental materiality through the interests that, in a free-for-all that one could no longer profane, brought forth temporal masters and tycoons.

Religion – that is to say, “that which binds” – placed in the hands of a fantastic deity the central link in a chain that, enclosing tyranny and slavery from one end to the other, anchored to the earth the celestial power that the scorn of people for themselves had consecrated as sovereign, changeless, and intangible.

Thus God drew from the cyclical and archaic world, which was enclosed within the ramparts and moats of the agrarian economy, a durability that was ceaselessly contradicted during great tumults concerning the “end of time” by the innovative politics of commerce and free-exchange, which untied the loop of mythic time, corroded the sacred with acerbic spittle, and introduced the Trojan Horse of progress into the citadels of conservatism.

Nevertheless, despite the state of conflict that, in endemic fashion, opposed the conquest of markets to landed property, their antagonistic emanations – temporal and spiritual kings and priests, philosophy and theology – did not cease to constitute the two halves of God as long as the agrarian structure and its mentality remained dominant.

By decapitating Louis XVI, the last monarch of the Divine Right, the French Revolution killed the two-headed hydra of temporal and spiritual power, whose most recent infamy in a long line of heinous crimes caused the young Knight of La Barre[2] to be brought to the scaffold for the crime of impiety.

If Rome, deprived of the secular arms that maintained the truth of its dogma, slowly fell to the rank of a spiritual scarecrow, this happened because the era of the lords and priests and its dominant economy did not come to its aid, thus removing from its penal ferocity the means of its arrogance.

The Ancien Régime, definitively broken under the inexorable mass of market freedom and democracy reduced to the lucrative, dismantled itself at the same time that it dismantled its ramparts, chateaux, siege mentality, and old mythic thought.

At that moment, God succumbed to the magical spell of a State that was able to rule without the guarantee of its celestial accomplice [acolyte]. Christianity then entered the spectacular history of the commodity. At the dawn of the Twenty-First Century,[3] Christianity will be destroyed, just like the other herd-instinct ideologies have been.

The fact that a kind of religious spirit and the sinister color of fanaticism continue to subsist at the heart of systems of ideas that supplant Christian mythology – including opinions that are the most furiously hostile to Christian allegiances – is demonstrated by the elation of the militants and the hysteria of crowds during the great masses solemnly held by the tribunes and haranguers of nationalism, liberalism, socialism, fascism and communism.

The hysterical wrenching that throws man beyond his body in order to identify with a collective and abstract body – a nation, a State, a party, a cause – is indistinguishable from spiritual membership, I might even say spiritual adhesion, to a God whose glance, injected with solicitude and scorn, symbolically expresses the relations between the mechanical abstraction of profit and a living matter that is open to ruthless exploitation.

Thus there have been more crises in the last three decades than in the previous ten millennia. By selling ideologies from the shelves of indifference, the self-services[4] of the consumable-at-any-price have, volens nolens,[5] stripped the individual of the character armor that hides himself from himself, condemning him to constrained desires, without another way out than letting off steam than the dead passion of destroying and being destroyed. Thus, little by little, one sees the awakening of a will to live that has never ceased to appeal to the creation and pleasure that unites the self and the world. Isn’t it henceforth a matter of each person attaining the amorous possession of the universe?

Just yesterday an object manipulated by a Spirit and nourished by its very substance, the individual – discovering on the earth and in his/her flesh the place of his/her living reality – today becomes the subject of a destiny that will be constructed by a renewed alliance with nature. Wearied by artificial desires that ascribed to him lucrative reason and that, over the centuries, led him where he had nothing to do, the individual contemplates with an amused curiosity the objects that have objectified him and litter the shores of his past, fragments of a death that, today, is refused.

Although weak enthusiasm for herd-like manifestations indicates a constant decrease of religious and ideological faith in the industrialized countries, the folliculars [les folliculaires] – able by fits and starts to galvanize a desperately lethargic, everyday spectacle – haven’t failed, [while standing] before several momentary revivals of archaism and barbarity, to cry for the return of religion and nationalism. But, as Diderot asks, which ass will pass this shit? Which economic imperative will make a buttress for the ramparts of another age, hastily re-erected by desperation and resentment, and will prevent them from crumbling under the weight of the emptiness to be gained?

There is no doubt that the end of religious institutions doesn’t mean the end of religiosity. Driven out by the debacle of the great ideologies – imperfectly satisfied by the sects, more and more badly lodged at the Churches (Catholic or Protestant) – the Christian sentiment now searches for new trickle beds [lits d’ecoulement].

Will it spread out in favor of a landscape that ecological transformation is preparing to remodel? Some people smell it in the trails of ecological capitalism that draws off from de-pollution a profitability that the desertification of soils, sub-soils, and hopes for survival hardly guarantees any more. When celestial vocations are invested in terrestrial divinities (Gaia, Magna Mater, sylphs, dryads or other elementary forces), the name of the speculator makes little difference. Any belief that demands [self-] sacrifice is repugnant to the human.

On the other hand, I am delighted by the apprenticeship of the autonomy that, due the collapse of the supporters of and supports for the past, engenders the necessity of going it alone. The end of crowds, the [emergence of the] individual consciousness of the fight for life, the resolution to vanquish the fear of self (from which all the other fears are derived), the emergence of a creativity that, substituting itself for the work that doesn’t allow new generations to move toward a veritable humanity that, if its advent is not unavoidable, resides – for the first time in history – in the hands of men and women, and, more particularly, children who are educated in the pleasure of life, rather than in its morbid refusal.

Such is the perspective according to which I wish to examine the resistance that the inclination to natural liberty has, for nearly twenty centuries, opposed to the antiphysis [6] of Christian oppression.

In any domain whatsoever (historical, scientific, philosophical, social, economic or artistic), I cannot conceive of an analysis that would claim to work outside of the individual history in which are inscribed the everyday gestures of the one who has resolved to undertake that analysis. Although circumstances have spared me from contact with the religious thing, I have always experienced a singular repulsion for the mortified empire that is armored with a cross that’s been driven into the heart of all those who are born into life. Thus, I understand the indignation of Karlheinz Deschner when his Kriminalgeschicte des Christentmus[7] denounces the murders, impostures and falsifications committed by the Catholic Church, but I do not know at what point his polemic, by penetrating into the very terrain of the adversary, gains the recognition and interest that he has every reason to claim for himself. And why revive the embers of the millennium pyre with angry breaths, when the wind of a new time has condemned them to be extinguished?

Besides, is there not something that protects those who are attacked by the virtues of the menacing tone in the simple, obvious fact that atheists, freethinkers, anti-clericals and other militants of the “Good God in Shit”[8] – far from giving up Judeo-Christian comportment – have often gone over to its most odious practices: self-sacrifice, cults of the martyr, guilt, making people feel guilty, hatred of amorous desire, scorn for the body, fascination with the Spirit, quests for salvational suffering, fanaticism, and obedience to a master, a cause, a party? What better tribute to orthodoxy than heresy, than the non-conformism that infatuates itself with contesting the axis around which it gravitates?

Hardly interested in arbitrating the dubious combat between victims and executioners, I prefer to free from the past – in which the forgotten, scorned, misunderstood, prejudged and calumnied are buried and stratified by the famous objectivity of the historians – the healing that the human tissue, irrigated by the freedoms of nature, untiringly works in order to reconstitute and strengthen itself by weaving the social network, despite the deleterious effects of fear, dereliction, suffering, faith in the beyond and the consolations of death.

Thus I seek to seize the living from beneath the dead things that have taken hold of it through a subtle mix of violence and persuasion – the living that has in fact been revived under the gaze of beings and things that are no longer indentified according to the traditional perspective in which God, the State and the Economy collect the tears of the terrestrial valleys for a happiness that is put off for another time and place, but are trembling from the beating of the wings of the living, more perceptible today because they longer suffer [under] the weight of the old oppressions.

Therefore, the reasons to be amazed by a life that is so obstinate that it flowers again by breaking up through the asphalt of an inhuman history [also] raise, in counterpoint, several doubts about the honesty and quality of the scholars and specialists who are accustomed to covering this history as if it were conquered terrain.

I know that a theologian, who makes a career by painting his God in order to expostulate about the radiance to the blind who do not perceive the ordinary evidence of it, orders the facts according to his manner of belief; that he gives his jargon the appearance of sensible language, calling desire “temptation,” pleasure “sin,” the embrace of lovers “fornication”; that he venerates with the title of “saint” the emulators of the heroes of the people honored by Lenin; that he uses the Gospels in the way that Stalin accorded truth to the Soviet Encyclopedia. This is what follows, not from the lie, but from proselytism. Encountering the same attitude when it is held by a historian who isn’t inspired by vast designs is enough, one will agree, to leave one perplexed.

What is one to think of the university scholars who are instructed in the science of dismissing the authenticity of manuscripts that have been handed from copyist to copyist and stuffed with interpolations, who nevertheless comment upon (as if they were original texts) and date at the very beginning of the Christian era the Epistles – which were rewritten, if not actually written, by Marcion, reorganized by Tatian, and submitted to corrections up until the Fourth Century – but attributed to a certain Saul, called Paul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen who lived around 60, when in point of fact Tarsus was only Romanized in 150?

No one is unaware that the manuscripts of the canonical Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles appeared in the Fourth Century at the earliest and constituted – under the aegis of Constantine – the library of propaganda that Eusebius of Caesarea and his scribes revised and distributed to all the Churches that were thus universalized on the same dogmatic base. Apparently, these facts aren’t of the type to trouble the good consciences of the researchers who, with a beautiful unanimity, take them for reports by living beings who were nearly contemporaries with the witnesses or apostles of an Adonai, Kyrios or Lord whose name (Joshua/Jesus) hardly imposes itself in its symbolic meaning of “God saved, saves, will save” until the very end of the First Century. The only dissonances in this ecstatic concert are the atheists Dupuy, Alfaric, Couchoud, Kryvelev, and Dubourg; the Catholics Loisy and Guillemin; and the Protestant Bultmann.

To designate polytheism and the cults of the “strangers to faith,” few of these scholars have qualms about using the terms “pagans” and “paganism,” by which the Church signified its scorn for the beliefs of the pagani, peasants, hicks, and bumpkins impermeable to the civilization of the towns. What about the angels of the Jewish pantheon, the semi-legendary Paul and Peter, the agnostic Irenaeus, the philosopher Augustine of Hippone, the anti-Semite Jerome, the spiritual master of the Inquisition, Dominique de Gizman, and the massacrer of the Fraticelles, Jean de Capistrano? Many of them were given the title “saint,” with which the Church compensated its real and mythic servants. There are biographies of Stalin in which, without derision, he is called “Little Father of the People.”

It falls to atheism to furnish with the weapons of critique one of the most preemptory arguments of the Church, namely, the historical existence of this Joshua/Jesus, which accredits the legitimacy of its temporal power. Enraged enough to deny the divinity of Christ, a militancy of presumed free-thought will fall into the trap of this Jesus, friend of the poor, a kind of Socrates preaching the truths of a socialism of the Gospels and then dying on the cross due to the insolence of a pacifist tribune. Tertullian and the Christian movement of the New Prophecy could not have dreamed of a better future for their hero – freshly purged of his Semitism and disguised as Zorro for the edification and salvation of the working class – than what existed in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Once one admits the existence of an agitator and founder of the Church, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate – and this without the least contemporary [corroborating] testimony and while the name Jesus for a long time kept the meaning of the Biblical Joshua –, why be surprised that learned minds adopt the false listing of popes and bishops that was drafted by Eusebius of Caesarea and that back-dates the canonical texts, interpolates into writings from the Second Century citations that date from the controversies of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, and accuses of heresy – as if they were articulated in the year 30 [C.E.] around an orthodoxy that had scarcely begun in 325 [C.E.] – the Dosithian, Nazarene, Sethian, Naassene, Ebionite, Melchisedequian, Elchasaite, Carpocratian, Basilidian, Marcionite, Anti-Marcionite, Montanist, Valentinian, Marcosian, Bardesanian and Novatian doctrines that mixed together ideas of many origins and that the Constantinian Church – by crushing, remodeling and readjusting them – would use to fashion the unstable foundations of its dogma?

In the manner of Stalin recuperating Bolshevism and shooting Lenin’s companions, the Catholic “fathers” a posteriori condemned as heterodoxy, not only non-Christian choices (hairesis in Greek), but also the diverse Christianities on which the throne of Constantine was raised. And the historians have followed suit by discerning around Peter, “the first Pope of Rome,” the meritorious efforts of a Catholic Church that struggled with a heretical perversion that corrupted the integrity of its canonical teachings.

Although it does not appear to me denuded of utility to emphasize such an imposture at a time when one quite incorrectly thinks that the pontifical authority and the clerical bureaucrats have survived the collapse of the last totalitarian citadels, I have found less charm in rectifying the opinion that nothing – other than some inertia of thought – continues to support the pretension to uncover under the leathery history of the past these innervations of the living, which are often frail and yet generate a force that is incomparably more effective than critical consciousness in the attempt to cleave the tombstones of oppression.

What is recovered under the label of heresy, the label by which the Church subjugated to its control, by naming them, diverse human and inhuman behaviors, the condemnation of which reinforced the superior power of orthodoxy? Episcopalian rivalries and internecine struggles, such as Arianism, monophysism and English Lollardism. And the lopsided walk of the body limping from constraint to license, from asceticism to debauchery, from repression to release, which the markets in penitence and death exploited with remarkable skill. And even a more secret attitude, an object of perplexity to the religious police: the individual will to create – in opposition to the social forms of antiphysis – a destiny that was better suited to the promises of a nature that had, until then, been relegated by its exploitation to the “beyond” of the human. One will easily divine the types of heresies or irreligious afterglows to which my curiosity is the most willingly attached.

For the sake of several readers who are familiar with the Traité de savoir-vivre, the Livre des plaisirs and the Adresse aux vivants,[9] I make it clear that my apostil in Mouvement du libre-esprit[10] is applicable here: “A book has no other genius than the genius that comes out of it for the pleasure of living better. It is thus understood, from the beginning, that the study of the free spirit does not relieve me of such a demand [in my private life]” [ne relève pas, pour moi, d’une telle exigence].

On the other hand, a single merit must be granted to this work: that the solicitations of the pleasures of knowing and the pleasures of the gay science are known as much as possible. As a summary that, in the course of time, reveals itself to be the weeding of an uncertain history, this book, I feel, will at least escape the risk of competing for the most errors, ignorant remarks and unfounded hypotheses with the majority of the volumes, monographs and scholarly works that have, in our era, been piled on the heads of Jesus, the apostles and their universal legatees.

If it is, finally, necessary to furnish an excuse for a style of writing in which one hardly finds the care that I try to give to the books that are not too far removed from my way of my life, I would like simply to say that each matter has been given the treatment that it suggests.

[Raoul Vaneigem]
January 1992

[1] Translator: Latin for “the final argument.”

[2] Author’s note: In the 1990s, the hostility – insidious or declared – of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish establishments with respect to a novelist who’d been condemned to death by Islamic fanaticism for impiety speaks volumes about the democratic sincerity and the spirit of tolerance willingly boasted of by those diverse sectarians of the “true God,” who are quite fortunately deprived of the help of State terrorism.

[3] Author’s note: An arbitrary dating system that accredits a Messiah and still recalls the extravagant appropriation of time by the Church.

[4] Translator: English in original.

[5] Translator: Latin in original, meaning “willingly or unwillingly.”

[6] Translator: In the works of Rabelais, Physis is joyful and unashamed, and Antiphysis is hateful and destructive.

[7] Translator: The first volume of The Criminal History of Christianity was published in German in 1986. The author (born in 1924) has most recently published Volume 8 (2004).

[8] Translator: an anonymous song from the 19th century, sung by Ravachol before his execution in 1892.

[9] Translator: Vaneigem’s Traité de savoir-vivre a l’usage des jeunes générations (Gallimard, 1967), translated as The Revolution of Everyday Life by Donald Nicholson-Smith (PM Press, 2013); Le Livre des plaisirs (Encre, 1979), translated as The Book of Pleasures by John Fullerton (Pending Press, 1983), and Adresse aux vivants sur la mort qui les gouverne (Seghers, 1990), not yet translated into English.

[10] Translator: Le Mouvement du libre-esprit (Editions Ramsey, 1986), translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith as The Movement of the Free Spirit (Zone Books, 1994). Note well the odd translation of the apostil Vaneigem mentions: “If it is true that the test of a book’s intelligence is what it can offer toward the pleasure of living better, let me say, right from the start, that there is no such intention in my study of the movement of the Free Spirit” (p. 12).

(Published by Fayard in 1993. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2013. Footnotes as indicated.)

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