Sep 19, 2011

Turning upside down the upside down

Inverting the symbols of Christianity is harder than in looks.

A student of mine just wrote a really good paper on the subject of satanic imagery in Death Metal (a genre that, despite finding interesting, still seems unlistenable to me). In his paper, he looked at the band Deicide, which goes beyond marketing provocations in their use and embrace of anti-Christian imagery and themes. In their 2011 album, To Hell With God, they, according to my student, included album art showing Jesus in contorted, torturous poses. One of the band members has an upside-down crucifix branded into his forehead.

It's possible, though, to read all of these blasphemies as expressions of Christian faith. These three "inversions" -- God in hell instead of heaven, a cross upside down, the savior of the world being tortured -- are all already present in Christianity.

Of course "to hell with God" means "ignore God," "dismiss God," "I hate God," etc., but it's also, in a more literal way, what Christians state they believe when they recite the Apostles' Creed. "I believe," the creed states, "in Jesus Christ..." who "descended into hell."

Likewise, images of Jesus being tortured are, far from being inversions of Christian imagery, central to it. There's no image more Christian than the crucifix, where incarnate God is depicted dying a horrible death (which is to say, it's the original deicide).

The upside-down cross of course isn't unique to Deicide, of course. It's a pretty standard "Satanic" image. But it's also the way St. Peter was supposedly killed, since he was so faithful to Jesus that he didn't want to be crucified in the same way as his master.

Inverting Christian imagery isn't impossible. Defiling imagery and blaspheming Christianity isn't impossible. I'm not arguing and wouldn't argue that somehow Christianity is such a paradoxical thing that those who set out to spit on it accidentally end up co-opted into Christianity. Deicide is not a crypto Christian band that only thinks it's opposed to Jesus.

On the other hand, some of their inversions aren't inversions at all, but just standard fare Christian imagery. God-not-dead would actually have been more anti-Christian than what they ended up with. God-not-tortured. Or no cross at all.

Christianity is, in some central ways, a faith that's already upside down. It's often more complicated than those who would oppose it realize.