Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Second Part – Chapter 4: ‘On the Priests’
vs “Anti-Pope” The Damned (Machine Gun Etiquette, 1979)
vs “Anti-Pope” The Damned (Machine Gun Etiquette, 1979)
What is the sign Zarathustra makes as he and his companions approach a procession of priests?
Is it a finger-over-lips gesture? Are his words – his opening words – uttered in a shushed voice? The priests are ‘enemies’, sure… but perhaps it is better not to engage with them, leave them be. After all, as the rather more modern saying has it (and which we get a version of here): ‘never wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig likes it’. So, whispers Zarathustra, ‘pass them by quietly and with a sleeping sword!’
This reminds me of an aphorism from Daybreak (1881): ‘to act against one's better judgment when it comes to questions of custom; to give way in practice while keeping one's reservations to oneself; to do as everyone does and thus to show them consideration […] many tolerably freeminded people regard this, not merely as unobjectionable, but as “honest”, “humane”, “tolerant”, “not being pedantic”, and whatever else those pretty words may be’ (§149). However, Nietzsche, believes such an approach is to sanction irrational traditions, a cowardly affirmation. Nothing is worse! Accordingly, in this chapter of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche immediately punishes the teacher: ‘when they had passed by, Zarathustra was assailed by pain’.
Now Zarathustra must have wished he had been more punk. Pointed, at the very least. Or perhaps put a middle finger up, or maybe a circling motion at the side of his head. The sign of a cross (again, slightly anachronistic I know, just couldn’t resist). Two fingers down the throat, across the throat, under the chin and… bang!? And so off he goes with his machine gun etiquette… attacking the priests for their values, their delusive words, and the effects they have on society.
Some five years later in The Anti-Christ (written 1888), Nietzsche really has some fun on this theme: ‘These days anyone with even the most modest claim to honesty has to know that every sentence pronounced by a theologian, a priest, a pope, is not only wrong, it is a lie […] All church concepts are known for what they are, the most malicious counterfeits that exist to devalue nature and natural values; the priests themselves are known for what they are, the most dangerous type of parasite […] just what value those uncanny inventions of the priests and the church have, how they were used to reduce humanity to such a state of self-desecration that the sight fills you with disgust – the concepts “beyond”, “Last Judgement”, “immortality of the soul”, the “soul” itself; these are instruments of torture, these are systems of cruelty that enable the priests to gain control, maintain control’ (§38).
It is the ‘theologian’, ‘priest’, and ‘pope’ with their concepts of ‘beyond’ and the ‘soul’ that The Damned call out in their 1979 punk classic ‘Anti-Pope’ as ‘Bollocks!’
‘Anti-Pope’ has cyclic chord structures that veer off differently in different verses merging with its non-chorus: ‘So many people are weak in their lives / And seek guidance from the pedlars of hope / As you know I used to go there myself / Until the day I became anti-pope’. Here this ‘anti-pope’ captures up Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ, the almost impossibly overloaded lyrics causing vocalist Dave Vanian to spit out the words like a machine gun. The song is having a lot of fun… the band are like demented circus clowns and the song ends with a laugh and the band playing a standard comedy riff a couple of times caught just in the fade out. It tells of stealing collection plates, spreading rumours about the priests in order to shame and embarrass them. Boys in skirts and dresses inviting and owning the slurs from the upstanding citizen. Turning those slurs back on the hateful pillars of the community. This is punk: serious fun. Time to stop laughing. A shock to thought – not letting the past lie, wearing symbols that horrified the well-meaning, bourgeois, liberal world. Not whispering, but screaming and shouting till the dying breath. Breaking the silence of a world that does not want to think uncomfortable thoughts, confront its own hypocrisy. And sex! Lots of sex. Sex upsets them all. Get dirty, wrestle that pig, and have some fucking fun while doing so…
Why? Because in the final analysis, for The Dammed: ‘Religion doesn't mean a thing / It’s just another way of being right wing’.
Priests are the original cops. The original judges. The original elite. This is the crux, these priests are fascists who run a blood cult: ‘they know no other way to love their God than by nailing the human being to the Cross’. This is not simply a reference to the wound, but rather to the scar. The priests crucify their flock every day with their preaching: ‘in their speeches,’ says Zarathustra, ‘I still smell the foul aroma of death-chambers’. Part II Chapter 4: ‘On the Priests’ reeks of blood. Thus ‘their folly taught that one proves the truth with blood’. Perhaps the central theme of is the vicious circle of tradition, which in all forms is the ultra-conservative impulse par excellence. This theme is introduced in the introductory drama: ‘many of them suffered too much’ – and thus as a consequence – ‘they want to make others suffer’. This is their delusion, and ‘into every gap they put their delusion, their stop-gap, which they called God’ where ‘blood is the worst witness of truth; blood poisons the purest teaching, turning it into heart’s delusion and hate’. A river of blood is the source of the delusion, the mainstream of religion, and the chapter is a kind of genealogy of the priesthood, searching out the multiple tributaries that feed the confluence. This is a tactical Nietzschean shock to thought. This is Nietzsche the punk.
The chapter reeks of blood, but blood also becomes a metaphor. In the opening whisper Zarathustra says ‘Yet my blood is related to theirs; and I would know that my blood is honoured even in theirs’. Perhaps this is why Zarathustra is beset by pain? Zarathustra’s diatribe thus also serves to differentiate. The priests and Zarathustra are teachers – sure. Indeed, this chapter begins by using the word ‘disciples’ for Zarathustra’s companions for the first time in Part 2, and one of only a few times in the whole book. At the end of the chapter, however, Zarathustra calls them ‘brothers’. Here is the difference. ‘Zealously and with much shouting they drove their herd over their bridge: as if to the future there were but one bridge’, while Zarathustra’s companions must be ‘redeemed’ from their teachers if they each ‘would find the way to freedom!’ Each needs to become – in their own way – anti-pope.