There is an ongoing spiritual battle, not in our societies as the culture warriors would have it, but in our hearts. This is the battle against fear and distrust, the enemies of good faith. Our enemy is not the secular politician; it is our tendency to ostracize and label people as “other,” to monitor our neighbor rather than to love him. We conjure our greatest adversary from our collective assent to distrust, surveillance, and enforced conformity.
This adversary, which metal band Meshuggah calls the “Colossus,” presently infects our society. The Colossus introduces itself in the opening song to their album “Koloss”:
I’m the great Leviathan, insatiable colossus
Titanic engulfer of lives, I reward you, absorb you
I’m the monstrous mouth that hungers for your awe
Immense construction of lies. I own you, disown you
I am life. I’m death. You empower me
I’m a mammoth king evoked, conjured by your dreams
Summoned by your fears. You need me, you feed me
I’m the imposing giant. Infallible dictator
My rules apply to all. You’ll heed me, bleed for me
The entire album is a philosophical wonder, referencing philosophers and theologians from across centuries — not to mention it is a great album if you’re into (very) heavy metal. There are two key reference points here, both of which I touched previously, though indirectly, in my post on leaving the church. The first point is the “Leviathan,” which they pull from philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ political ethics treatise of the same name. Leviathan talks about establishing a sovereign ruler whose word is law. All people under him must surrender their personal moral judgments in favor of his own. The second point is the “Panopticon,” a hypothetical prison design by Jeremy Bentham. He arranged the prison cells in a circle around a central guard tower, with each of the cells lit from the outside. This way, the guards can see each of the prisoners, but the prisoners cannot see the guards. The invisible threat of surveillance keeps the prisoners in line.
Meshuggah blends these two concepts. This invisible threat becomes the Sovereign to which we cede our own identities. The Colossus, as they call it, absorbs us when we begin to fear what happens if we do not adhere to the imposed standards. We become prisoners to our distrust of one another, never sure if our neighbors are watching us to keep us in line. If we express ourselves, it is in private, where we think we have escaped the prying eyes of the watchers.
The prevalence and usefulness of the term “closeted” should be a dead giveaway that our society enforces the Colossus. People who find themselves outside of societal norms, not just in terms of sexual and/or gender orientation, face very difficult decisions regarding how simply to be themselves. Their true nature expresses itself in the closet, whereas they otherwise put on a happy face that seems to conform to the standards.
A pastor of a thankfully-now-defunct church once asked me to keep my mouth shut regarding my views on evolution. Being open about who I was and what I believed was, in his words, literally “dangerous” to his congregation. He wanted me to keep myself closeted so as not to challenge the ubiquitous authority of the Colossus he had erected for himself. I struggled with this for a while, but I ultimately rejected his authority. I cannot help but be me. If that is offensive, then so be it.
This is the path for dismantling the Colossus, and believe me, it is monumentally difficult: first, we must reject oppressive authority, the sort of rule which expects artificial conformity. That rule of law which says we must not murder each other is a good rule; the unspoken rule that says we must put on an act to be a certain way in spite of ourselves is oppression. Reject that rule.
We must then keep ourselves from enforcing such rules on others. This second part is so vital, but I must admit that I often lose sight of it in my zeal for denouncing others. We need to call out injustice, but we must do so in a way that does not perpetuate the injustice we rail against. In my case, even my admonitions against evil can turn into overbearing mandates for those who do not agree with my positions.
Giving up our desire to control others is the most subversive thing we can do against the Colossus, even more so than living in contradiction to its standards. When we recognize others’ individuality and autonomy, even to make bad decisions, we chip away at the lie which says they must be this way or that. This is the foundation of freedom. Think of free speech: is speech free when people can only say a list of approved messages? What about hate speech?
We could oppress hate speech, but then we would once again be propping up another Colossus to oversee the conformity of all speech. We must live contrary to the lies which such words might try to propagate, but we must also never give in to the temptation to try to control even racists, misogynists, and the like. We are each responsible for our own actions, not for those of others, and the Colossus will only fall when we come to this realization.
Reject fear. Reject your desire to oppress and control. This is the cost of freedom, and it is a high price, even as wonderful as it sounds. It is one thing to talk about rejecting these things, but when we see the “other” — the person of a different race or culture, the gay man, the transvestite — our nature is to fear. We like life under our personal Colossus, but we must realize that it is a false god.
This was the work of Christ, to demolish our fear of one another, to rip apart the veil between the chosen and the outsider. To follow Christ is to tear down the Colossus, to starve “the monstrous mouth which hungers for your awe.” Put an end to cultural exclusivism, to sentiments of racial or national superiority, to homophobia, transphobia, to fear of your neighbor. Replace all of that with God’s love, which extends not only to people who look and act like you but to everyone.