A Second Fall: Notes from a Wounded Culture
The Revelation of St. John the Divine – Chapter 10 verse 1
It is interesting, and perhaps a little obvious, to compare how in the East its wisdom is honoured and its grace depicted in the form of the beatific, enlightened Buddha as he sat under a living tree, while the West, putting the transcendental and metaphysical interpretation to one side, maintains an icon of its wisdom hung from a cross constructed of a dead tree; tortured and murdered, in order to disgrace it. The two iconic images representing these different spiritual paths, providing a chilling contrast
The danger of a dualistic paradigm for the Absolute which is made central to a culture and is taught as Truth, and not simply as a metaphor or allegory, and which excludes, or forgets its own profound metaphysics – a creator-god theology in which humankind does not remain integrated as part of the ‘creation’, and which no longer offers any paths to healing its conceptual dichotomies – remains bereft of its wings of transcendence, and exposes the obvious contradiction in the very fundamental dichotomy it expresses. This results in its patriarchal, male creator-god being divided in such a way that its one-sidedness is so easily misappropriated and taken hostage by the dark forces of its own split-off and disassociated shadow side, in the form of Satan/Devil, so that the devil’s work may be done in the god’s name – a misappropriation that takes us all hostage. This ‘horned one’ is really the great pagan god of Nature, who the Christians might have recognised as the complimentary earthy aspect of their heavenly god. Satan is really Pan, and all that is natural, become denied, repressed, and therefore demonised: ‘dangerous’, ‘dirty’ and ‘evil’ – his horns also echoing the ‘horns’ of the uterus, the centre of feminine mysteries and power, and representing the Great Mother, while at the same time symbolising the deepest contrasexual, instinctual and intuitive wisdom within the feminine psyche.
It was his awareness of the dilemma created by an inherently dualistic paradigm for the Absolute, or God, which caused the enlightened Christian mystic, Meister Eckart to be condemned for heresy for, amongst other things, his Zen-like prayer, “God, please rid me of God!”
There is a disturbing biblical theme which rattles through the narrative of the development and deployment of the West’s atomic and nuclear programmes which would make Jesus’ blood freeze in its tracks. In the beginning, it is interesting to note how we appear to have wanted to mimic this god of our unfortunate creation myth, who created a primal being called Adam, whom he then split in order to create Eve, by discovering what we understood to be a primal particle we christened Atom, and then proceeded to split, resulting in the testing of the first atomic bomb on July 16 1945, at Alamogordo in the Jornado del Muerto Valley (The Journey of Death) near Los Alamos in New Mexico. The test itself, was named Trinity by one of two men, either the test’s director, Julius Robert Oppenheimer, whom allegedly went about quoting John Donne, and is said to have been a “man of faith”, or Major Lex Steven, “a devout Roman Catholic”. Whichever it was, the test was apparently named Trinity after the fourteenth Holy Sonnet of the poet-preacher, John Donne.
The bomb itself had to be transported by train into the remote test site, and then carried thirty miles from a railway line called Pope’s Siding – named thus, since the Pope having, for some strange reason, been given privileged access to the site, most probably for papal approval and blessing. After the blast, the erudite Oppenheimer is said to have quoted from the great Hindu epic poem, the Bhagavad-gita: “I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.” While President Truman, on being informed of the successful testing of the bomb, declared, “We thank God that it has come to us instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways for His purposes,” (italics mine). The guidance that apparently came from on high on August 6 1945, directed the bombing and evaporation of as many heathen, innocent Japanese civilians as possible.
There was a documentary film shown on television in the seventies, about the testing of the A-bomb, in which archive footage from the test site was used. In one scene, an army chaplain, addressing troops who are about to witness the test and become unwitting and innocent guinea pigs, informs them, “It’ll be a magnificent sight. It’ll be like the Second Coming!” – as though already drafting the script for Armageddon. While the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, had the name of his mother emblazoned on the nose of his plane, once more implicating a woman in another kind of ‘falling’, and ironically echoing ‘the mother-of-us-all’ while suggesting the mother-of-all-bombs, by delivering ‘Little Boy’ into the world, soon to be followed by Fat Man over Nagasaki.
After the successful testing of the bomb, the thin, rangy and youthful looking Oppenheimer, and an overweight General Groves, head of the project, were photographed side-by-side like Little Boy and Fat Man, or a diabolical Laurel and Hardy, bringing to mind Hardy’s oft complaint, “That’s another fine mess…”
In retrospect then, it was only natural that the British should have exploded its first 1.8 megaton thermonuclear bomb on November 8 1957 over a location called Christmas Island. A diabolical star, arisen to announce its own birth. A star nobody should have followed. And finally, remembering that according to tradition, Christ is said to have been Adam reborn, some may recall that in the sixties, there was an American nuclear powered submarine christened and blessed, as it would have been, by a priest, with the name Corpus Christi, and based in Holy Loch in Scotland – a Second Coming for the religious right, or just the standard, “Onward Christian Soldiers” once again? And we currently point our fingers at Islam. Even as I write, this divided god is still at war with itself. That is if indeed, the Islamic, Jewish and the Christian god (both the Catholic and the Protestant) is the same god.
This polarising, religious mind-set is ironically, in these secular times, still being expressed by commanders in the field on all sides in today’s conflicts. While we continue to speak of ‘war crimes’, as though war was a game with unfortunate, occasional fouls; raising the question: when did war itself cease to be a crime against both humanity and the planet?
When a culture imagines an exclusively male god as its creator, then it flies in the face of Nature – much in the same way that the Nazis made a fundamental error in recognising their motherland as a fatherland. Everyone pays the cost.
There are peoples who, having looked deep into our culture’s face, have turned away from the allure and lure of Western materialism and religion. Among them, groups of Australian so-called ‘aborigines’, who returned to their traditional lives in the Outback; tribes in the Amazon who retreated ever-deeper into the rainforest; the Kogi, who as far back as the Spanish occupation, fled deeper and higher into the Sierra Nevada of Columbia, where they remain to this day, and many others, to similar inaccessible places. Peoples, whom I believe, found themselves staring into the festering darkness of an empty skull. Our Western culture of ego/anthropocentric materialism has become the most meaningless, vacuous, and toxic occupation ever to have been visited upon this planet and its inhabitants.
“You know Billy, we blew it.”
Captain America in Easy Rider
Films as Windows into Darkness
Films as contemporary storytelling are a revealing window into areas of the collective cultural psyche. A high proportion of the films produced by Hollywood in recent years, express a deep-rooted paranoia – a fear of the West’s own shadow side, easily projected onto extraterrestrial threat, mutant beings, rampaging serial killers, ‘invaders’ of one kind or another, and fear of Nature in the role of aggressor in cataclysmic disasters.
In Hollywood’s films of blowing-away and being blown-away is expressed, I believe, a collective cultural death-wish Hollywood has been peddling as an apocalyptic, self-fulfilling prophesy – a symptom of the West’s own deep and unconscious sense of self-loathing and self-disgust – for many years now. And if one of your culture’s most popular purveyors of dreams, frequently brutalises on the one hand, and sentimentalises and infantilises on the other, then your culture is simply having bad dreams. Disney, for example, is like napalm to a child’s heart, teaching as it does, the reduction of true emotions to sentimentality, beauty to cuteness, violence to mere slapstick, and animals as in possession of, and possessed by, the same insane egos as humankind. Where you find an excess of sentimentality in a culture, you will also find the bloodied axe or Agent Orange on the other side of the dampened handkerchief.
However, I am reminded of a scene in one of Hollywood’s more remarkable films, made during a very short window in the late sixties and early seventies, which still carries a very relevant, potent and revealing message. In Easy Rider – a film which I read as questioning the meaning, while taking the pulse, of America or ‘the West’ – the two protagonists, evoking two doubtful cultural heroes, Billy and Wyatt (a.k.a. Captain America), while probably also representing the old pioneering ‘wild west’ and a new cool, ‘civilised’, hip America, have just made a huge amount of money from a drugs deal. On the rush of this success, they set off on an odyssey that takes them across America, through the industrial heartland, the hinterlands of mountains and deserts, and a stop-over in a hippy commune, where a community of mainly urban youth is struggling in its attempt to return to a spiritual, rural and self-sufficient way of life. And finally, down to the red-neck, racially paranoid Deep South where they are attacked, and a young alcoholic lawyer who has joined them, murdered. Near the end of their fractious journey, they are resting by a campfire, when Billy turns to Captain America and says, “We’ve done it! We’ve done it! We’re rich man…” To which, a disillusioned Captain America, on whom a certain realization has dawned, replies, “You know Billy, we blew it!” An uncomprehending Billy reacts, “What?! But that’s what it’s all about man. You go for the big money and you’re free.” To which a tired and depressed looking Captain America replies, “We blew it. Goodnight Billy.” Billy is left in the dark, looking bewildered and troubled. Their own road the following day, leads to their violent deaths.
I am also reminded of that other great movie from the same period, Apocalypse Now, based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in which Colonel Kurtz, whom, while being confronted by, and trying to answer to, his culture’s duplicity illuminated by the theatre of war in Vietnam, is finally driven insane, thinking himself to be a god. He also meets a violent demise. His dying words should rightfully be on all our lips, as we take stock of the apocalypse we ourselves have created – “The horror…the horror…!”
Pic Mike Lesser
Malcolm Ritchie’s essay A Second Fall – Notes on a Wounded Culture will be published in six parts on International Times.