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    The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism

    Continuation from page one:
    The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism

    IV. Apocalypticism-The Heart of the Ulcer

    "Devout believers are safeguarded in a high degree against the risk of certain neurotic illnesses; their acceptance of the universal neurosis spares them the task of constructing the personal one." --Freud
    Apocalypticism is the capstone that completes the process of fundamentalist self-fashioning. Without it, as we'll see, the entire edifice would crumble. In the Apocalpytic moment the disorder at the core of the fundamentalist psyche achieves a final form, thereby passing over to the register of the sublime. The sublime is the register of the psyche that is reached when the informing desire is given an unbounded expression. All conflicts are then resolved in a release of tension that is total and constitutes what Lacan means by jouissance. The psyche has found a way to fulfill and complete the desire that structures its inner constitution. As we'll see, each structure described in the previous sections requires Apocalypticism and achieves completion in it. In the Apocalyptic fantasm an ultimate expression is given to the conflicts that define the fundamentalist psyche through an action that brings an end to those conflicts.

    The necessity of Apocalypticism is a direct outgrowth of the psychological mechanism on which fundamentalist relies to structure the world. The only way to prevent a return of the projections is through a final evacuation. This desire can only come to fruition with the picturing of a world beyond redemption held under the brand of an all-consuming wrath. That image finalizes the split that defines the psyche by giving sublime expression to the way one must view the world when seeing it from the standpoint of one's salvation. Apocalypticism thus brings to completion the psychological operation that has been employed repeatedly from the beginning. First, one cleanses oneself by projecting one's disowned desires unto the world. The resulting split must then be maintained rigorously with nothing allowed to fall outside its scope. The psyche must be voided of everything save the serenities of the saved. For that to happen, however, the world must become the object of an unstinting attack on all that one has externalized there. This act must be endless lest the projections return. By its internal logic fundamentalism is thus driven ineluctably to a need for quantitative expansion through the discovery of greater, more insidious forms of evil. The mathematical sublime beckons, the need to produce greater and greater magnitudes. The world becomes the polluted chamber of one's foulest imaginings with no way to check the demands of that vision. Within the psyche an even greater transformation occurs. One craves the constant exercise of an emotion that one must just as strenuously disclaim. Hatred. One needs fresh supplies of it as badly as the U.S. needs to ransack the globe for fresh supplies of oil. No matter how loudly one proclaims one's salvation, purified in the blood of the lamb, hatred has become the innermost necessity to which one is wedded. And that necessity has now broken lose of any containment. Hatred of one's former self is no longer sufficient. One now hates the world and is driven to seek out everything in it that one can claim caused or can cause an inner condition other than the purity of the saved. One hates, that is, everything that resists surrender and absolute obedience to the system of literalism and literal commands to which one has committed oneself. As the scope of what one hates grows apace it finds fruition in the binary opposition that is essential to it. Good and Evil divide the world in two, giving ontological form to the rigidity of the split that defines the fundamentalist psyche. All differences, all particularities, all complexities must give way to the demands of a comprehensive abstraction. And the fury of that abstraction can and will brook no exceptions. Everything thus resolves itself into the ultimate necessity required by the informing hatred. One longs for and demands an end to all the contingencies that have from the beginning been sources of fear and confusion. It is what one has always sought. To be done with all of it. With the contingency of the human. To be done with all ambiguity and complexity and confusion. Done with the feeling that history has no purpose other than chaos or meaningless repetition. Done with embodiment itself- and all the unwelcome desires it imposes on us. Done with the very sources of all that one hates and fears. To locate it all ontologically in a single principle-evil-and then be rid of it all once and for all through the triumph of that force that has the power to extinguish it all.

    Literalism tried to keep the world at bay by reducing everything to the simplest formulas, the mind itself to the most unproblematic blink of consciousness in stupified adherence to the narrow fixations needed to banish metaphor, ambiguity, and uncertainty. But it wasn't enough. The world keeps seeping it. There must be a way to be done with it, once and for all. To find what one has craved from the beginning. The end. And a proper end-one that will give sublime expression to the desire that has fed the whole thing. Death. The longing for death transformed into a sublime celebration of death. Life in its complexity demands too much of us. That in a nutshell is the fundamentalist message. Only death can deliver one from the threat life poses. Only when life is done is one safe from a return of the projections and an eruption of the repressed. One has always longed for deliverance into a realm free of desire and all its temptations. Death alone offers the comfort one seeks. The resentment in which the psyche has centered itself demands no less. One must work one's hatred of the world into a frenzy and feed that hatred with sublime images of evil in order to bring it to a fevered pitch. Release and satisfaction then come with the delivery of that world over to the hands of an angry God expressing his wrath in an orgy of pure destructiveness. Thank God for The Book of Revelations. For the only way both to satisfy and to purge one's hatred is to express it on a massive world-shattering scale. The death one seeks projected into the death one delivers. The self is thereby done with life and freed for transport of the saved split off self to a realm of bliss freed from all cares. A psyche wedded to thanatos has found in thanatos the final solution. One's resentment against life has been turned into a righteous and of necessity cosmic attack upon it.

    In Transformations Wilfred Bion tries to conceptualize a destructiveness "that goes on working after it destroys personality, time, and existence." Such is the desire that feeds the fundamentalist fixation on The Book of Revelations. A psyche wedded to thanatos seeks sublime expression of that desire. It finds it satisfied repeatedly in Revelations, as if its author, like the director of the next disaster movie, keeps seeking the perfect image to feed the underlying venom or to bring it, with each repetition, closer to that image in which destructiveness will find its objective correlative. One makes allowances of course for the author of Revelations, what with his people under genocidal persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire. But how account for the fixation on such images, as if they were the only real source of pleasure, of those whose greatest fear is that their wife will find the G spot or that Mommie's little darlings will see MTV before the V chip is installed? How account for the persistent unscratable itch for picturing the great Whore of Bablyon and anticipate the delicious synesthesia of the golden cup "in her hand filled with abominable things and the filth of her fornications? How account for the thrill that comes as one reads again the rich description of all the plagues that will be visited upon the earth? And how else account for the necessity of the grand crescendo to which it all moves as the enraptured reader approaches Armageddon and the final battle that will put an end to that folly, human history, giving the reader the true pleasure of the text since one has known all along that history could have no purpose or meaning other than its destruction? One loves this book and longs to see the coming to pass of all it promises in fulfilling on a cosmic stage the very process that has given structure to one's psyche, as if the apocalypse one suffered on the little stage were but a prefigurement meant to whet one's appetite for the Big One.

    Here then a reading of the function that Revelations plays in the fundamentalist psyche. In the depths of its psyche fundamentalism is ruled by catastrophic anxiety, a self tottering on the brink of a dissolution in which it will fragment imprisoned in a world that will impose all of its terrors and evils upon it. We will fail to understand fundamentalism as long as we resist seeing how close it is to a psychosis. Fundamentalist rage is the attempt of a subject to hold itself together in the only way it can: by waging war on all that terrifies it. The psyche commits itself to destructiveness to allay a destruction that already threatens it from within. That condition results in a paradoxical situation that finds its only possible solution in Revelations. Destructiveness must be given a full, unchecked expression and the psyche must somehow survive that act. The drive toward death repeats itself in increasing magnitudes as it moves toward a final conflict that obliterates all future conflict and transports the self to a realm of unending bliss. The slight textual support (1 Thessalonians 4:17) notwithstanding, the Rapture is a psychological necessity. It embodies the magical thought that the coming of global destruction is also the coming of salvation. One has always longed for a feast of destructiveness as the signal for one's transport to a condition free of the world. That's why when that moment comes it is impossible to prevent the surfacing of a long suppressed and twisted sexual desire. As destruction approaches so too does ascent to a realm in which one is free to project a marriage consummated in the sky with Christ serving as the Bride. The delights of that image should not prevent us from seeing what has happened here. The longing for death has been turned into an ecstatic embrace of it; a rapture so complete in its jouissance that one can no longer disguise the fact that all of ones libidinal energies have gone into the quest for such a complete and final unbinding, an extinction within consciousness of all save the ecstatic recognition that one is saved and that all the connections that once bound one to the world have been severed once and for all. The psychotic attack on linking finds its apotheosis in Apocalypticism. The Rapture must be interpolated into Revelations at precisely this point because one's salvation corresponds with the arrival of something else-the dawning of the cataclysmic aggressions that must be vented in order to bring destruction upon the earth and usher in the millenium. In the clouds, safe with Jesus, one can continue to rejoice free of life or cast a cold eye upon it from time to time like one looking back on the moment just before one's conception but free now (an angelic Onan) to nip it in the bud. Or to spend the 1000 years millenium assured that though peace reigns it will come again, one last time, the dead themselves resurrected so that they can be slain again in a greater destruction than has ever been visited upon the earth ( Revs. 19-20) and then, as if that isn't enough, consigned to torment day and night forever. Only then is the rage that informs John's text discharged. And only then can love be expressed without leading to a new burst of rage. [3] Only then can a new heaven and a new earth be celebrated in language admittedly of great beauty with God himself wiping away all tears, putting an end to death, pain, and sorrow, making all things new, delivering believers from realities that they could never see as anything but arguments against life, Revelations confirming this fact long before Nietzsche conceptualized it. The great love feast--it's a pretty fantasy. As if once rage fashions its masterpiece the heart will open and what has been frozen for so long will become a warm and virgin spring.

    Historically the great transformation in the use of Apocalypticism to incite fundamentalist believers to political action came in the 1980's, during the Reagan years, when Jerry Falwell (to cite but one example) shifted from the pre-millenarian belief that the faithful can do nothing but spread the gospel and wait as the modernist evil that will bring about the Tribulation runs its course to the activist position that fundamentalism must become a political force, indeed take over the country if possible, and make it a Christian Nation worthy of being spared as well as the one chosen to advance the movement toward that long sought, long delayed, deeply longed for and blessed Apocalyptic event. George Herbert Walker Bush was finally a man of restraint with a keen appreciation of the realities of global politics. Dubya labors under no such restraints. His is a mind unencumbered by an countervailing pressure that the world might offer to his singleness of vision. Thus there's no telling where the faith will lead now that Dubya has his mandate and must deliver to satisfy the grandiose conception of what God himself elected him to do. Even perhaps find a straight shining path from the cataclysmic future that defines that paranoic present that constantly recedes before us unless, that is, the Apocalyptic future can become the Evangelical present? Under Dubya that is now one term for reading what is going on in the Middle East.

    It is hard to conceive the extent of the contempt for life that informs fundamentalism. As a final example, however, a testimonial to the environmental policies of the Bush Administration, consider the quaint piece of fundamentalist folklore known as "dominion theology." This tenet of the faith was openly professed by former Secretary of the Interior James Watt, the mentor of the current Secretary Gale Norton. Dominion theology holds that the Bible commands us to use up the earth's resources. We glut ourselves not just for capitalist greed but by biblical mandate. Indeed, as the end approaches it is our duty to do so globally since there's little time remaining to complete the job and thereby bring that final day ever closer. Besides, why bother preserving the planet. After the Second Coming none of it is going to matter. And so with each new success-the hole in the ozone, the melting of the ice caps, drilling in the national wildlife refuge, the Alaska pipeline - we give further proof that history is moving in the right direction. Since all is yellow to the jaundiced eye, the only thing the fundamentalist, like the capitalist, can see in Nature is that which must be conquered, used up, then subjected to disposal. The oft-chronicled battle of fundamentalists against environmentalism is dictated by the demands of the manic triad. Triumph, contempt, dismissal. Thereby destructiveness is projected onto life itself. The sublime for the fundamentalist is not found in the rain forest, but in its ravaging. Through such acts one finds another way to project one's hatred of life onto another object that has the power to deepen our entry into and love of it.

    It is hard to know which is colder, crueler: the logic of fundamentalism or the logic of capitalism? But then that question assumes they are different in some fundamental way. And let's face it we want to hang on to that difference because it offers reassurance, even a guarantee, that we can play the two off against each other. Those currently in charge of our country suffer from no such illusion. Maybe that's because they know the secret we need to fathom if we're to historicize the connection that Max Weber saw between Christianity and Capitalism and thereby learn that Christian fundamentalism and Global Capitalism correspond to one another because they derive from the same seedbed and feed on the same destructive violence.

    In concluding I offer a summary of how thanatos works in the fundamentalist psyche binding everything to the necessity for a sublime discharge. Apocalypticism expresses both the final evacuation needed to prevent a return of the projections and the jouissance required to fulfill the demand of thanatos for that complete unbinding that can only come by putting an end to everything. The hatred in which the psyche is grounded requires no less: it is total in its control over the inner world and thus demands a matching totalization. In the images of destruction that warm its heart one sees externalized the process that has ravaged the inner world. In that sense fundamentalism is the most extreme act of sado-masochism toward oneself that has yet been devised. As such it offers us perhaps the deepest insight into the super-ego as the force of death in the psyche, as an agency that is satisfied with no less than soul-murder, the bending of the entire psyche in blind service to its commands. Literal obedience to literal commands is merely the tip of that iceberg. It is within that the true process of soul-murder takes place. In a psyche that is willing to sacrifice everything in itself in order to placate an authority that is vindictively cruel in the wrath it directs on the slightest opposition to its will. In an attempt to achieve identification with that force the psyche wages war first on itself and then upon the world. The former act reveals the power of the super-ego; the latter act offers a way to confirm one's identification with it. In sacrificing everything in oneself to the super-ego one attains the right to become the walking embodiment of its wrath. The fundamentalist can loudly proclaim his or her love of God but the fact of the matter is that one fears Him because terror is the only relationship He permits. Fear-that is the thing one has never been able to overcome. That is why all transgression or the mere thought of transgression unleashes an overpowering guilt under which the psyche unravels. That guilt is the power of the super-ego to maintain control over the psyche. Super-ego guilt is thanatos in its immediacy ravaging the psyche by punishing it with the loss of a "love" that is indistinguishable from hate so absolute is the sacrifice it requires.

    But how does such an agency come into being? On what must it draw to create the enormous energy that gives it such power over/within the psyche. Could it be that this too has and must have its beginnings in love? We have traced the effects of the destructiveness to which the fundamentalist psyche is wedded but we have not yet considered the cause. Sections 1-4 trace the dialectical progression of a disorder that we must now consider in its genesis. To do that we need to strike through the sound and fury of fundamentalist rage and get at what Ahab called "the little lower layer" by showing how thanatos first takes root in a soul and why it continues to ulcer there until it finds fulfillment in Apocalyptic expression.

    Before turning to that examination a brief summary of the psychoanalytic understanding we've developed of the four characteristics that Charles Strozier isolates as fundamental to fundamentalism. (1) Inerrancy as the need to reduce all complexities to the literal in order to confine the mind to its simplest operations; (2) Conversion or the use of the primitive psychological defense known as splitting to establish an absolute separation of the saved psyche from the damned; (3)Evangelicalism or manic activity as the way to sustain and project that split; (4) Apocalypticism or thanatos incarnate as the desire for an event that will satisfy the hatred and the death-drive that has come to define the fundamentalist psyche. In discussing these characteristics I deliberately withheld the issue of sexuality until now not in order to minimize its importance but to maximize it by creating the context of characteristics that only make sense once we grasp the sexual disorder that informs them. Fundamentalism will then emerge in its proper meaning, as one of the clearest examples of the old and oft forgotten Freudian insight that sexuality is at the center of the human psyche and the dialectical opposition of eros and thanatos at the center of culture.The previous sections describe a super-ego "morality" grounded in thanatos. The following section attempts to describe the sexual roots of the disorder and thereby offer an explanation of how thanatos can take over the life of the psyche and channel all energies into its service.

    V. Sexual Roots of the Fundamentalist Psyche
    "Think of the depressing contrast between the radiant intelligence of a healthy child and the feeble intellectual powers of the average adult. Can we be quite certain that it is not precisely religious education which bears a large share of the blame for this relative atrophy?"

    -- Freud
    My goal is to plumb the root cause of phenomena that are well-known. Fundamentalists live in a world obsessed with sexuality. It provides the primary texts of Biblical citation. It's the concrete referent of the fulminations against secularism, secular humanism, post-modernism, ethical relativism, feminism, deconstructionism, etc. It's also what the vaunted claim of "moral values" is all about. Morality is not about a life of charity, or the pursuit of justice, or the opening of oneself to the depth of human suffering. It's about avoiding certain sexual sins and fixating on that dimension of life to the virtual exclusion of everything else. Battling sex is apparently what life is all about as if the primary plan of the creator were to put us on earth so that we'll be tempted by that in us that we must condemn in order to win salvation. By the same token, each new scandal reveals the consequences of sexual repression: the brutal abuse of young boys by a legion of pedophile priests; the sexual license of Jim Jones and David Koresh; the sadomasochistic bondage rituals that Jimmy Swaggart significantly could only enact with prostitutes; the epidemic of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse that is the untold story of the fundamentalist family. The repression of sexuality has as a necessary consequence the brutalization of the other.

    All such phenomena are variations on the same tired story. Sexual repression breeds foul imaginings. Which of necessity fixate on the sexual. What has been rendered foul within runs amuck in the world. Following the dictates of a punitive super-ego the psyche becomes obsessed with the attack on sexuality. The purpose is to render evil virtually everything connected with sex until life itself is reduced to an allegory in which the battle of good and evil is all about the temptations of the flesh, as if nothing else in life matters so complete is the vindictive fixation of the Deity on the human genitals.

    The eroticization of thanatos necessarily has a flip side: the demonization of eros. The libidinal economy on which fundamentalism rests is as simple as it is devastating. Eros must be turned into evil, sin, pollution. So that all of one's desire can go into thanatos. Or vice-versa. Once destructiveness has been eroticized all one's energies become fixated on the erotic since it poses the greatest threat to the resentment one feels toward life in general. The chicken-egg question of temporal priority misses the necessary dialectical connection. The only way to triumph over eros is by eroticizing death. And the only way to secure that eroticization is by projecting guilt, sin, resentment and punishment into every aspect of human sexuality. Such is the basic logic to which the fundamentalist project is wedded.

    To understand why that is so, however, requires answering two questions.

    (1)What must sex be for it to assume such importance?

    (2)And what must happen to it for the fundamentalist mind set to assume control over the psyche?

    What is needed is an account of the genesis of fundamentalism through a description of the sequence of formative experiences through which thanatos by invading sexuality assumes control over a psyche.

    Fundamentalism fixates on sex not by accident or divine decree but by the exigencies of immediate experience. Eros is that force which binds us to life as that blessing which can be lived and loved as an end in itself. It is the spontaneity that weds the child to an innocent and unbridled curiosity; the vitality that resists any restraints imposed on the outpouring of an affective embrace of life in all its forms; the ability to experience the natural prior to and free of the ethical, as a matter of fascination and exploration. Eros is that in us which wants to incarnate itself fully, to expend oneself in investing all of one's energies into life. And when all of this becomes overtly sexual it discovers its innermost meaning: to open oneself to another and incarnate in the body the depth of feeling that two subjects can have toward each other. Sexual pleasure is the temple of a holiness that neither wants nor needs other worlds so completely has it found fulfillment in this one. Such an erotic valuation becomes in poets like Whitman and Blake the prime agent of all human perception; it is in Plato the source of noble laws and institutions; and in Freud it is that which pits itself against the forces of death. It is also, of course, that which rises up at puberty and at crucial crises throughout life in rebellion against the controls that those who hate and fear it have placed upon desire.

    Because it poses a comprehensive threat to the fundamentalist project eros must be poisoned at early as possible. Ironically there is, however, only one way this project can succeed. Through love. To summarize briefly a concept I've developed at length elsewhere, parenting is the act through which the parent's conscious and unconscious conflicts and desires become the psyche of the child. This transmission is the act through which the child's psyche is born. The child's unconditional love is the condition that makes it all possible. To put it in more concrete terms, from an early age one must be indoctrinated by those one trusts and loves in the primary lesson: that obedience is the price one must pay to retain love. And so deep must become one's need for this love that one becomes willing to make any sacrifice it requires. Thereby the condition is set for the greatest transformation. The energy from which the very life of the psyche springs has been invaded by a virus that attacks the subject from within. The process that will issue in the super-ego has taken root. In Lacanian terms, one's desire has become the desire of the other with that condition set as the way one will experience both oneself and the world. Good and evil can now be bred into everything. The body has become the scene of ethical instruction. All natural functions are turned into matters of intense preoccupation. All innocent curiosities nipped in the bud. Spontaneity itself becomes a source of inhibition. The reign of the literal is born. That which most intimately attaches us to life becomes the thing upon which a ceaseless attack is waged. All natural instincts must become evidence that the only way to experience the body is as a site of sinful desires. Embodiment itself must become something one hates and fears, a condition in which something evil and disgusting is always at work. Everything that desire opens up in the subject must be turned back against itself. Sin, shame, and guilt must come to define the relationship that the subject lives to itself. The goal of fundamentalist child-rearing is to create a subject preoccupied with waging war on itself, with battling against its own desires under the gaze of a judgmental, punitive super-ego. [4]

    The super-ego maintains this power because internally a fundamental transformation has occurred. All of one's desire has been channeled into one's service to the super-ego. It is thereby empowered to wage an attack on anything in the subject that would oppose or threaten its reign. The super-ego is as Freud noted harsher than the actual parents. It is so because it fuses prohibition with the quest for love. What is the first and perhaps the deepest attachment of one's life is bound to a force opposed to the very thing from which it draws its energy. Sexuality of necessity brings this conflict to a head. For in it one experiences at its greatest intensity the clash of the two principles that constitute the psyche: (1) that in us that would break free of the super-ego and constitute a desire independent of it and (2) the power of the super-ego, as a result of the love one has invested in it, to crush the opponent. This conflict is inescapable for the simplest of reasons. Operating upon sexuality was precisely how the super-ego was formed. It is in one's sexuality, accordingly, that one experiences the true virulence of a force that has the power to turn the inner world into a place of self-torture. All one has to do is desire what it forbids. One then learns the truth. That capitulation under the unrelenting pressure of that self-torture is the triumph of a fundamentalist education. In the war on sex the process of formation completes itself. Its product is a subject living a relationship to itself defined by self-contempt, self-punishment, and self-unraveling. Any attempt to break with the super-ego only serves to increase its power. Appearances to the contrary, the super-ego isn't about morality. It's about power-and the irresistible privilege that comes with power: to torture, in fact to erect torture as the relationship the subject lives to itself.

    How could it be otherwise? What else could child-rearing be for the parents but the chance to prove themselves to the Lord by taking whatever measures are required to assure that His commands assume total control over the child's psyche. Getting the child to internalize a super-ego that makes guilt over one's desires the primary relationship the subject has to itself assumes in fundamentalism the status of a categorical imperative. Life must be filled up with inhibitions and prohibitions in order to assure that sexuality will always be experienced as a fall into sin. Internally that experience is guaranteed by the condition that lays in wait to assault the transgressive psyche, even when the transgression is only in thought or fantasy. Transgression, one discovers, floods the psyche with guilt, shame, and the conviction of a fundamental badness that can only be purged by an attack on oneself. That attack is the nuptial offering that seals one's marriage to the super-ego. It is the way one restores one's communion with it. In punishing oneself one experiences the joy, the libidinal pleasure, of a union that feeds on destructiveness. Thereby one reveals the truth: that thanatos has taken control of the psyche. A subject at war with itself has been created, one that will experience desire itself as a sign of guilt and will loathe it as that within oneself that one must strive to extinguish. Thanatos has created a psyche dedicated to soul murder-to the murder of one's own soul. The power that death-work has assumed in the psyche now ravages the psyche. In three interconnected ways. (1) So great is the power guilt has assumed that any opposition to the super-ego unleashes an attack that threatens with psyche with self-dissolution. Such is the true power of the super-ego: unending torment with no exit save suicide or psychotic self-fragmentation. (2)Ego identity thus becomes the active, constant effort to spy out and combat everything in itself that could be labeled a source or occasion of sin. (3) In the body consequently a condition now maintains in which every desire becomes the overture to a war that must be waged until the very sources of desire have been conquered, until everything that might once have been natural has been rendered thoroughly unnatural. Sado-masochism has come to define the subject's relationship to itself. The only pleasure lies in the coldness and cruelty of an unrelenting attack upon one's sinfulness and the pleasure one gets from making oneself the abject object of that wrath. A world of perfect self-hatred has been created. A culture of pure thanatos has been installed as the unity of a psyche that must project good and evil, sin and punishment, damnation and salvation into everything until life itself becomes the doleful and guilty passage of a shriveled and shrunken (but saved!) subjectivity toward the only thing it can desire. The End-the death of desire itself, the unending struggle against it, and the ever-present danger that one will slip and find oneself in the clutches of the damned. The Apocalyptic desire is born.

    Sexuality has been transformed into the festering wound out of which resentment is born. For every time desire rises up one experiences again one's powerlessness to break the strangle-hold the super-ego has over one's sexuality. A jaundiced eye then casts its gaze on all who have succeeded where one failed Envy rises up, offering one the only exit from inner conflict--hatred of the sexual and an unending war upon it. That war has become one's deepest necessity. Envy begets hatred begets rage. The only way to relieve that rage is by projecting it onto the world. That act has an added charm: it is the way one achieves identification with that super-ego that has never stopped assaulting one from within. As avenging angel damning a sinful world one reclaims as resentment what one has had to sacrifice as desire. The transformation is complete. One is no longer a child tortured into submission by a punitive super-ego. One has become an adult projecting that destructiveness upon the world. For a psyche so bound to hatred requires a constant supply of fresh objects and occasions on which to vent itself. It is wedded to the search for a sublime fulfillment of the rage that defines it. And because everything within the psyche opposed to this project has been killed there is no way to halt it. Death has become absolute and craves that total unbinding that can come only with a totalizing Apocalyptic projection. (The destructiveness analyzed in section 4 is the necessary outgrowth of the sexual condition this section describes. That inversion is the circle the fundamentalist psyche is unable to break out of.)

    The process I've just described is not a disorder restricted to the reddest neck in the reddest state. It is a portrait drawn from what also typified a Roman Catholic childhood in the late fifties and early sixties. What Freud struggled to comprehend Roman Catholicism throughout its history has known instinctively and with a thoroughness that enabled it to raise the whole thing to the level of a system based on the most fundamental of recognitions: that working upon human sexuality is the way to attain complete dominance over the psyche. The systematic perfection of that labor depends on a single insight : wounding someone in their "soul" is the way one gains the greatest power over them; and one does it best when one takes what is most open, vulnerable, and loving in a child and exploits it to forge the bonds that will enslave that psyche, perhaps forever. The super-ego draws its force from that desperate love it has solicited so that it can appropriate the energies invested in that love in order to wage an attack upon the psyche and thereby eventually on life itself.

    Given the genius of Catholicism it should come as no surprise that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is the most popular fundamentalist work of our time, hailed and promoted by fundamentalist preachers. What seems odd at first given the fact that Gibson is not strictly speaking a fundamentalist but a reactionary Catholic on the warpath against Vatican II makes perfect sense when seen in terms of the libidinal structure of Gibson's film and the psychological needs it fuels. The long standing fundamentalist hatred of Catholicism is misplaced. Equally misplaced is the attempt to confine fundamentalism to preachers in the Bible-belt. Fundamentalism is on the rise today and takes many forms because it speaks to something that has long been active in Christianity, something that the old Church exemplified and that we may find impossible to expunge from Judeo-Christianity in general because the truth of the matter is the existence of a contiuum that finds fundamentalism in the position of the Hegelian Notion, the telos and immanent logos that develops through the course of Judeo-Christianity until it achieves in fundamentalism its proper and final form. Orwell offers the following definition of liberty: "Liberty is telling people what they don't want to hear." Is it time to extend that principle to religious belief in all its forms? A New Year's Resolution.


    (1) Charles Strozier, Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994).

    (2) Fundamentalist readings of Revelations are an exercise in interpretive ingenuity in service to an ox-like stupidity. Every image in the text must be literalized and attached to a specific event or person. So that in the grandest feat of fundamentalist interpretation everything in Revelations squares with specific details of contemporary history. But of course this effort requires its own revisionism since this operation must be performed repeatedly, as it has been in America by fundamentalists since the 1840's. The same drama, ever approaching, ever delayed (and more's the pity), with history and its participants made stock figures in an abstract allegory. In service to the fundamentalist dream: that grand day when it will all finally fall into place, no more disappointing prefigurements, but the real thing. The act of interpretation in such a framework is both mechanical and mad. The frantic search is always on for events that will tie down and confirm the bizarre images of Revelations since they provide the secret code to the meaning of history. Thus the fundamentalist as reader driven half-mad in the constant mental gymnastics required to puzzle the whole thing out then just as constantly revise the thing, as events dictate, with no way to stop playing this game.

    (3) It would be interesting to do a complete reading of Revelations as a psychological text; that is, one where the psyche of the author projects in the action of the text the inner drama that defines it. In John's case we have a repetition compulsion in which each attempt to express love is overcome by an eruption of rage. This rage, however, can never be successfully discharged. As a result it expands with each repetition. Only with a cataclysmic projection of total destruction can John finally rid himself of it in a way that enables him to end his book with an expression of love. But that love exacts a terrible price: it is only possible after this world has been destroyed.

    (4) Often for this to work a lot of sex is necessary. Under one condition : it must always be experienced as a fall into sinfulness, the disgust that the fornicator must feel toward him or herself as well as the other with whom one performs the act of darkness. This also offers an explanation of a new mutation in fundamentalism: the young college age fundamentalist who reportedly are also enjoying a frequent if not lively sex life on campus. Since their conversion came before they had a chance to sin, they must experience both sin and salvation at one and the same time in an idyllic space that is beyond the principle of contradiction. Thereby they become all the more fervent in their saved status the more they experience the mindlessness of a sinfulness they cannot permit to enter their consciousness the way genuine eros always does-as that which shatters all else with the demand to affirm and live out all that it puts one in touch with within oneself.

    Walter A. Davis is professor emeritus of English at Ohio State University. He is the author of Deracination: Historiocity, Hiroshima and the Tragic Imperative. This article is from a book Death's Dream Kingdom: The Amerikan Psyche Since 9-11 which is nearing completion and should be available in print by the end of the year. Reprinted from: counterpunch

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    Published on: 2005-01-10 (1364 reads)

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