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The Flagellant

There are a lot of wonderful things to say about Christianity and Christians. I’ve said some of them before. So now I’m going to sternly warn a small segment of the population that is not-so-wonderful. For its own good.

Among the many sane and normal and wonderful Christians of the world, there is a specific group of Christians who are mad. They are insane. They seem like the average sort who are concerned with keeping up with the Joneses, meaning they’re not especially pious or concerned with that scripture actually means. They’re almost never antimaterialist, they’re almost never anticapitalist, though I think that were Jesus alive he’d say consumerist civilization is, in its present form, actually antihuman and dehumanizing enough to reject full-stop.

But when you look at this mad group, you realize that their insanity goes deeper than you imagined. It actually involves the opposite of keeping up with the Joneses. It involves a desire to keep the Joneses up with oneself: to be vigilant in the observation of others’ morality, to spy and nitpick and complain to higher-ups when any are available (for, in the eyes of these simpleminded folks, the Great Chain of being is still real as an idea, and hierarchically upward is heavenward). They tattle to your girlfriend or wife, if there isn’t a boss around. They observe all with eyes like big scoops searching for the sins and weaknesses of other people. And they lock themselves in their rooms, whipping their own backs and drooling lasciviously over the bloodiest bits of the bible, thus eliminating anything interesting or fun—read: anything tempting them to sin—out of their lives. This is how they maintain their pitiful ostensible objectivity.

For such examples as I’ve met lately, the saddest part is that their moral codes are little more than a form of gameplay: I am observing “the rules” and the Joneses aren’t, they reason. When they can, they institute in the form of law what they can manage to enforce on everyone. (This is what is happening in America now, and it seems even the Pope is busy at this game now.) When they cannot, for whatever reason, gain access to totalizing repression, what they do is fidn any excuse to accuse others of deviation from some shared code of morality—such as professionalism—and push till they get the result they want… either a call from above for more professionalism, or a standard, “But we are being professional, dammit!” response, in response to which they can feign surprise.

It is as if these people are so unhappy self-flagellating in their little apartments at night that they need to make sure nobody else is enjoying life. “What? Why aren’t you self-flagellating as I do daily?” they cry out with every action, except of course that their self-flagellation is psychological. In their torturous self-examinations, these people learn a lot about human psychology. Therefore, you should be careful of the flagellant, her bright friendly smile and her feigned innocence and ostensible concern.

I said I would warn the flagellant, and now I shall, in case the one I am thinking of right now happens upon my website.

Dear Flagellant,

Don’t think we’re not smart enough to know what you’re up to—let alone thinking we fail to see through your brightshinyhappy appearance to the roiling, miserable mess within. We see that all too clearly. When you disdainfully pronounce the word fun; when you take every chance to nose in on others’ business. When you pronounce implicit judgments couched in terms so polite and so mundane that anyone who didn’t know you would think them innocent, don’t imagine us so blind as to not see to the simpering, whining, pathetic flagellant locked alone in a room, desperate, afraid, and alone. We see you all too well, we pity you, but unless you emerge from that anchorite’s chamber, there is nothing anyone can do for you.

In the meantime, Flagellant, keep away from our lives, our business. We live in a world of natural light, joy and bodies and sex and mistakes and music that makes us weep and poems that fail to refer to anyone’s deity. We live in a world where freedom is embraced as the most precious gift, where the body is sacred and so is lust and so is the right to embrace, to relax, to refuse to measure up to a standard nobody believes in regardless of all the lip service they proffer. The world we live in is not your world, and your rejection of it is not something you’ll ever force upon us. You may find a daddy-figure to reprimand us for you; you may find the odd string to pull. All these distractions from the state of your own ailing, failing spirit will amount to nothing, Flagellant.

And, poor misguided pathetic Flagellant, try as you may, you ought to know know that you can never, ever win against us. You have your wounds and your tiny, box-packed faith on your side. On ours we have life, and the world, and everyone you’d cram into your little cells. So you can never, ever win.

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