I was brought up with sulphurous devotion: my mother committed to a demanding god who I was told loved me with such passion that I in my six year old faith believing that the world was put together harmoniously was shaken to inconsolable pieces once brought to the understanding that he was ready to torture me with the full fire and zealotry of unleashed paternal rage from the moment of my death if not before should I fail to follow his minute and contradictory instructions for returning his affections.
Neither this god nor my mother could bear to be doubted, to be the object anger or upset. These were always met with a ringing pronouncement of my shame. Only in retrospect can I see the momentary glance of abject defeat that came before or that is the glance at the time struck terror in me rather than compassion for myself or for her. Two children caught in a defensive struggle where only one could summon all the power and capricious skills of parenthood.
And a heavenly father so helpless in his deep offense at his ungrateful creation that he had no choice but to destroy it. Eventually. As though the longer he waits, the deeper the sea of ever-burning souls, the greater his comfort will be at having finally, at last, secured the love of all of what is left of the universe.
As children, so the Freudian narrative goes, we unconsciously wish for the death of our parents to the point even of dreaming their murder night after night. Our tormentors, our sole hope for survival. Our little images of the gods. Our prototypes for a lifetime of treacherous promises of salvation: from the death that surely would have taken us without their protection yes but more fundamentally from our deeply ashamed selves.
The paradox of seeking absolution from shame from those who cannot stop assigning shame out of their own desperate wishes to be relieved of theirs.
In its divine appearance the projection of the hungriest ghost arrives with a need for regard and assurance so gaping and hollow as to be unsatisfiable. It is invested with a destructive power that is absolute: the wet dream of would-be dictators whose fondest wish is to destroy all who have rejected them as well as anyone who might possibly reject them in the future. That this might include their own selves is only the most obvious suicidal thread in every tale of authoritarian purges of perceived enemies but it is closely bound up with the impossibility of surviving purification when one is already the embodiment of the persecuting enemy precisely because you were made not in their image but with their breath their caress their sweet address in your ear and whatever comfort they were able to give you when their fears subsided long enough to let you close.
Hungry ghost god–we may call them yaweh or jehovah but they carry other names as well–is adored by hundreds of millions. For centuries it kept grown European children comforted in the knowledge that they had escaped at least its wrath–if only temporarily and conditionally and subject to the whims of its representatives on earth but what else is white childhood made of but the effort to keep first our parents and then our authorities and of course god as well from discomfort lest they be unable to love anymore, lest they be forced to hit us with fists or switches or belts or repeated reminders of our shameful existence and their benevolence toward us so incomprehensible that they themselves cannot account for it and as for us we cannot predict what trespass might cause it to be switched off without notice or promise of being switched back on.
Europe they followed their tough loving Heavenly Father followed their straight-talking strong arming leaders all the way to Auschwitz so strong was their our conditioning that wickedness was born into them us and needed to be violently disciplined out before they we could be worthy of anyone’s regard be that regard outright respect or the barest of tolerance.
or the unzipping of jeans, the unbuckling belt. when the confusion of love with violent domination with the unthinkable desire to bond with all of life–life of a fallen world already accursed by its creator–finally overwhelm the bounds of what is called reason.
We here still trade our labor and profligate adoration for nothing certain at all only the promise that if we are not yet ok we but have to wait for all of our enemies to be killed or driven off and then finally we will have the unfettered opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of a little attention what you thought the reward would just be handed to you in the universe of our fathers this earth is so vengeful and petty that it will not provide a single ear of wheat for the asking only to those who pay for it only to those who pray for it who flail and lacerate their flesh until it cowers at the footsteps of the headman the fully erect enforcer.
Where are we going, we pattern seeking bundles of neurons pruned drastically in the first years of life to only those necessary: fight, flight, or freeze. you saw them on tv . we saw you on tv.
there was no question. I would love him back as told and I would love them back as told and so I did she his messenger his liaison his authority and blamelessness she my only hope for survival. the days spent scrutinizing her face the nights spent petitioning him to let me in on the secret the one that clearly he was withholding in order to watch me writhe.
I inject here a postscript: I would come at a surprisingly young age to realize that if I left him nothing would happen. other than giving up the possibility of ever speaking to her again or that is of speaking in a way that refused to give comfort in the place of honesty. which she could not bear then and can only sometimes ease into now.
we in the west have devised a fluorescing range of diseases for the neurologically distressed and we have a name for this one too: a name for the circular lists of enemies and friends and the limbo of sublists where friends wait to be made enemies or demi-enemies and foes are sentenced to sidelong probation we have a name for the adoration showered upon those who keep their mirrors shined and trained at just the right angle a name for the periodic droughts in that adoration only there are no periods not even chaotic ones nothing but raw unpredictability the provocational limits that never strike twice anywhere near one another except for when they do completely out of the blue.
this name though rarely is applied in any sensical way. only when the otherwise mundane violence exceeds usual bounds will the diagnosis be handed down and even then its classificatory powers lie in misdirection obfuscation distraction the spectacular excesses of rationalized pathology.
everyone here has narcissists for parents and everyone here is themselves a narcissist. probably most of us conduct our narcissism in a fairly disorderly way: such is the long inheritance of mammalian of reptilian of arachnid of microbial intelligence converging and diverging webs of stochastically divined and shifting millivoltage the potential in a single grain of salt to produce all the culture there has ever been or ever will be.
but we are not narcissists either. nobody is a narcissist and nobody has narcissism: are you feeling ok today no I have a bad cold and my narcissism is flaring up. it would be a digression to bring the whole western model of mental illness in for questioning were it not for the fact that the mentally ill scapegoat is central to so many of the feedback loops that drive a culture that has discarded notions of interconnectedness and replaced them with the ludicrous ideal of the compartmentalized, mechanical individual who is absolutely self-sufficient.
we tinker with sledgehammers and bludgeons where at least obsidian blades were less painful: as though an intelligent sensitive animal could be neatly repaired piece by piece.