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bored after-dinner writing: a freudian easter

April 8, 2012

Ah, Easter. The season of Cadbury eggs, people in rabbit suits, and never ending replays of King of Kings. A time meant for reflection upon the almost unbelievable account of one man’s victory over death itself, who Paul taunts by asking, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” But while Paul’s words at 1 Cor 15:55 refer specifically to Jesus’ resurrection, I see within them a deeper, existential challenge to the seemingly final end of life, and to the eternal emptiness that threateningly looms beyond.

At some deep, subconscious level, there’s a constant fear of death buried within the human heart, a fear embedded in its deepest, darkest recesses by eons of evolution, an overwhelming instinct to survive. And this fear of death, of nonexistence, translates into love of life, a defiance of death, and a desire to live in some way forever, a desire for immortality. And in the story of Jesus’ resurrection, we have the personification of this desire for immortality, and the promise of complete victory over death. It’s a comforting image, and it’s difficult not to appreciate that the idea of his resurrection resonances with many on a deeply emotional level regardless of its actual occurrence. I, too, find it a stirring tale.

On the other hand, as strange as it may seem on the face of it, I find a part of myself agreeing with Goethe’s Mephistopheles in his preference for the promise of eternal emptiness:

A foolish word, bygone.
How so then, gone?
Gone, to sheer Nothing, past with null made one!
What matters creative endless toil,
When, at a snatch, oblivion ends the coil?
‘It is bygone’— How shall this riddle run?
As good as if things never had begun,
Yet circle back, existence to possess:
I’d rather have Eternal Emptiness.

And this antithetical dichotomy of extreme positivism and negativism immediately brings to mind Freud’s conception of Eros and Thanatos, love and death. The former, Eros, love, libido, or whatever you want to call it, was seen by Freud as a constructive and binding force, and corresponds to our innate drive to survive, our love of life, and in this case, our desire for immortality in the form of the resurrected Jesus. The latter, Thanatos or the death drive, which Freud thought the root of our aggressive and self-destructive tendencies, corresponds to Mephistopheles’ poetic praise of eternal emptiness, of complete and utter annihilation, our self-destructive behaviour in the form of Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and the Roman soldiers who crucified him.

It may be a bit of a stretch, but I can’t help thinking that a Hegelian or Marxist versed in Freud, or vice versa, might see these two conflicting forces in the context of a dialectical relationship, which can be seen as a mechanism for change and progression in both the individual as well as society, neither giving either force an absolute existence nor denying them completely. Perhaps these things are simply an expression of an ever-evolving consciousness in an ever-evolving universe, a reflection of the psychological contradictions that drive all human endeavors forward.

From this point of view, Judas and those who crucified God in the flesh are just as important as the resurrected Jesus himself, with each representing the opposing creative and destructive forces within ourselves; and our spiritual evolution requires the resolution of tensions between the two in the form of the risen Jesus. Easter, then, might be seen as a subconscious acknowledgement of the dialectical relationship between Eros and Thanatos, between life and death, between immortality and the void. And Jesus, who personifies a deified Eros, must rise from the dead so that Hades, who may be seen as a biblical personification of the death drive, never has the final say.

The focus is on Jesus simply because he plays a duel role in the relationship. As Eros, he represents the vitality of life and the desire for immortality, which is ultimately negated by death. But he also represents the synthesis in his resurrected form, the resolution of the tensions between the seeming futility of life and apparent finality of death, between the conflicting drives to create and to destroy. And his victory over death, his resurrection, represents life’s struggle to survive, to replenish itself, to reproduce, to overcome, and which manifests in us as the otherworldly desire of eternal life, as well as the more mundane desire to live forever through our creations and offspring. In fact, the story of Jesus’ resurrection can even be seen as an elaborate, mythologized affirmation of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) aphorism in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, “Life will find a way.”


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