Wed

Apr

2220:30

Punk Jesus: The truth and the fury

 
We learn a lot from our mothers. Most importantly, I learned the two gospels of the powerless

I was raised by a single mother who was the lead singer of a punk band during my early childhood. Her band wasn’t famous – it was the early 90s, and punk was pretty much over – but I still remember watching her concerts and listening to her punk records.

One band I connected with almost immediately was The Clash. Their catchy riffs and socially conscious lyrics instantly resonated with me, and I still regularly listen to songs like ‘Know Your Rights’, ‘Straight to Hell’, and ‘Magnificent Seven’.

I was also drawn in by the charismatic persona of their front man, Joe Strummer, whom I admired throughout my teen years, but I was never particularly interested in the fashion of punk – you’ve got to be pretty shallow if your clothes have to do the talking for you.

But what I did get out of punk, besides the music, was the ethos – that it’s better to focus on the weak than the strong, that you should always strive to be yourself, and that you shouldn’t let others hold you back from being who you want to be. With all of that came a healthy dose of fuck-the-system mentality.

This early punk upbringing was one of two schools of thought that shaped my worldview. The other was Christianity. After all, my mom the punk is also very religious. I was baptised and confirmed and spent many wonderful summers at a Christian summer camp. Before bed, my mother and I would pray together.

The form of Christianity I learned from my mom and the National Church of Iceland is a far cry from the firebrand version practiced in American megachurches. I don’t remember anyone talking about hellfire and damnation, teaching that homosexuality is an abomination, or seeing priests that lived like kings.

I was taught to love my neighbour, to try to be a good person, and to accept my flaws. In many ways, this was the same theology that punk preached – to be kind and to care for those who are worse off.

I try and live by these principles, but I’m not ideological. Ideologies are too narrow, and they lack the pragmatism needed to tackle real world problems. Principles, on the other hand, are more like a lighthouse in a fog. They don’t tell you where to go, but help you as you find your own way. There is no set course, just a general direction. That’s why I know that politicians who say they have simple solutions to complicated problems are either ignorant or fraudsters. They are often both, but they are never neither.

It is worth mentioning that today, I don’t consider myself a Christian – more a Christianity-inspired agnostic – and I am way too preppy to be a punk. But these ideas are still with me.

Both these schools of thought were based on an underlying idea, the rejection of rampant materialism, which they were later completely lost to.

Christianity started out as the religion of the poor, a social movement that spread amongst the destitute and starving. British Punk, in particular, was started by the young and unemployed in the deindustrialised urbanity of the late seventies. In many ways, Jesus was the original punk.

Later, one would become the most powerful entity on earth, and the other would become a multi-million dollar industry.

Christianity started dominating people’s lives instead of liberating them. Punk became a massive moneymaking enterprise. The camel squeezed through the eye of the needle, and The Clash sold out to Levi’s.

Movements lose their way when they transition from a collection of ideas into institutions with an agenda and followers. Punk and Christianity were meant to break down power structures and offer an outlet to unhappy outsiders, but now they belong to the status quo that they were meant to challenge in the first place.

When the angry poor attacked shops and looted flat screens and sneakers during the 2011 London riots, they were severely condemned. No matter how angry you are, you don’t attack private property, and you don’t steal. The public and politicians rightly criticised the rioters for grabbing materialistic objects and for trying to benefit financially.

But what else did the rioters have to believe in? There are no revolutionary ideas anymore. Labour unions are fading, and don’t resonate with young people. Politicians are all basically the same people, from the same economic and educational class. All the while, the only value left is dangled in front of our eyes – materialism.

If you want to be hip, buy an Apple product. Spend a fortune on clothes, or people won’t have sex with you. If you want a job, accept that the rich will first have to get richer. They are, after all, the ‘job creators’. Given this, how people behave when they get mad is hardly a surprise. If we as a society want people to worship riches, then that is exactly what we get.

We are so used to worshipping the wealthy that we hardly flinch when we learn that corporations routinely cheat on their taxes, or hear that a corporation has posted profit figures that we can’t even begin to fathom. It’s just the norm. They are the Job Creators.

In the meantime, ordinary people are earning less and less. The Dow Jones is 50 percent above where it was before the crisis in 2008, corporate profits are at their highest ever, billionaires buy football clubs to play real-life football manger. And the rent continues to rise.

So even if Punk Jesus were alive and well today, we would probably just put him on t-shirts and give him a Grammy®. What we wouldn’t do is listen to what he has to say.

Working for a rise, better my station,

Take my baby to sophistication,

She’s seen the ads, she thinks it’s nice,

Better work hard – I seen the price.

M

Commentary

By Elias Thorsson

Managing editor. @Eliasthorsson elias@murmur.dk

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