At this time of year I like to take stock, it’s much cheaper to get something off the back of a truck than in the Boxing Day sales.
Anyway, it’s fashionable, almost a right of passage, in left circles to dismiss religion, God and all that. After all, it is the opiate of the masses. However, highlighting how organised religion is used as a tool of hegemonic control does not mean we should just abandon the field. The history of religion is as much the history of revolutionaries, radicals and heretics as it is the history of reactionaries, conservatives and ideologues. Besides, how can we win the war of position without claiming some of the religious ground?
And today is supposed to be JC’s birthday. Christmas, now though, functions as a celebration of consumerism. We are encouraged to consume. Buy commodities. Eat them. Give them to others. Give them to yourself. Wallow in glorious overconsumption as you have completed your duty to grow the economy and inflate retail sales. Nominally it’s supposed to be the celebration of the birth of the Messiah (I’m sure some very naughty boys were also born on this day too). That probably ended around the time Coca-Cola marketed a big fat guy in a red suit distributing commodities, and more commodities. Only the real ones though.
Although, having this major Christian feast so close to the winter solstice is surely no accident. In pagan times this was also a major winter festival around the time of the northern hemisphere’s shortest day of the year. The darkest depths of winter were a period of starvation. So on the day the night was longest you’d sacrifice a lamb or two to get you through the long nights – the sacrificial lambs died so the village may live on (sound familiar). It was also helpful that the alcohol you brewed in the summer was ready about now. It also helps that life (Easter) is reborn around spring time in the northern hemisphere.
Today we are left with a celebration of capitalism, founded on the birth of the Messiah built on an ancient celebration of the winter solstice – your wine had fermented and you culled the cattle to get through the depths of winter so why not have a celebration? But we should not abandon the symbolism, texts, stories and traditions of pre-capitalist times. While they are not the signs of proto-utopian societies, if we stretch our minds past our present way of seeing and into the past, it can provide a way of slinging us into the future.
Take this Jesus guy. Whether Messiah, historical teacher or a collection of stories there is some interesting lessons in accounts of his life written well after his life. Take for example the story of the money changers in the Temple. He was outraged at the usury going on his Father’s temple – that traders could be profiting off people’s worship that he overturned their tables. He took violent direct action against the exploitation of ordinary people. That’s not something you hear evangelical preachers talking about that often when they tell your money is a reward for your morality (and that God hates fags).
Another example is the feeding of the 5,000. We can’t really be expected to think that 5,000 people were fed with a handful of loaves and fishes. But it’s a powerful account of how far a little bit of sharing and generosity can go towards making sure there’s enough for all of us. Today for me though it feels as if every time I go to drink some water it’s actually magically wine (read beer).
If I’ve learned anything over the course of the year though, is that if you want to advance the cause of justice then you have to have blatant disregard for the world of Caesar.
If Christmas teaches us anything it is this – we need to be prepared to give up all worldly attachments in the fight for justice. Sitting in the Supreme Court of Victoria, being accused of a union thuggery and violence I never felt more just in my life. I was at peace with losing any meagre possessions I had. It’s not that I’m sort of super moral aesthete – it’s that I came to realise that you should enjoy worldly experiences while they’ll slip past you pretty quickly as you keep going down the river of life.
If we really count ourselves as serious about creating change, we must be prepared to sacrifice our possessions, our property and our bodies. Without being prepared to give up everything we cannot hope to gain anything. We must be prepared to enjoy the feast before the long famine of the dark night.
For the only way to win the world is to be prepared to lose it.