Rape and Pillage: The Sacred Marriage and the Gospel of John, Take One

The Christian version of the new creation as told in the Gospel of John completes the transition from pre-Western to Western consciousness – a symbolic journey which began in the dark mysteries of the great Mother and moved through the various iterations of the Sacred Marriage to finally arrive at the current version of the story — which reads like wife abuse and an ugly custody battle leading up to an acrimonious divorce.

From a survival strategy based on a worldview which saw all life as dependent on a Sacred Nature, humanity evolved a new survival strategy – a strategy which focused on the domination of a desacralized nature (land) and the conquest of the people most closely associated with nature and the land (women, farmers, peasants, campesinos, etc.). Western culture moved away from a reality which placed the highest value on life-giving activities: the care and feeding of plant, animal, and human life, and constructed a new reality where the highest survival value was given to life-taking activities: the conquest of land and the extermination or enslavement or colonizing of the people on that land. Why did this happen? Is Western humanity cruel and perverse?
The answer is that circumstances change and cultures adapt to changing circumstances. (Of course, it could be argued that different peoples adapt differently to changing circumstances – and that Western culture did not have to take such a cruel turn, but nothing succeeds like success and it can’t be argued that Western culture has not been successful.) It could even be claimed that this evolution in survival strategies was natural, given the dramatic change in human circumstances in the ANE. The old agricultural values put a premium on understanding Nature and her ways as a way of guaranteeing a food supply. The new value system put a premium on conquest and domination as a way of guaranteeing a food supply. The old value system — which sustained a pastoral way of life, promoted the growth of new human populations and physically structured society in small groups with women and children at the center and male activities at the periphery — no longer worked in urban centers, where men’s work had taken center stage and women’s work had migrated to the margin.

A new survival strategy was needed to support the dense populations which no longer had direct access to food and water. Urban life, whether it be contemporary New York or ancient Rome, requires that the staples of life — food, water, and other raw materials — be brought in from outside the city gates; urban survival, therefore, requires not only the control of the surrounding land, but the control of the labor of those who till that land, and the control of the product of that land. And to get the kind of cooperation needed from their country cousins, urban societies often turned to military force. Urban life, then, required a survival strategy and a value system based on centralized authority and dominance and obedience.

The new urban consciousness marked the dawn of a new creation, Urban or Western Man — a human elite – whose destiny was to dominate and exploit a world made up of a completely passive, totally desacralized nature as well as various and assorted conquered peoples. The world of Western Man was characterized by oppositions: “Man and Nature,” “Us and Them,” “Mind and Matter,” “Male and Female,” “Spirit and Body” – where Man in fact meant the human male, with woman as some sort of subset, caught between nature and full humanity. To be fully human meant to be male – a male of the ruling class. Finally, it posited a new take on Life itself – desacralizing the immanent, real, actual life of the flesh and creating and making sacred a new, transcendent life of the mind/spirit. Only in this way could the wholesale slaughter of real flesh and blood bodies be stomached — and justified.

In this new reality, the highest honor went not to she who bestowed life, but to he who was willing to both die and kill for a “higher” cause – such as the will of the emperor or the will of God (which were often believed to be one and the same). Christian symbology, with its all male cast of characters (Father, Son, Holy Spirit ) undergirds this new consciousness and gives Western male human beings the psychological tools and chutzpah they needed to create a new imperial world order. As John so clearly demonstrates, at the cosmic level “divide and conquer “are the order of the day, tacitly giving the go ahead for the strategy of divide and conquer on the earthly plane.

In John’s version of Christianity, Nature, so prominent a figure in pagan religions of the day, has become invisible, replaced by the World, the environment of the flesh. All that is left of the old pagan creation is “uncreated, unborn humanity” – a humanity which has been born of woman’s flesh, but which needs to be “saved” — to be “born again” of the Father’s spirit in order to be truly alive – to participate in Transcendent Life.

In John, the symbol for the new creation is twofold: Christ – the Son of the Father — and a new, born again humanity. The born again children of God, who make up God’s Kingdom (or Empire) exist in opposition to the children of the flesh, the creatures of Satan, the inhabitants of the World (the children who have only been born on the physical plane, from the body of the mother/Mother) –- the not fully human.

The setting for the patriarchal Christian creation story has changed from the pastoral world of pagan and Hebrew myth to the political world of power struggles. The “real world” struggle is between the traditional Jews and pagan gentiles on the one hand and the “Christianized” Jews and gentiles who make up the Johannine community on the other. The deeper, subterranean, struggle is a war between the symbologies of the Mother and the Father. For, in spite of the Hebrew Bible’s attempt to do the Mother in, her power was still hanging on by a thread. As Ashoreth, She had even shown up in the temple, greatly exercising Jeremiah. Something more drastic was needed to subdue her and eradicate the value system she represented.

To get rid of the Sacred Mother once and for all and establish a new and revolutionary system of values, John takes the symbology associated with the Great Mother and the Sacred Marriage and turns it on its head: The story of the Father’s Son, the crucified Christ, is a retelling of the story of the Mother’s Son, the Dying and Rising God. (See the Sacred Marriage.) In John’s version, the Masculine Principle splits death from life, arrogates to himself the role of source of life and ground of being, divorces the feminine principle (who needs her?), identifies her with death and destruction, and, casting her out into the darkness, renames her “World.” As a final blow, he takes custody of Son, and enters into a custody battle for the rest of her children.

In John, the transcendent male spiritual being known as God – who as we know from the Sacred Marriage is the source of the seminal, life-giving Seed — redefines both source and life: the Source is the Father, not the Mother, and Life has moved from the realm of Immanent Nature to the realm of the Transcendent Spirit. John unambiguously proclaims: “God is Spirit” (John 4:25). “It is the spirit which gives life; the flesh [and the entire natural world] is useless” (John 6:63). Well, it doesn’t get much clearer than that.

To be a child of God the Father, one must be born again of the father (not the mother), born from heaven above (not from earth below), born of the spirit (not of the flesh) (1:12-13). John’s strange and unique use of birth imagery in relation to the Father gives his readers the subliminal message that as source of life, the Feminine Principle and everything she is associated with (Woman/Earth/Nature/Flesh/Material World) has been bested and replaced.

Where the immanent Mother had been understood as the source of temporal and material life as well as the locus of death — as the ground of being from whose body we all are born, to whose body we all return, and through whose endless cycles of birth and death a sort of collective immortality was achieved — the Father is presented as the source of an eternal spiritual life and an enemy of death. Where pagan religions had glorified the Mother/Son relationship, in John, the Father/Son relationship is defined and glorified. John makes clear that the Son’s home is in Heaven with his Father (not Earth – the home of the Mother). He is from “above” not of this world. Where the Mother/Son relationship had been based on birth, sex, and death, the Father/Son relationship is based on identity – the Father and Son are One.

Yet, the Father and the Son have different functions: the Heavenly Father has taken over the role of ground of being, which had been the role of Mother Nature. However, the Father, unlike the Mother – living in Heaven as he does – is a little out of touch with the earth and has no way to get the seed of “life transcendent” into the World. The Father can only be known in the World through his Son who descends from Heaven and becomes flesh in order to bring the gift of the Holy Spirit – which as it turns out is yet another facet of this new God. The Holy Spirit is the seed which is left in the world after the departure of the Son (much as the semen is left in the womb after the departure of the … you get the picture) to help populate the new creation of God’s Kingdom. And so, to sum up, we have the patriarchal Holy Trinity: the Testicular Father, the Phallic son, and the Seminal Holy Spirit. The locus of life has definitively moved from the womb of the Mother to the “male package.”

In John, with so much emphasis on the Father and the Son and the Spirit (tr. sometimes as advocate), one might be led to believe that the Mother has disappeared without a trace. But if one looks closely, she is still there. Although the Father has appropriated (and transformed) the qualities formerly associated with the Mother, he did not leave her with nothing (Would that he had!). She still had her body (Earth) and her now decidedly negative (if not downright “icky”) bodily functions: gestating, giving birth to and nourishing flesh and earthly life, and dying. She is become “the World.” Although at the beginning of John (3:16), the World is characterized as loved by God (“For God so loved the World” — a Freudian slip arising from ideas associated with the sacred marriage??), as the Gospel progresses, the position of the World deteriorates rapidly. It stands “in a state of alienation and condemnation characterized by darkness, death, sin, slavery, and falsehood” (Moody).

In the drama of the Sacred Marriage, the Son of the Mother enters the Mother in sex and death to create new biological life. In John’s gospel, the Son of the Father enters the World to create new “everlasting life” (3:16). To enter the World, the Son must become flesh and to become flesh from John’s standpoint, and the standpoint of eternal life, is to be dead. So, the Son’s entry into the World is true to the associations of sex and death contained within the Sacred Marriage. From this point on, however, the story of Christ’s relationship with the World departs significantly from the script of the Sacred Marriage. For, in spite of John 3:16, this is no love story. It is rather a story of invasion and conquest (16:33); it is the taking rather than the giving of children. The Son’s goal is to tear the children from the arms of World and Flesh and transform them into the children of the Father and Spirit. Through the offices of the Son and the message of the Spirit, the children of the World become delegitimized and invalidated until they are born again. There is no love or mutual respect. This transaction resembles rape and pillage more than it does a marriage. She is the necessary evil. Without the World to give them fleshly birth, there would be no children to transform and populate the kingdom. St. Augustine’s theorizing to the contrary, there is no such thing as creatio ex nihilo.

The new creation which results from the Son’s entry into the World occurs as a result of division from the World, rather than union with it – a division which divides the children of light (clearly a reference to pagan Sun symbolism) from the darkness of the sinful World. “All things came into being through him [the Son] and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being through him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (1:3-6).

In describing this division in terms of light and dark, John alludes to images of creation from Genesis. But John’s version of creation is in sharp contrast to the creation story in Genesis. As in Genesis, light and dark are separated to create a new world, but where in Genesis light and dark are contained within the new creation, in John, the new creation of en-light-ened believers is separate from the dark and from the World. John’s new creation includes only the children of God, who have been separated out from the death and darkness of unbelief. The creation of all biological life, which is the goal of the Sacred Marriage and God’s creative act in Genesis, in John is narrowly translated into the creation of an exclusive human community of believers. Unbelievers are consigned to uncreaton, to the World. As to the rest of creation –earth and the natural world — it is not even worth mentioning.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.