Have you heard the news? There’s a war on Christmas. In 2013, Atheists struggled to dismantle a nativity scene in Chipley, Florida. Even the United States Air Force isn’t immune to secular chauvinism. A nativity scene at the Shaw Airforce Base in South Carolina was summarily dismantled in 2013. Despite Bill O’Reilly’s protestations against the liquidation of Christian symbols displayed proudly in public, the war on Christmas penetrates into the very fabric of intersubjectivity, meaning that, the War on Christmas redefines our relationship to others by burying the concept of the body of Christ, or a body of believers.
Leftists and Liberals have abandoned universal abstraction, the body of Christ, as a concept, replacing erstwhile maligned grand narratives with multiculturalism, which in U.S. society is represented entirely by a multitude of commodities. Multiculturalism is opposed to Christmas because of it’s very universality. Consider St. Paul’s words:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3.28)
St. Paul, according to philosopher Alain Badiou in Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, was the first to develop the idea of a universal subject, a collective identity which does not recognize particularity. Whether someone was a Jew, Greek, or slave, everyone could join the community of believers, the body of Christ, by the simple affirmation of Christ’s resurrection. Multiculturalism replaces the community of believers with the community of the commodity.
Marx teaches us all commodities are exchangeable, despite their outward appearances — the iPhone 6S is way too large to fit in my vintage JNCO jeans. Multiculturalism does present itself as an ontological advance by its very adherence to the commodity form. By reducing faith to the appearance of the commodity, with its inherent exchangeability, there isn’t a need to practice voluntary discipline within a community of believers and ideological struggles can take the form of peaceful antagonism in the marketplace rather than spilling into religious fratricide. Yet, even though multiculturalism has rendered us all free to practice any number of religious and spiritual denominations within our private space, it has also rendered blasphemous and offensive the public declaration of faith. Now, believing in UFOs, conspiracies regarding water fluoridation, and the healing power of magnets can stand side by side with Christianity as an equal without debate.
But, this is cliche– many have been criticizing the commercialization of Christmas, but the war on christmas runs deeper than the fulfillment of commodity society’s totalization. The War on Christmas hasn’t simply relegated faith to the personal sphere, it has vanquished the real abstraction of being-together by replacing collective faith, whether progressive or reactionary, with the occultism of self-help, being yourself, and other absurdities. In comparison, the fable of Christ’s resurrection appears as more real than pursuing spiritual and physical fulfillment through Bulletproof Coffee.
Why Being Yourself is the worst thing to be and makes you an asshole
The war on christmas accomplished the perfect crime by murdering reality. If there isn’t any recognizable difference between the worship of extraterrestrials and the voluntary discipline of worshipping the trinity at church, with all the associated rituals like communion and first confession, can reality still be said exist? I doubt it. Even though on the surface worship of extraterrestrials and faith in Christ’s resurrection may appear the same — both are equally implausible — being a Christian does entail subjectification to the ideological institution of the Church, the Catholic Church being the most organized divinity institution. Aren’t institutions traversed by class struggle and conflict? Can the same be said of individualized faiths which address no-one but the bored ego? The inability to publically enunciate faith, even in the most regressive way, places matters of doctrine outside the sphere of public reason. The weapons deployed in the war on christmas are subtle, but effective and everyone has succumbed, in one way or another, to these strategies which hypostatize the self.
The First Circle: Being Yourself
Nothing is as awful as being yourself, despite what others may tell you. The philosopher Jean Paul Sartre argues that claiming “I’m just being myself” is in bad faith as it is impossible to be identical to yourself. It is banal, too — of course you are you — that is as obvious as the mathematical equation x = x, a tautology.
“I’m just being myself” is a self-excusatory gesture — pure reification and ideology. If I am just being myself, then the possibility of being more than myself is foreclosed. Think of it this way: At one moment, I am at work. At another, I am at home tending to the dishes and shooing away toxic body thetans. Am I always a worker? Am I always a family man? I am neither, since my actions constantly determine my fleeting character.
Commodity society develops the occultist religion of the self through a variety of mechanisms. Advertisements commonly associate accomplishment, like, “freeing yourself”, with a particular brand. Nike sells sneakers and sporting goods, but Nike also sells a lifestyle which you are free to adopt. You are free to articulate yourself as a self-promotion machine, whether that be through nice ass kicks like retro Air Jordan 6s or through the obscene gesture of tracking your every move and calorie burned using a Nike Fuel Band or Fit Bit Flex. Punishing your body with data is entrepreneurial — you envision your body and personality as a vehicle for value, which it is. For the capital-intensive super-ego, faith is impossible since it requires an ego object subordinated to an ideological institution, rather than one caught up in a personified capital circuit.
Late Capitalism is effective at integrating the ego into the capital circuit because of the scission inherent in the self. In the Mirror Stage, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan provides the famous example of a child enamored by his own image in the mirror. At this stage in development, the I comes into being. The “I” is an imaginary representation of the self, the ideal representation of the subject as an object. Effectively, Lacan says, “The I is not.” Lacan isn’t the only psychoanalyst who discusses the ego as an imaginary object. Austrian-born psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut, whose works are more readily accepted into mainstream academic psychology than Lacan’s, similarly posits that the I is, in fact, an object which engages in cathexis (a fancy word for attraction) with other psychological objects. The very ambiguity of the self provides a fertile terrain for Capital to exude its own cathexis.
Being yourself forecloses the possibility of being another, or even more radically, being anonymous, which is what all collective endeavors demand. The faithful churchgoer, subject to ideological hail of the divine, is overdetermined by the collectivity of the body of christ. The man-who-is-himself is only beholden to his own ego which is engaged in nihilism: “How can the world, as it is, become integrated into my self?”
The more I want to be me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself, the more I am drained. The more I run after myself, the more tired I get. We cling to our self like a coveted job title. We’ve become our own representatives in a strange commerce, guarantors of a personalization that feels, in the end, a lot more like an amputation. We insure our selves to the point of bankruptcy, with a more or less disguised clumsiness. (The Coming Insurrection)
Selfies are another expression of the domination of yourself. Bud Light wants you to “be yourself”. Clearly that means getting sloshed on a weekend night with your bros and taking a number of obnoxious, but self-satisfying, high-angled photos. The world knows that you had fun, thanks to Bud Light, which you may have accidentally placed into the photo frame. You don’t even know, via self-reflexive consciousness, that the actor on the scene is really Bud Light, rather than yourself. Reification is natural. Product placement is accomplished by unwitting actors who acquire happiness relative to super-ego injunction to enjoy, as Zizek says.
The Second Circle: Be Strong. Don’t Give Up.
Do you have Facebook friends who post obnoxious inspirational memes? I’ve always wondered if the rate at which inspirational memes are posted corresponds to the poster’s level of depression or inner turmoil. Have you noticed, too, that people who resort to the self-comforting and self-promoting act of disseminating inspirational memes are often huge assholes? There’s a connection here.
The plethora of inspirational memes serves two purposes in the consciousness of the subject: First, the meme clearly refers back to an individual’s experience and serves as a badge of accomplishment and is an apostolic act, an attempt to extend the same life-saving grace, the good news of inspiration and self help, to an audience which the subject perceives as desperately requiring assistance. So inspirational memes are at once both self-promotional and messianic, together composing the code of an occult religion of self-improvement.
In the epoch of self-help, devoting oneself to the cause of faith in a community of believers is replaced by exchanging stories and moments of self-help or self-intoxication. Participating in a church bake sale, clothing drive, or in a political event where the community, rather than the individual, is the central protagonist is replaced with describing episodes of achievement or self-reflection. The man-who-is-himself says: “If you can transform your own affectivities, you can achieve wholeness within the self.” Yet, isn’t the wholeness of the self an entirely fallacious proposal?
Indeed, religion has been overcome, or supplemented by inspirational texts to such a degree, that religion itself has been turned on its head. Once, religion was a communal project, now it is a means of self-articulation. Instead of attending a sermon, faithfully engaging in the duties acquired as a believer, as part of the Body of Christ, you can peruse a self-help section at the bookstore and chose for yourself which option best corresponds to your goals! This isn’t religion at all, it requires neither discipline nor sacrifice. At best, this is pure schizophrenia. Yet, schizophrenia can be enjoyed, and I am not one to belittle anyone who acquires a limited satisfaction from repeating time honored devotions picked from an infinite array of JPEGs, as long as they’re consistent. Yet, the disseminators of this occultist good news are often the most bigoted and backwards. Given that self-help is an occultism of the individual, it is unsurprising. Check out these two examples.
I suppose that even though people make mistakes and are human, as this JPEG revealed to me, they deserve to get murdered by police with their hands up. Inspirational memes are compatible with the worst form of bigotry. Unlike Christianity, which concerns itself with the integrity of the people, and has often opposed bigotry, oppression, and exploitation in the form of liberation theology, the occultism of the meme allows for the worst kind of hypocrisy. Here’s another example:
Apparently waterboarding is synonymous with forgiveness. These examples provide insight into the unique emptiness of inspiration, which although formed as injunctions to others: “Forgive.”, are truly only self-promotional or perhaps self-excusatory. The Lord’s prayer which enjoins the faithful to ask God to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” is completely incompatible with waterboarding. Is it better to be a socially regressive Catholic, in some respects, or someone who is incapable of pursuing ethical imperatives all the way? There is a dignity in faith, even in wrong-headed faith. Where is dignity here?
The Third Circle: Try a Juice Cleanse
The third strategy of the occultist religion of the self is a complete denial of modern medicine and science. Even the Catholic Church upholds evolution: “The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve..” Individuals who promote alternative medicine, as part of a spiritualist project, actually lag behind the Catholic Church, the longest lasting ideological institution developed by humanity. Yet, who is to blame for the complete mistrust in experts? Ironically, the Left and liberals. What once was an emancipatory gesture — it is right to rebel against authority — has been turned on its head and transformed into reactionary anti-authoritarianism. Now, everyone is an authority on matters of science, medicine, and spirituality.
According to the L.A. times, the anti-vaccination movement has actually fostered a new outbreak of measles in the United States. Yet, the new occultist religion of the self asks you to draw your own conclusions. Experts have no facts, no facts that speak to the unique self. And, like Christianity, isn’t this the point of Science? Both Christianity, in its institutional form of the Catholic Church, and Science, articulate a truth procedure, as Badiou would say. Both subjectify individuals into a regime of faith. Knee-jerk anti-authoritarianism is a promotion of the self, and indeed, a promotion of commodity society’s rediscovered valorization of so-called natural remedies abandoned long ago by rigorous science.
If you are an anti-vaccination advocate, if you truly believe that a juice cleanse can eliminate vaguely specified toxins from your body, I would ask you to really think about who you serve by propagating nonsense. Indeed, you only serve yourself, while objectively participating in the murder of others.
Mel Gibson said the Jews killed Jesus, but really it was the Unitarians.
Liberals champion the Unitarian Church as a bastion of compassion and understanding. Yes — the Unitarian Church upholds LGBT rights, fosters inter-religious dialogue, and has a generally positive impact on thought while still providing a place for people to gather. Despite these achievements, you don’t need to believe in anything to be a Unitarian. What is the point of going to Church if you’re going to worship any number of deities or spiritualities within the safe space of your own private consciousness? While promoting liberalization, the Unitarian Church has also promoted the opposite by withdrawing debates about the divine into the private sphere. If you don’t actually believe in anything, yet still continue to go to church, why go to church in the first place? The Unitarian Universalist church is the progenitor of occult spiritualism which in its reactionary anti-authoritarianism derides science, promotes “being yourself”, and recognizes as equal every belief, no matter how inane or bizarre.
In the Unitarian Church, nothing is forbidden. There is no unredeemable sin. There is no conscious discipline and no struggle. Everything is permitted. A Unitarian sits among other Unitarians but remains trapped in the same solipsistic mechanism which plagues every individual world-wide: the cult of the self.
If you’re a Christian and not a Catholic, you ain’t shit: How Christianity is the tragedy and spiritualism is the farce.
Christianity is broad. There are Congregationalists, Anglicans, Baptists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the risk of sounding conservative — and I am — the only Christianity that really matters is one which is able to define a universal ethics on a global scale. The Catholic Church is the only vehicle which participates in politics, recently helping develop consensus between the U.S. and Cuba on thawing relations, provides indispensable aid and ideological discipline and cohesion to the faithful. To put it another way, why would you make your own car if Mercedes has built a diesel-consuming vehicle which is reliable and works for decades? I’m speaking specifically of the 1968 Mercedes 200D. Why would you isolate yourself rather than embracing the global Catholic Community, for better or for worse?
My words will be misrepresented by my opponents as developing a conservative, reactionary position on religious matters, yet, my argument is perhaps more subtle, despite the occasionally outrageous claims I make for fun. The Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, is responsible for some of the greatest disasters in history. The Catholic Church, for example, up until 2010, denied that contraception could prevent AIDS. Yet, don’t all institutions have a closet full of dirty secrets? It’s no secret that the Felix Dzerzhinsky was responsible for murdering thousands of innocent people, even Communists, during the Russian Revolution. And even withstanding all the errors committed by the Cheka, Communists still uphold the Terror as a defining moment in the victory of the proletarian revolution in Russia. Institutions are subject to struggle and can be transformed from vehicles of reaction to vehicles of progress. Micro-cults, individual faiths, and proliferating occultist religions cannot be transformed. They speak only to the self, not the multitude.
In the Eighteenth Brumaire of Luis Bonaparte, Marx says “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” The Catholic Church is properly a tragedy, a well-intentioned universalist organization which committed horrible deeds alongside accomplishing righteous victories, whereas the occultist religion of the self is a farce: It only produces ignorance. So enjoy your Christmas; yell “Merry Christmas” and accept the outrage of people whose concept of permitting difference entails sheltering your faith or political allegiance within your own beautiful soul.