It is a difficult thing to satirize Christianity today, as Voltaire once did. That is because the Christianity that Voltaire knew is dead. That is, the ideology of the clerks – the ideology of what James Scott calls the Great tradition – has moved on. It is no longer about glory and redemption. It is about commerce and science.
Religion, in the Great Tradition culture, is now something to oratorically affirm on set occasions. Meanwhile, in the little tradition, in the daily life of the masses, belief has gone back to the wild. Thoughts are free – meaning it is all syncretic, a little astrology here, a little pop science there, a little Jesus, a little Oprah, a little politics. In these circumstances, the great biting ferocity of the old Candide tradition is simply out of place. Of course, there are fundamentalists, but they, too, are for the most part more moved by politics and commerce than anything like Christianity.
My own stance on fundamentalists is that they are misnamed, since any literal reading of the Bible will tell you it is definitely as fierce as the Communist Manifesto. It makes a number of things crystal clear: that wealth is evil, that princes and nations are misguided, that primitive communism is the way to go, that thoughts aren’t free. The prophets are invariably – without exception – traitors. The messiah in the Gospels is serious that the first are last and the last are first in the kingdom of heaven. He is also serious about taking up your cross.
I think the Candide genre died in The Master and the Margarita. Perhaps I should say, the death is explained in The Master and the Margarita. At the beginning of the book, there is a conversation between a poet and an editor. The latter, Berlioz, commissioned the poet, Ivan Ponyrev – or “Homeless” – to write an anti-Christian poem, but as he explains to Homeless, he is not satisfied with the result. The poem attributes dark motives and actions to Jesus – but the point, Berlioz says, is to bring out the fact that Jesus is a myth. He never existed. Now, Bulgakov is having some fun here, because as both are soon to find out, the Devil not only exists but has come to Moscow for an event. Berlioz’s rational world is swept away before the first chapter is over, in fact. But his theory about Jesus as a myth is a pretty good way of getting at why Candide is dead. In fact, in the current culture, whether Jesus existed or not doesn’t matter. Our liberal sentiments are offended by Candide style satire not because the belief in Jesus is belief in a myth, but because of the belief that we should be tolerant of the belief in Jesus.
Both sides, of course, discard what we know about Jesus, whether man, God or myth: that he said and acted in certain ways, as recorded in four books and some so called Gnostic gospels. Nobody can swallow all of it, especially given the industrial-capitalist forms of our society today, which it totally did not predict, foresee, or experience. Nobody wants to operate as though the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand anymore – which is the most absolute way of making sure that the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t ever at hand. Fundamentalists have clung on to the one book in the Bible that is the most doubtful, and certainly the most anti-semitic and anti-Jesus: Revelations. Revelations is the L. Ron Hubbard book, the one that attracts the wankers. The Fundy high priests would gladly trade the entire Good news of love for the idea that their enemies will be left to the pitiless tortures of the demons. And they have.
A religion based on Revelations won’t last. The evangelicals and fundamentalists are working, slowly and steadily, to create a broad revulsion with Christianity in all its shapes and forms. You can already see it happening. Call it: Candide’s revenge.