O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?”
These words of St. Paul climax his mystical and historical experience of the risen Christ
who triumphed over death and all the terrors of death, which, until the resurrection, shadowed every one of man’s hopes, accomplishments, and joys. St. Paul was no dreamer. He knew that if the historical Jesus did not literally and truly rise from the dead then Christians were “of all men most to be pitied,” as such dreams would hardly be worth risking one’s head over. And St. Paul, like so many multitudes of that first generation of Christians, did give his head to Caesar’s executioner.
Probably not long before, while a prisoner in a Roman jail, St. Paul awaited death with a selflessness that would be pure madness if he were not absolutely confident that Christ, the Lord, had vanquished death. He wrote to the Church at Ephesus:
“I plead with you, as a prisoner in the Lord, to lead your life worthy of your call. With all
humility and gentleness, and with patience, hear one another’s burdens in love. Taking every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together.
For there is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and father of all, who is over all and within us all.” (Eph 4:1-5)
Far from being a wild-eyed dreamer, St. Paul knew that “If Christ has not risen
your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor. 15;14-17)
He knew that a groundless death would be not only ludicrous but madness. It would be far more reasonable to remain a Jew trusting
in the covenantal promises of Yahweh than to go running off after new dreamers whose dreams would end in nightmare. To give one’s life for such a dream, according to St. Paul, would be the height of folly.
St. Paul was convinced there was the most profound difference between even the most sublime mythology and Truth. Especially where one’s head was concerned. And he knew the objections. He knew that the Cross was “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks” (l Cor.l:21-25). But he could not doubt the facts which knocked him off his horse on the road to Damascus.
When the Lord Jesus confronted him as he was persecuting the ones he considered dangerous dreamers, dangerous to his state and religion, dangerous to sanity itself, Saul could no longer deny the facts. And those facts were confirmed when he went to Jerusalem and found Peter and the other Apostles, all hunted men, telling the same story. They were also confirmed over and over again when he met the others, over “five hundred of the brothers” to whom Christ also appeared, brothers “most of whom are still with us” he told the Corinthians. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
This was no mere legend. These “brothers” were still alive when Saul, now become Paul, wrote to the Corinthians before the destruction of the Temple, i.e. before 70 A.D. And so were the “women” who found Christ’s tomb empty. And so was Mary, the mother of Jesus, who also believed. St. Paul knew that if a man can fool many, he is not likely to fool his own mother. But Mary also was there ( Acts 1:12-14).
The Tomb Was Empty
This was no flight into mystical fantasy. The historical Jesus, whom the Apostles and disciples all said had predicted that he would be put to death and “rise on the third day”, was in fact put to death under orders of the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. And, three days later, just as he had indicated, his tomb, lent to his family by a certain Joseph of Arimathea, was found to be empty, despite the posting of Roman guards by Pilate at the behest of the Jewish temple leaders who demanded his death.
Indeed one of the most serious charges brought against Jesus by the Jewish leaders was that Jesus had indicated over and over again that he would “destroy the temple” in “three days”. His disciples indicated that Jesus was using veiled language with the Jews who were against him . They said the “temple” he referred to was his own “body” which, in fact, his persecutors would destroy (John 2:20-22). Jesus said that after this temple was destroyed, indicating his own death, in three days “I will raise it up” (v.20)
In so speaking Jesus was indicating that He was the fulfillment, the ground and purpose and origin of the holy temple. The destruction of his Person was, in fact, the destruction of the temple and the covenant insofar as it was the rejection of the God of the covenant. His “raising” it up after three days was the
fulfillment of God’s covenant faithfulness, his “Yes” to the many who longed for the covenant between God and man, a covenant which transcended national boundary and reached out to all who wished to confess their straying and return to God, their Maker. It was His “Yes” to all who were imprisoned by death which was the boundary related to sin , imposed with a view to turning man back to sanity and holiness (Rom.6:23; Gen.3:24).
No “Cunningly Devised Myths”
St. Paul knew, as did St. Peter, that “we were not following cunningly devised myths” relative to the life, redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:16). St. Paul and all the apostles knew what was at stake. So do believers today. This was no mere “spiritual” resurrection of an ascending ghost, but a physical resurrection of flesh and bones (LK 24:33-41)
The Logic of Death
But modern man, or post-modern man on route to post-human man, today follows the logic of death. Thus despair works in a diabolically mysterious way to make man go beyond mere terror at the thought of death. It leads him to fascination and obsession. A fascination and obsession which makes him inflate death into a kind of omnipotence. And makes him deaf to God’s Word. Thus philosophers like Michel Foucault suggest that the only way to beat death is to choose how one is to die, defining at the same time how one chooses to live , outside of any moral law, the notion of which, we are foolishly told, belonged to the “childhood” period of mankind. Now that Nietzsche has confirmed that God and belief are “dead” there is no moral law. There is only death. If there is a god then death is that only god, the force which laughs at and mocks all our dreams and accomplish- ments.
Thus the only “spirituality” left is to accept death, accept that God is dead, and live the way the self wants to live, on route to power over others! In so doing the self pays his respects to this god and cheats it at the same time.
Foucault referred to it as “the will not to be goverened“. The growing obsession with suicide is a logical development of this idea.
Foucault went to the San Francisco, gay bathhouses and, according to biographer James Miller, indifferently contracted (1) the AIDS virus and then did his best to pass it around. He chose how to live by choosing how to die; in so doing he paid his respects to (and cheated!) the new god of the New Age. He “lived on the edge” and said it was the only way to live authentically. And Foucault, after Sartre, was one of the most influential philosophers of the contemporary world.
Like Sartre and Genet, Foucault placed “freedom”, the unconditional “autonomy” of man at the epicenter of all authentic living and philosophy. And his philosophy has spread throughout all of western academia and especially into the Rock culture of “Rap,” “heavy metal” and “alternative” music. And this so-called alternative culture is increasingly and dramatically becoming, via the media and academia, the whole culture. It’s values, or anti-values, are daily being legislated into law through the courts in the name of “freedom”, “free speech”, “human rights”, the “dignity” of humankind etc. Thus those like the old Dr. Kevorkian and suicide activists today plow through legal obstacles and convert the law and the courts in a mesmerizing tour de force which seems all but unstoppable, notwithstanding the unthinkable implications of their actions.
Who will the suicide activists target next? The depressed? The mentally ill or deficient? The physically handicapped? The disfigured? The elderly abandoned in Covid Wards? It is happening.
Sex and Death
The culture of nihilism, which is becoming the whole, is also increasingly obsessed with the mysterious relationship between sex and death. Thus sado-masochism promotes interest in this area from allegedly “innocent play” all the way up to rape and snuff films—whether simulated or not— where victims are raped and then maimed or worse.
Having divorced sex from procreation long
ago, it has increasingly become merely another form of recreation, which must always leads to impotence (boredom) and thus propel itself toward ever more imaginative and sinful oulets, which again leads to impotence until boredom turns to insatiability, which turns to anger, to an intensifying of sado-masochistic sexual and nihilistic practices, to inevitably even more anger, to rage, and, increasingly, to death.
Thus sexual “freedom” and the logic of death…
Our increasingly nihilistic culture understands the trajectory of this philosophy even as it denies it. Rock and Pop “stars”, artists and other hipsters, revel in their existential howling. Concerts and the visual media have often enough become the new dionysian festivals of the new barbarism, the neo-paganism where the howls are howls aimed at existence itself, i.e. any existence which would speak of natural law, moral law, reason, restraint, natural distinctions or hierarchy in nature. The new autonomous gods will not allow nature to define, delineate, or impede their “freedom”. For the new “freedom” is not a return to nature, it is rather a “freedom” from nature. Thus all the androgyny, homosexuality, genetic engineering, contraception, abortion, surgical sex changes, deliberated suicide…
“Freedom” From God
The “New Age”, however, is anything but new. It is in fact “so old it looks new”. It is simply what it always has been: the alternative to the Judeo-Christian world-view. Paganism. Only the packaging differs to some degree. It is the common “alternative” to the God who created the heavens and the earth. From Nero, to Stalin, to the Kardashians it is ever the same. The New Age and its original New Madonna (who gave birth to a child she blasphemously named Lourdes) are simply the latest versions of that ancient “alternative” which the serpent offered to the first two human beings on earth: “Freedom from” God and the exhortation to dethrone and replace Him. Only the judgement-part (spiritual death and its eternal consequences) did the serpent
keep hidden. “You will not certainly perish” he said, contradicting the Maker of
the universe (Gen.3).
Thus “post-modern” man does not believe God will and must judge wickedness. Nor does he believe that God Himself has come into the world and went to the Cross to save us from these deceptive “freedoms” which threaten to damn our souls. Nor that He defeated the power of death by leaving behind an empty tomb on the third day. “Post-modern man ” believes none of this. How could he? He has no time. The festivals cannot be interrupted, “the
games must continue!”
Such is the logic of modern despair over which Christ is risen victorious— Risen, for any and all who will “receive Him” in penance (Jn 1:12)—no matter how wayward and sinful. — SH
(1) The Passion of Michel Foucault, Anchor Books, New York, 1993
— Easter lasts for a total of 50 days, from Easter Sunday until the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles, Mary, and the first followers of Christ.