I’ve told this story a thousand times. “Big Stinky,” my fraternity brother—that’s what we called him, and yeah, as a mere youth I joined a fraternity—he cracks open a Budweiser on Easter morning, looking out at the Gulf of Mexico in Biloxi, Mississippi, at 9:30 AM, and says, “Big day for you Christians. Get the fuck up.”
Now, over the half century since Big Stinky announced the dawn of a new day at such a remove from his home in Wisconsin, I’ve often wondered why his remarks made such an impression on me. To my knowledge, he was, in fact, a Christian, a Lutheran of German descent, which is how he landed at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a Lutheran affiliate, on a basketball scholarship. (He had a great jump shot, by the time he released the ball it was already eleven feet off the floor—he was 6″ 4″–making it impossible to defend, but he couldn’t stand the coach, so his college athletic career ended early and ignominiously, just like mine did.)
“Big day for you Christians,” he says, though, as if speaking to a congregation he’s left behind. I knew I wasn’t a Christian, then or now, in the sense that I thought Jesus was the Son of God—give me a fucking break—and I hadn’t been since junior high school (when I discovered Freud), but, like Big Stinky, I also knew, somehow, that there was something utterly fascinating and productive about this belief. I kept asking myself, What is it about you Christians? What makes you so weird and interesting?
On another Easter morning, at Passover, I might have an answer. Or at least a sermon, an educated guess, a reading of scripture It’s real simple, although Paul the Apostle, the main event in the New Testament, tried to complicate it.
God is a man. Think about that. God is dead because his only begotten Son, a man who lived and died a criminal on this earth, replaced the Father—something like Satan tried and failed to do, as per Milton’s Paradise Lost, where the Devil himself becomes the hero of an epic poem dedicated to the dutiful worship of the Almighty.
Only this time around, east of Eden, the rebellion succeeded. You might say that old Beelzebub created a world that could be remade, even renewed, by human purpose and effort–in a word, by work–but Jesus delivered on the Devil’s promise.
So conceived, there are two dangerous, incestuous, Oedipal relations at work here in the invention of Christianity, which turns on the resurrection. One pits Christians against Jews by insisting that Jesus, the Son of Man as he called himself, was not merely the messiah but the replacement of the other-worldly deity who made us monotheistic in the first place.
The worship of God now becomes nothing but the love of your neighbor—the axis of eros becomes horizontal, not vertical, tilting the earth differently, toward this life rather than the next, away from the study of gods and toward the understanding of each other. Call them prophets.
The other dangerous, incestuous, Oedipal relation that comes of Christian belief, and this may be the same thing, is its murderous attitude toward God himself, or rather the rules he originally delivered by way of Moses. The Law of the Father now becomes an impediment to the realization of faith in God. Jesus said as much, according to the Gospels, Augustine did, too, and so did his later Protestant adherents—Luther, especially, but also Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, and other makers of the Great Awakening in North America, and beyond them Hegel and his heir apparent.
The resurrection signifies the rebirth of Man and the death of God. Happy Easter.