Oh my name it ain’t nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side
Bob Dylan’s, “With God on Our Side,” describes how one’s name or age or distinctive characteristics may not be a primary mode of identity, but having God on your side is an identity that overrides individual details. The song recounts the various wars of the United States, beginning with the slaughter of native Americans and ending with the necessity of launching weapons of mass destruction, with each verse describing a particular war and each refrain of the song assuring “God is on our side.” The conclusion, “And you never ask questions When God’s on your side,” certainly raises questions about the nature of this God and his subjects.
Dylan has captured in an uncanny manner the pervasive identity in which one’s life is defined by service rendered to an ineffable Other. Service to God and country describes a regional ethos, but it also fits exactly how identity can be had through being an object-instrument of this Other (God, country, the law). Dylan’s lyrics sum up what psychoanalysis describes as perversion and it depicts a predominant form of human subjectivity and the reigning view of deity throughout history. In technical terms, the pervert locates himself as object of the drive rather than being himself the subject (the subject who directly enjoys). The degree to which one is caught up in perversion may or may not be put on display in perverse acts, as psychoanalytic perversion refers not to acts but to a structure in which, as Dylan describes it, questions are rendered impossible. This structure may lead to evil acts, though this is not what qualifies it as perverse, but these acts, as with the perverse structure, cannot be questioned.
One may not buy the psychoanalytic explanation of how this structure evolves (a denial of the mother’s missing phallus or a denial of sexual difference and the attempt to cover over this difference or to fill in what is perceived as lacking) but there is no question that the perverse structure of serving and establishing the law (or the reigning symbolic order) is the predominant form of human subjectivity.
As Julian Jaynes has described it, we can mark the point at which a new sort of subject appeared in which the law began to be questioned. Historically, prior to this questioning, it was as if the left side of the brain existed as an unquestioned authority through which the various cultural authorities spoke. The burial of the important dead, as if they still lived and spoke, is common to almost all ancient cultures. The Egyptian pharaohs, preserved in their pyramids, the kings of Ur entombed with their entire retinues buried (sometimes alive) for continued service, along with food and drink and even yoked draft animals, point to a static (unquestioning) entombed culture. The undead, and the authority they represented, continued to speak through hallucinated voices or through the gods (often the dead are simply deified). In Assyria, Mesoamerica, and Japan, the dead are directly called gods and the various mystics or priests might be possessed by the dead so as to give them voice. Hesiod speaks of a golden race of men who became the “holy demons upon the earth, beneficent, averters of ills, guardians of mortal men.” Four centuries later, Plato refers to heroes who after death become the demons that tell people what to do and he has Socrates mention that in his own time “God-possessed men speak much truth, but know nothing of what they say.” Socrates marks the point before which the human condition is to listen and obey but not to question or discern.
Jaynes is tracing a time when, in the bicameral period with its bicameral brain, everyone heard the voice of authority, but as the brain shifted only the possessed, idols, oracles, or mediums give voice to the gods. Cuneiform literature often refers to god-statues speaking, and the Old Testament refers to speaking idols (Terap) and depicts the king of Babylon consulting with several idols (Ezekiel, 21). Aztec history began, according to their reports to Spanish conquistadors (following their own perverse God), when a statue from a ruined temple belonging to a previous culture spoke to their leaders and commanded them to set out across the lake so as to come to a new land. They were sent zigzagging here and there, following their own Moses, into a new land. In Peru the conquering Spaniards presumed the voice ordering the culture was the Devil. The first report back to Europe said, “in the temple [of Pachacamac] was a Devil who used to speak to the Indians in a very dark room which was as dirty as he himself.” It did not occur to the Spaniards to question their own genocidal authority.
Whether or not Jaynes is correct in his description of brain development, there is no question that the world has gone and is going through a shift in notions of subjectivity and personhood in which the old voices of authority, the authority of the law in Paul’s description, once unquestioned and absolute have now grown silent. In psychoanalytic terms we might say that human history has been predominantly perverse in its service of God and the law, and perverse unquestioning personalities have certainly been in the majority. The individual who protests, who questions, who challenges, is usually in a small minority. In fact, in most cultures the notion of questioning the order of the culture is a near impossibility. It is hard to imagine someone from a traditional culture, say an Apache brave in the old American Southwest, objecting to the whole “macho-warrior image.” I supposed it never occurred to any brave to say, “Chief, I am going to hang back at the teepee today to play my flute and think about life. I am just not feeling the whole raiding and pillaging thing today.”
Perversion functions at both a corporate and individual level, but what is obvious is that corporate perversion, while more socially acceptable and even socially commendable, is also likely to be more profoundly evil as one is incapable of challenging authority and presumes the law, the father, or God, justifies one’s actions, no matter how evil. Corporate perversion is the most compelling and predominant, as the oxymoronic nature of “individualistic Nazis” gets at the point, murderous perversion is most easily mass produced. But whether corporate or individual, to challenge the evil deeds would be on the order of questioning the authority of God, whether it is participating in genocide in an unjust war or publicly exposing oneself in a theatre, the act is rendered in unquestioning service of the structure (the Other).
If this predominance of perversion is the case, then could it also be true that Christianity and Christ are primarily aimed at defeating a perverse notion of God and a perverse subjectivity? Isn’t it precisely the leading Jews’ notion of God which would result in the death of Christ and isn’t it this notion that he defeats? He defeats it, first of all in the incarnation and the fleshing out of what God is really like, and then defeats death and the perverse orientation in his death and resurrection. Perversion depends upon being able to project upon God whatever human structure, personal or corporate, needs support in the symbolic order. God as the ambiguous Other who justifies the worst forms of human perversion is defeated by God in the flesh. Flesh itself is changed up in Christ, no longer written over with a perverse orientation to the law.
The Apostle Paul describes himself as one who excelled in the law and law-keeping and this excellence was precisely what made him the chief of sinners. He only had access to God and himself on the basis of this perverse orientation to the law. The problem is not, of course, with God or the law but with the orientation to both, produced by the deceit of sin. Christ’s defeat of sin in the flesh is precisely aimed at the overcoming of this universal perversion. As Paul argues, the Jewish problem of doing identity in accordance with the law is universal. All people suffer from some form of the prototypical sin of the Jews and of Paul himself, at least that is the thrust of Paul’s argument.
The tragedy we are living through at the moment is that Christianity, through penal substitution, Christian nationalism, and a fusion of right-wing politics and religion has become the main support of a perverse form of the faith. In this understanding, Christ died to meet the demands of the law, and God’s righteousness is equated with the law. This translates, in response to such issues as white supremacy and critical race theory, into a literal unwillingness to question the constitution and the laws of the land.
According to Mike Pompeo, “If we teach that the founding of the United States of America was somehow flawed. It was corrupt. It was racist. That’s really dangerous. It strikes at the very foundations of our country.” To question the construct of race or whiteness or to question the law, is anathema in this religion. Yet, the recognition that this country’s law and legal institutions not only privilege one race but served to establish that race is simply another manifestation of the biblical depiction of the function and malfunction of the law. Jewish privilege and Gentile exclusion constitute the hostility built into the law (the wall in the temple was a concrete representation of the law as a dividing wall of hostility). White privilege (or receiving unwarranted advantage) and black and brown exclusion from privilege, it should not be a surprise, is structural and legal. It is not those who receive the privilege but those who are denied it (Gentiles, slaves, and women, in Paul’s description) or those made to suffer under the law which notice its disparities. As long as the Jews insisted on law keeping, entailing their privileged position, and as long as they insisted on the primacy of the law, this excluded them from Christian salvation (freedom from the law).
Where the religion is reduced to the law, the constitution is not to be questioned, the powers that are ascendant are not to be questioned, lest the foundation of the country be undone. The sexual perversions of this religion, on continual display in the failings of evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr., Ted Haggard, Ravi Zacharias (etc. etc.), the perversions of evangelical political leaders in their devotion to the most obscene of presidents, and their devoted unquestioning followers, are simply a pointer to this perverse structure. In other words, rather than Christianity doing the work of saving from perversion, the faith is made the primary support of a perverse religion on the order of that which killed Christ.
Christians should be the most sensitive to the hostile divisions incorporated into law, undone only in Christ, and the fact that it is evangelicals protesting the loudest, seems to indicate the perverse structure of their religion. The notion that justice and righteousness (life) are enshrined in law, the very definition of sin in Paul’s depiction, is a case in point of the universal deception and perversion. Christians are those who are no longer deceived by this sin in regard to the law (Romans 7:8), but where Christianity is made the support of deception and perversion there is a doubling down on perversion in making the problem the supposed Christian solution.
 Thanks to Matt for the suggestion of this song, several other suggestions, and the editing of this blog. Also, thanks to our Tuesday night class for the inspiration behind the blog.
Even the ordinary dead were often treated as if they still needed feeding. In Mesopotamia it is recorded a dead person was buried with 7 jars of beer, 420 flat loaves of bread, 2 measures of grain, 1 garment, 1 head support, and 1 bed.
 Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (p. 161-341). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
 Jaynes, 174-175.