Having recently visited Paris one cannot escape the fascinating and brutal history of the French revolution and the reign of terror, in which the angry, hungry and oppressed middle class rose up against the monarchy, tried the King and Queen for Treason and promptly executed them by guillotine. Altogether over 2000 nobles were beheaded or shot as France transitioned to a republic in the late 1700s.
Marie Antoinette was a curious figure in this time of history. Child bride at 14, the Austrian princess once caused a riot when she appeared in public such that 30 people died. Famous for her lavish lifestyle, popular and loved, how could it be that only 20 years later she was executed by her own people?
Have you seen someone adored and loved, however in time cast down from public favour? In an earlier Bear Skin post, I reflected on Why Do We Love Royalty, finding that we humans look always to role-models and heroes, even amongst our own mortal peers, willingly ascribing to them almost divine attributes. However, this adoration lasts so long as the one we adore and elevate can sustain our admiration and uphold our well being. As history has shown, those in power, while the most loved and adored, are also the subject of frequent efforts to overthrow or humiliate should they show any lack of perfection.
In many monarch states, legislation such as The Treason Act 1351, ensures that dissidents who seek to overthrow the monarch are punished by death. This law protects one in power even if unwise, underage, elderly or infirm, and sustains the ruler by right rather than merit. They are to be succeeded only by the heir-apparent. This secures a stability of leadership transfer, however, monarchies have still suffered overthrow if these rulers do not respect the rights of the people they represent, as the French Revolution so bitterly demonstrated.
In more pedestrian social dynamics, we find the emergence of the “queen bee” or “alpha male” types who attain status among peers by natural wit, good looks, dominant personalities and a forceful manner. This “rule of law” works to ensure adoration in so far as humans willingly cede power to one they feel a role model of leadership. To maintain status, these “Queen Bees” and “Alphas” learn soon to keep others under their power by humiliating and dominating with put downs and insults. Oddly this plays into the psychology of many sycophants, who are simply looking for someone, anyone to lead, and their mistreatment only an affirmation of their low self esteem. However, there are always some who will rise up in resistance to such bullying and either, face exclusion from the pack, or will overthrow the dominant personality and take their place.
Many fairy stories contain the “archetypal nightmare” of the “wicked step-mother,” a person in power who does not seek the welfare of the child but one who seeks their demise. Since true parents willingly self-sacrifice for their children, and make way for their child to grow by diminishing their own glory, a “step-parent” is the very embodiment of a nightmare, a monster parent who seeks the death of the very child which would grow to flourish and take their place.
In the struggle for alpha status, adoration of leaders comes with a conditional clause, that this powerholder maintain status so long as they sustain one’s own life. As one grows to maturity, the alpha’s status is threatened, meaning one has little recourse except to execute or abandon the god-king which holds one under its grip. That is unless the leader has a parental love for his or her people, making way for their growth and flourishing with self sacrifice.
In life, it seems we seek a king, we adore the king but later, more often than not we need to “kill the king” in order to prevent “being killed by the king”.
Why does this happen? And what is the solution?
In the Hebrew scriptures, the Israelites were a family of tribes with no king until they saw the nations around and began to clamour for one.
YHWH resisted stating through the prophet Samuel, ‘
…..He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. …He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.
When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.
But still the Hebrews wanted a king and so they were granted one. Little did they know that they created something that they would later wish to kill.
At at time when the Jews celebrate the passover and the memorial of being released from slavery in Egypt, Jesus claims to be the King of Israel was both met by acclaim and hatred. The tension reached a crescendo the Friday night of Shabbat of the passover feast, and the people surrendered him to the Roman authorities to be executed.
The supreme irony is that within the Hebrew narrative, YHWH created humanity to be a nation of kings, a tribe of priests without a monarch and yet the Jews clamoured for a ruler.
In Luke’s gospel, two men walking out of Jerusalem after the Passover feast, met a mysterious man who accompanied them. They explained to the stranger what had transpired and how the hopes of their nation were dashed when the religious elite had arrested and executed the one who would liberate his people. Christ, then in disguise, asked the companions,
…How slow are your hearts to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then to enter His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was written in all the Scriptures about Himself.…
When the Israelites felt oppressed by rulers, the located their anger on the man-god who claimed to liberate them. Perhaps most profoundly we find that the Israelites did not in fact “kill the King” but that the King, like any loving parent, willingly gave his life up for them to come into the realisation of their own royalty and fulfilment.
The Death of Socrates is recounted in several ancient works including Plato’s dialogue “Phaedo” and “The Apology” and in Xenophon’s “The Apology of Socrates to the Jury“.
Socrates death by execution in 399 BC is credited to be a point from which western philosphy can find its origins. The classical Greek philosopher and teacher was put on trial and executed for “corrupting” the youth of Athens. His crimes – to introduce strange gods and for “impiety“, disbelieving in the gods of the state.
In fact, Socrates disagreed with the powerholders of Athens and refused to be silenced. Instead of accepting what he perceived as immorality within his region, he questioned their notion of “might makes right“. His attempts to improve the Athenians’ sense of justice led to his trial and death.
Socrates defended his role as a “gadfly” – a small creature that stings but spurs a beast into action.
At his trial, when Socrates was asked to propose his own punishment, he suggested a wage paid by the government and free dinners for the rest of his life instead, to finance the time he spent as Athens’ benefactor.
He was, however, found guilty of both corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and of impiety and subsequently sentenced to death by drinking a mixture containing poison hemlock.
Shortly before his death, Socrates spoke his last words to Crito:
Crito, we owe a rooster to Aesclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.
Aesclepius was the Greek god for health and healing, and it is likely Socrates’ last words meant that death is the cure—and freedom, of the soul from the body.
Additionally, in Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths, Robin Waterfield proposes that Socrates was a voluntary scapegoat; his death was the purifying remedy for Athens’ misfortunes.
Interestingly, the Rod of Aesclepius, and the symbol of places of healing throughout the Greek world, was a snake curled around a stick. The symbol to this day is associated with health and health care.
Some commentators have linked the symbol to the serpent wrapped around a pole mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Numbers (Numbers 21:5–9).
9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked upon the serpent of brass, he lived.
King Hezekiah, 700 years later destroyed the copper serpent because it was being worshiped (2 Kings 18:4).
The motif appears again as a symbol of healing in the New Testament, this time a messianic symbol found in John 3:14–15.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Fascinating parallels emerge. Socrates, perished, a voluntary scapegoat. His death was to him, and to generations subsequent, a cure, a freedom from the tyranny of odious traditions and false wisdom. Western philosophy has forever been indebted to the iconoclast for his steadfast dedication to inquiry, justice, and the rights of the common man.
At another turning point in history, Christ died, a voluntary scapegoat for the ills of his people. His death too has been for generations subsequent, a cure, freedom from the tyranny of odious traditions, false wisdom and well …….eternal death.
Oscar Wilde’s 1890 philosophical novel, tells of a young man, Dorian, whose stunning beauty captures the attention of artist Basil Hallward.
Dorian sits for a portrait with the artist and there he encounters Lord Henry Wotton.
Wotton introduces Dorian to his hedonistic philosophy in which beauty is the only aspect of life worth pursuing. Dorian influenced by Wotton and wishing his beauty would never fade, agrees to sell his soul to preserve it.
His wager entails him wishing the painting, not himself, to bear the ravages of age.
This achieved, Dorian lives a libertine and amoral lifestyle, remaining beautiful and young.
His first crime is to break the heart of actress Sibyl; after this Dorian notes a cold sneer appear in the portrait’s face.
18 years pass, and Dorian’s debauchery gains him renown. Basil the artist seeks out Dorian to ask him whether the rumours are true.
Dorian does not deny it but shows Basil the painting in the locked room. Both men are astonished by the hideous visage of the portrait and in anger Dorian stabs the artist, considering him responsible for the whole endeavour.
Dorian encounters James, the brother of Sibyl, intent on revenging her death due to heartbreak.
Fleeing James he seeks to reform his ways but find even while seeking to do good, his pride makes the picture uglier and uglier.
At last in desperation, Dorian seeks to destroy the painting and all evidence of his ugliness. He takes a knife and stabs the painting.
Servants awake to hear a cry in the locked room and upon entry, find an ugly old man stabbed in the heart on the floor and the picture of youthful Dorian, beside him.
Literary critics and philosophers have noted the story’s moral question:
If we do evil and not suffer the consequences of our actions, then who or what does?
Is it our society that suffers the hidden insults and slights of our pleasure seeking and pride?
Or the planet?
This story cuts to the core of the current consciousness of karma, in which our selfishness and greed store up consequences for us and affect our society and planet. The solution lies in selfless living and good deeds.
But what the story of Dorian Gray points out, is that even in moral reform and good deeds, Dorian gained ugliness through pride.
The solution lies unresolved by the tragic novel.
There is another story of one who bore our likeness, who took on the evil that we create in our daily self-seeking and pride. This one, when we realised our guilt, we struck down to die.
In doing so we cut our selves to the core.
The Christ story does not stop here, with our own death, caused by our own vice. The story tells us, that Christ took the death for us that we might retain youth and innocence.
What is the exchange for such a price you might ask?
Simply the acknowledgement that the one who lay dying, died for us. To deny it, simply means we are keeping the painting in a locked room.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness painMy sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,But being too happy in thine happiness,—That thou, light-winged Dryad of the treesIn some melodious plotOf beechen green, and shadows numberless,Singest of summer in full-throated ease.–//–
The songbird is a happy nightingale, a voice that compels the narrator to join with in and forget the sorrows of the world. However, Keats had recently suffered the loss of his brother. The song’s conclusion represents the result of trying to escape into the realm of fantasy.
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forgetWhat thou among the leaves hast never known,The weariness, the fever, and the fretHere, where men sit and hear each other groan;Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;Where but to think is to be full of sorrowAnd leaden-eyed despairs,Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.–//–
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,But on the viewless wings of Poesy,Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:Already with thee! tender is the night,And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;But here there is no light,Save what from heaven is with the breezes blownThrough verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.–//–
The nightingale described within the poem experiences a type of death but does not actually die. Instead, the songbird is capable of living through its song, which is a fate that humans cannot expect.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a timeI have been half in love with easeful Death,Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,To take into the air my quiet breath;Now more than ever seems it rich to die,To cease upon the midnight with no pain,While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroadIn such an ecstasy!Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—To thy high requiem become a sod.
Keats imagines the loss of the physical world and sees himself dead—as a “sod” over which the nightingale sings. The contrast between the immortal nightingale and mortal man, sitting in his garden, is made all the more acute by his imagination.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!No hungry generations tread thee down;The voice I hear this passing night was heardIn ancient days by emperor and clown:Perhaps the self-same song that found a pathThrough the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,She stood in tears amid the alien corn;The same that oft-times hathCharm’d magic casements, opening on the foamOf perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.–//–Forlorn! the very word is like a bellTo toll me back from thee to my sole self!Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so wellAs she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fadesPast the near meadows, over the still stream,Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deepIn the next valley-glades:Was it a vision, or a waking dream?Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?–//–
The poem ends with an acceptance that pleasure cannot last and that death is an inevitable part of life. To Keats there is something eternal in the contemplation of Beauty alone.
The poem celebrates what Keats described in a letter to his brothers as “negative capability.”
….that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason ……… with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.
On average a person speaks:
16,000 words a day
roughly 6,000,000 a year
or 480,000,000 in a lifetime
(not counting tweets, SMS, FB, or email)
What will you build or destroy with yours today?
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21)
Of late, the Australian media has been alive with opinion, grief and outrage about the execution of two young Australian men in Indonesia.
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran were arrested in 2005 and found guilty for leading a ring of drug smugglers to take 8kg of heroin out of Indonesia and into Australia.
On April 29th 2015, the pair were executed by firing squad in the early hours of the morning along with 5 other prisoners.
Reports have emerged that the seven prisoners refused blindfolds and faced their executioners singing hymns such as ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘How Great is Our God’.
This article published by The Age sums up well how faith and immersion in the narrative of Christianity led these men to display such courage in the face of death.
The role of faith before the firing squad
By Simon Smart.
It is hard to imagine the final thoughts of Andrew Chan as he waited, tied to a stake, for bullets to tear into his flesh and swiftly bring his life to a violent, inglorious end. If you contemplate this even briefly you can sense something of the chilling terror of that moment. It’s a tragedy when any life ends prematurely, but somehow the cold mechanical intentionality of execution carries an especially grave weight. Australians have been feeling that weight of late, despite the fact that executions are routine in various parts of the world, including in the United States.
Chan famously became a Christian in jail, studied theology, and right up until his transportation to Nusakambangan Island led the English worship service in Kerobokan prison. In recent weeks he was ordained as a minister of the church. He attributed his radically changed life entirely to his religious conversion.
Not everyone buys it. “Jailhouse religion” is a pejorative term for crims finding God in the slammer in the hope of a reprieve or better treatment. There have been some notorious ones. Charles “Tex” Watson, Charles Manson’s right-hand man, has been a Christian since 1975 and these days, despite being unlikely to ever be released is an ordained minister. Even serial killer Ted Bundy claimed a dramatic conversion on his way to the electric chair.
But as his appointment with death loomed, Australians became familiar with the stories of Chan, (along with fellow convicted drug trafficker Myuran Sukumaran), having become a model prisoner and an inspiration to other inmates to clean up their acts and get involved in meaningful pursuits rather than waste away.
And while myriad voices, from politicians to celebrities of various stripes have “stood for mercy” and begged for forgiveness, others have resolutely focused on the victims of the drug trade and the many lives that stood to suffer irreparable damage had the infamous shipment of heroin made it through customs in Australia a decade ago. These people are finding it hard to feel much sympathy for the condemned pair, believing Chan and Sukumaran’s perilous journey was utterly selfish. They knew the risks and simply had to accept the punishment.
Chan certainly faced up to his crime and accepted that he was profoundly in the wrong when he embarked on that ill-advised venture as a 21-year-old. The Christian faith that he claimed as his own has never been about a gathering of the “good people”, rather it is more like the “league of the guilty”, as Francis Spufford called it – the solidarity of those who know they need forgiveness and redemption.
Chan considered his former life a waste and of no benefit to anyone, and it was in reading the Bible that he came to see the value of being a blessing to others. Despite his incarceration he interpreted his conversion as being set free from the inside. He is now famous for being such a calming and life-affirming presence among the other prisoners that even the Korobokan prison governor was one of those appealing for a last-minute reprieve.
Close observers have noted how calm and positive the 31-year-old Chan – who married his fiancée on the eve of his execution – remained right to the end. Jeff Hammond was for four years a spiritual counsellor and pastor to Chan. After visiting him for the last time Hammond told Fran Kelly at ABC Radio National: “He’s got a peace within his own heart … his hope whether he lives or whether he dies [is] that the fruit that he’s been able to produce will continue to be a blessing to other people.”
What do we make of this hope that Chan carried with him right up to his death? It’s fair to say that if there is no God and his radically changed life was all the result of some grand illusion then the whole sorry episode does begin to look like a meaningless waste for all involved. More broadly such a lack must mean that there is no hope for ultimate justice or mercy for any of us. And perhaps that’s right and we need to face it. Religion as a crutch is a familiar trope for those who aren’t convinced of its substance.
But if Chan was onto something all those years ago when, in solitary confinement, he first sensed God alongside him as he read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, then he joins many others who have gone to their deaths in similar circumstances, not glad of the fate that awaited them, but hopeful, even confident that through their death they were in fact being ushered into life; that they were in a mysterious but profound sense going home.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German theologian executed by the Nazis for his part in a plot to kill Hitler, died when he was 39 years old and engaged to be married. The Nazis sent him to the gallows at Flossenbürg concentration camp two weeks before it was liberated. As he was led away from his cell he is reported to have said to another prisoner, “This is the end … For me, the beginning of life.” It is the very idea that gave Chan a reason not to utterly despair as he stood to face the dreaded line of rifles pointed cruelly in his direction.
Given the torment and unimaginable stress of recent months when any night a knock on his cell door could signal the end, perhaps he also felt the release of a weight built up over a decade of anguished expectation expressed immortally by Dickens’ Sydney Carton on his way to the gallows in A Tale of Two Cities, “It is a far far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
Simon Smart is director of the Centre for Public Christianity. He is the co-author with Jane Caro, Antony Loewenstein, and Rachel Woodlock of For God’s Sake – an atheist, a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Debate Religion.
You can read the original article here: http://www.theage.com.au/national/the-role-of-faith-before-the-firing-squad-20150428-1mvl8b.html?stb=fb