Mooning the Lord

I found this postcard recently at a flea market (in the same stack that yielded "Hillbilly Shits in Phonebooth").  Disguised in the cutesy "out-of-the-mouth-of-babes" logic so often encountered in the greeting card sensibility is a shockingly candid image of religious rebellion.  After months and years of repeating the Lord's prayer by rote, Little Johnny has apparently finally figured out that this nightly ritual is less a chat with God than a monologue of self-disciplining fear ("if I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord my soul to take").  Moreover, reasons Johnny, if God is omniscient, He certainly doesn't need to hear a little boy reading the same lines over and over again every night.  "Ho-Hum--there it is Lord--read it."  Exposing his ass to God on high provides the humorously cutesy/blasphemous "kicker."

As it just so happens, through somewhat random chance, I was reading Wilhelm Reich's The Mass Psychology of Fascism only a few days after buying this postcard (for another project).  For those who might be interested in such things, the following excerpt from Reich provides an even more radical commentary on the scenario above.  Enjoy!  

 From Wilhelm Reich's The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 1933

Antisexual religiosity is a product of patriarchal authoritarian society. The son-father relationship found in every patriarchal religion is no more than a socially determined content of the religious experience; the experience itself results from patriarchal sexual suppression. The function which religion gradually assumes, that of maintaining renunciation and submission to authority, is secondary. It can build on a solid basis: the structure of the patriarchal individual as it is molded by sexual suppression. The source of religiosity and the core of any religious dogma formation is the negation of sexual pleasure. This is particularly clearly expressed in Christianity and in Buddhism.

a. Anchoring of mysticism in childhood.

Dear God, I lay me down to sleep,
Send an angel watch to keep.
And, Father, let your loving eye
Look down upon me from the sky.
If wrong I've done within the day

Overlook it, God, I pray
Father, guide me patiently
And may my faults forgiven be.
And all persons great and small
Feel your protection overall.

This is one of the many typical prayers which children must recite before going to sleep. One is prone not to pay any attention to the content of such a prayer. Yet, it contains in concentrated form all that is the essence of mystical content and feeling: In the first couplet the petition for protection; in the second, a repetition of this petition, made directly to the "father"; in the third, the petition for forgiveness for a committed wrong: God should not look at it. What does this guilt feeling refer to? What is God petitioned "not to look at"? If one knows the world of the average child, the answer is not difficult: In the center of the forbidden things is the wrongdoing of playing with the genitals.

The prohibition of masturbation would remain ineffective were it not supported by the idea that God sees everything, that, consequently, one has to be "good" even when the parents are not around. If anyone should be inclined to brush this off as "phantasy," he may learn something from the following observation which clearly demonstrates the anchoring of the mystical idea of God by means of sexual anxiety.

A girl of about seven, having been brought up without religion, suddenly developed the compulsion to pray. It was a compulsion because she herself found it to be at variance with her knowledge and tried to resist it. The praying compulsion developed as follows: The child was accustomed to masturbate every night before going to sleep. One day, she suddenly was afraid to do so and therefore abstained from it. Instead, she developed the impulse to kneel down before her bed and to say a prayer somewhat like the one cited above. "When I pray," she explained later, "I am not afraid." The fear had appeared when, for the first time, she denied herself the pleasure of masturbation. Whence this self-denial? She told her father, in whom she had full confidence, that a few months earlier, during vacation, she had had an unpleasant experience. Like other children, she used to play with a little boy at having sexual intercourse ("playing house"); one day another boy came upon them and shouted Phew! at them. Although her parents had told her that there was nothing wrong in such playing, she became ashamed, gave it up and started, instead, to masturbate before going to sleep.

One night, shortly before the onset of the praying compulsion, she had the following experience: On the way home from a group evening, she and a few other children were singing revolutionary songs. They met an old woman whose looks reminded her of the witch in "Hänsel und Gretel" and who scolded them: "You Godless bunch, the Devil will get you yet!" When, later in the evening, she was about to masturbate again, she thought, for the first time, that maybe there was a God after all who would see and punish it. Unconsciously, she had associated the old woman's threat with the sexual experience with the little boy. Now she began to fight against masturbation, became anxious and, to ward off the anxiety, developed the praying compulsion. The praying, then, had taken the place of sexual gratification. Nevertheless, the anxiety did not disappear; the girl began to develop night terrors. Now she was afraid of a supernatural being which was going to punish her for her sexual sinning. She sought its protection in her fight against the temptation of masturbation.

It should not be thought that this process is an individual occurrence; rather, it typifies the process of anchoring the idea of God in the overwhelming majority of children in religious cultural circles. The same function is served by fairy tales of the "Hänsel und Gretel" variety in which children are threatened with punishment for masturbation in a disguised but, for the child's unconscious, unmistakable way. Every case treated by character-analysis shows that mystical feeling develops from a general guilt feeling which is centered in the guilt about masturbation. It is hard to see how psychoanalytic investigation could have hitherto overlooked this fact. That the idea of God represents the conscience, the internalized admonitions and threats from parents and educators, is a well-known fact. What is less well known is the fact that, from an energy point of view, the belief in and the fear of God are sexual excitations which have changed their content and goal. The religious feeling, then, is the same as sexual feeling, except that it is attached to mystical, psychic contents. This explains the return of the sexual element in so many ascetic experiences, such as the nun's delusion that she is the bride of Christ. Such experiences rarely reach the stage of genital consciousness and thus are apt to take place in other sexual channels, such as masochistic martyrdom.

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