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Christian Asceticism, Masochism And Power


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Guest Glaswegian

Throughout the centuries the Christian ascetic has inspired a feeling of fear and wonder in the human herd. The reason why the Christian ascetic is the source of so much awe is because his existence forces us to ask ourselves a question which is profound, if not alarming: viz. What if it were necessary to be like the Christian ascetic? What if we were required to deny ourselves in the way that he does? What if God wanted us to live like that too? Needless to say, this is a dreadful possibility for the sensuous or worldly man to have to confront - the possibility that, in the eyes of God, his whole way of life is morally wrong compared with the Christian ascetic's and therefore utterly damnable.

 

Now, you would be naive to think that the Christian ascetic turns against his self and forgoes the pleasures of this world purely for the sake of his spiritual development and welfare. As we shall see, Christian asceticism has little to do with spiritual 'purity' but a great deal to do with something altogether mundane. So let's take a peek at what lurks behind the mask of Christian asceticism and its cognates - e.g., Christian 'abstinence', Christian 'unworldliness', Christian 'sacrifice', Christian 'selflessness', Christian 'humility', etc....

 

What should be noted right away about the Christian ascetic is that it is not enough for him to witness his own turning from the world, his own denial of self, his own suffering. No. He needs others to witness these things as well. Why is this? Well, the reason for this is because the Christian ascetic seeks - either consciously or unconsciously - to induce via the spectacle of his suffering a certain affect in his audience: specifically, a depressive affect (e.g., pity, guilt, existential angst, gloom, self-doubt, self-condemnation, self-loathing, etc.). Thus, the Christian ascetic's suffering is driven by a malign purpose: namely, to undermine the mental and emotional well-being of whoever is unfortunate enough to cross his path and empathise with him. Nietzsche (1994, pp. 49-50) provides the following illustration of how this devious strategy works:

 

'Observe how children weep and cry, so that they will be pitied, how they wait for the moment when their condition will be noticed. Or live among the ill and depressed, and question whether their eloquent laments and whimpering, the spectacle of their misfortune, is not basically aimed at hurting those present. The pity that the spectators then express consoles the weak and suffering, inasmuch as they see that, despite all their weakness, they still have at least one power: the power to hurt.'

 

The Christian ascetic, then, seeks to hurt and incapacitate those individuals who, unlike himself, have no need of pity: viz. the powerful, the noble, the masterful, the vigorous, the resolute - in a word, the healthy type of individual. Because the Christian ascetic is a weak and decadent type every healthy human being serves as a constant reminder of his own sickly condition. The healthy individual's natural vitality and capacity to live confidently, fearlessly and without remorse are a source of pain to the Christian ascetic, and they inflame his secret spite. Therefore, his ultimate goal is to disable the healthy individual by inveigling the latter to turn against not just himself but life in toto (i.e., the 'earthly realm' in religio-speak). The Christian ascetic accomplishes this through the spectacle of his own suffering and mortification for the mere sight of him is sufficient to subdue an onlooker's natural energy and lust for life. The Christian ascetic functions as the scarecrow of life for his entire existence is an argument against it: thus, he effectively undermines the healthy individual through sowing seeds of self-doubt in him and by casting a shadow over life in general. By sabotaging the healthy individual in this way, the Christian ascetic obtains 'a kind of pleasure from it for his self-image revives - he is still important enough to inflict harm on others' (Nietzsche, 1994 p. 50). Christian asceticism, then, is a covert means by which the sickly type of human being exerts power over stronger types.

 

The Christian ascetic is a weak and malignant type who constitutes a particular sub-species of the Christian genus - an extremely rare variety in whom the spirit of resentment has undergone the most elaborate sublimations. Nevertheless, he provides us with a general insight into the nature of the Christian creed and why it continues to flourish in the 21st century. Thus, the reason why Christianity is still embraced by many people in the contemporary world is because it is a religion for every kind of weakling. It appeals to all those who experience themselves as inadequate in various ways and who find life in this world frightening and overwhelmingly difficult. But there is more to its appeal than just this. For not only does Christianity promise weak types release from themselves, an abode of peace, a shoulder, a bosom...rest: it also promises them vengeance against healthy individuals who live in this world on the basis of their own inner resources and without the aid of that religion's Grand illusion.

 

The Christian religion has been extremely alluring to weak and resentful human beings throughout its history. This accounts for why it flourished most strongly at its birth among the lowest elements within the Roman empire: viz. the slaves, the dispossessed, the powerless, the wretched, the shiftless, the marginalised, the Lumpen. It promised these embittered, pitiful, inferior types release from this heartless world, release from the hideous wet blanket of their self, and vengeance against those strong, noble, gifted types in comparison with whom their own baseness and weakness were made painfully obvious to themselves: viz. the Roman patrician, the Roman judge, the Roman philosopher, the Roman artist, the Roman poet - indeed, the Roman per se. Thus, the early Church Father, Tertullian, offered the following prospect to the Christian rabble:

 

'How we shall admire, laugh, rejoice, and exult, when we behold so many proud Pagans groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing in red hot flames, with their deluded scholars; so many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal, not of Minos, but of Christ!...' (Gibbon, 1958 p. 29).

 

The same spirit of revenge underpins Thomas Aquinas's promise to a later generation of Christians. Thus, the 'saintly' Thomas writes:

 

'The blessed in the heavenly kingdom will see the torment of the damned so that they may even more thoroughly enjoy their blessedness.'

 

Christianity is born of, and sustained by, human fear and impotence in the face of the terror and uncertainty of life. It holds an almost irresistible appeal for those who lack the stomach or skill to deal with adversity - whether this takes the form of a struggle against the world, against others, or against oneself. In essence it has always been, and remains, a religion for slaves. This is often explicitly stated in that manifesto for slaves - The New Testament (e.g., 'The meek shall inherit the earth'; 'He who is last shall be first', etc.). Christianity's slavish character is also implicit in a number of its moral codes: for example, in its exhortations to 'turn the other cheek' and to 'love one's enemies'. Lofmark (1990) comments on these two codes as follows:

 

'Turning the other cheek reduces a man to the moral status of a dog abused by his master: it destroys his self-respect. While it is generous to forgive your enemy, it is usually absurd and unrealistic to love him, and the effort to force yourself may lead you into the very real moral offence of hypocrisy; pretending to be something that you are not, sporting a false smile on your face that hides the real venom in your heart.'

 

It should be clear from the above that Christian 'asceticism', Christian 'humility', Christian 'self-effacement', etc. are fundamentally driven by the Christian spider's desire for power over others (either in this world or the 'next'): specifically, those who have not succumbed to the poison of Christianity. We can see this same covert drive for power in a related form of behaviour in our own lives: viz. Masochism. Thus, it is important to realise that our masochism isn't all about suffering. No. It provides us with a certain payoff - this being the gratification of appearing as a martyr in our own eyes and in the eyes of an imagined audience. For example, in the midst of our unsatisfactory love-relationships we indulge in various forms of masochistic thinking such as 'Look at how I sacrifice myself for my partner.'...'The heartless pig will be sorry when I'm gone. Wait and see.'...'At least God and the angels know how much I endure for the sake of that selfish shit.'...etc.. The purpose of these ruminations is, of course, to convert ourselves from the status of victim into psychological victor over our partner.

 

The same kind of martyrish strategy is also evident in our sexual behaviour. Thus, we negate our sexual humiliation at the hands of our partner by declaring to ourselves and our fantasised audience: 'Contrast-my-saintliness-with-the-swine-who-degrades-me.' Plainly, no matter how abject our sexual humiliation may be - no matter how much excrement we are forced to eat, no matter how much urine is showered over us, no matter how many whip strokes we receive and how loudly we shriek - there is a part of ourselves which secretly derives a feeling of power from our debasement.

 

Regards

 

James

 

References:

 

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Supplement to the Third Part, question XCVII, article i, 'conclusio'.

 

Gibbon, E. (1958) The Triumph Of Christendom In The Roman Empire (Chapters XV-XX of The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire) J. B. Bury Edition, New York: Harper Torchbooks

 

Lofmark, C. (1990) What is the Bible?, London: Rationalist Press Association. Quoted in L. Kennedy (1999) All In The Mind: A Farewell To God, London: Hodder and Stoughton (p. 74)

 

Nietzsche, F. (1994) Human, All Too Human, Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics

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While parts of the article are, I think, too vitriolic (considering that there are genuinely well-meaning, if misguided, christians out there), the basic statement is damn true. :3:

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Great article, James. A lot of truth there.

 

Christianity offers those who can't succeed in this life the ability to feel a warped superiority for those who actually do manage to live lives of successful accomplishment and enjoyment.

 

Hence, we have the smelly dude in rags holding up a "The End is Near" sign and looking down his nose at the folks in the business suits. All things are possible when God is on your side.

 

Isn't that one of the elements of the sermon on the mount? "And the losers will look upon themselves as winners"..

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A scary thought indeed. Failure and masochism as vengeance -- Yes, I can see it. A belief like that can bring only harm to the world.

 

For the sake of all human life and all civilization, this meme must be destroyed once and for all.

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Xian asceticism as a form of attention-seeking? I can believe that. I'm sure many such Xians are genuine, but even then, they seek attention from their god. Attention from others doesn't turn them off, either.

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