The Dark Side

The expression is hackneyed, between the rasping breath of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker ready to save the universe once again with his light sabre. The Dark Side of the Force… Yet, Star Wars was based on human mythology and many themes that would make this extraordinary series of films exciting from the cinematographic effects to the familiar ideas within us all.

Experience of life reveals the struggle within us all, even when the darkness only remains at the level of thought, and not of words and deeds. Darkness and death are part of the medieval soul as it was of the Romantics. I have been rather occupied with the subject myself. I recently wrote about a poem by Lord Byron  in Byron’s Darkness. It is a harrowing post-apocalyptic vision that finds its reflection in modern cinema and popular “music”.

A controversy has sprung up in France about the chaplain of La Fourvière in Lyons being suspended by Cardinal Barbarin for some very out-of-place speech comparing those who were killed in the Bataclan concert hall with the terrorists who gunned them down! The story, for those who read French, is reported in Polémique autour du prêtre qui avait qualifié les victimes de «frères siamois» des terroristes. The text in question is Les Aigles (déplumés) de la mort aiment le diable !

Indeed, there are two points of view about an Eagles of Death Metal event. To a materialist, it is a harmless concert of some very noisy rhythms and melodies. To a religious person, it may almost be an act of Satan worship. If the latter is so, did the victims of the atrocity deserve what was coming to them? I saw a video on the internet that had recorded the last moments before the terrorists opened fire. The noise was certainly an ungodly din to my ears, but did those who liked it deserve death? Were they simply exercising a right to listen to what they liked? Harmless entertainment?

The priest wrote (my translation):

I go further. Too bad for sensitive readers. Look at the photos of the spectators a few instants before the drama. These poor children of the hippie generation, in ecstatic trance, « young, festive, open, cosmopolitan… » as says the “daily press of reverence”. But these are living dead. Their murderers, these haschishin zombies are their Siamese twins. How can we not see it? It’s so obvious! Same detachment from roots, same amnesia, same childishness, same lack of culture… Some gorged themselves on Christian values that had gone crazy: tolerance, relativism, universalism, hedonism… Others, with even crazier Muslim values in contact with modernity: intolerance, dogmatism, hatred of cosmopolitanism… Some wear the shorts of the PSG – “Fly Emirates” by effacing the cradle of Louis XIV, and others profit from the same money to buy themselves an exploding belt. One minute before their death, everyone was holding his smartphone, as if suckling the milk of their mothers. It is not the return of the Middle Ages, unlike what the cretins say. It is postmodernity in all its absurdity. The drama of atheistic humanism, which loves the Devil, death, violence, and we can say it, who dies from all that! The sign of death and chaos doesn’t only float over the streets of Paris, one cursed Friday evening. 130 dead, it’s awful! And what’s 600 dead? It is the figure of abortions in France in one day (Ministry of Health – let’s thank Orwell !). Where’s the true horror?

My American conservative readers would probably say that this priest should be applauded for bringing back Christ’s Social Kingship! What is shocking in Europe goes like a letter in the post in America. Am I supposed alternatively to applaud western consumerism, relativism and liberalism? It is for this kind of reason I seek elsewhere for light. I think the ravings of this priest are just as bad as the object of his condemnations! His Archbishop was wise to send him for a long retreat to a monastery. I assume the monks insist on silence!

What do I make of much of the stuff I see in our era? I don’t see much of it, only occasionally on the internet or passing by somewhere when I happen to be in town. The Death Metal people seem to be pretty sinister, and I have heard of the term Heavy Metal. If you feel courageous, you can click here to find out what it sounds like. I imaging the two are related in their “musical” origins. Its adepts dress in printed tee-shirts and “bang” their heads, swinging their heads violently on their axis in circles or backwards and forwards. Many young people have suffered strokes and permanent brain damage in this way. It is all sinister, and the lyrics of their songs often extols the “dark side”, devils and demons, the evil instincts. Even with all that in consideration, should the Church advocate their deaths? My view of Fr Hervé Benoît is that he expressed himself hastily and lacked compassion. He is not God, nor is the true God a vengeful being in the business of killing sinners. Justice is somewhere else and not of this world.

Does this penchant for the dark side come simply from lack of faith or worship of God? What are its roots? Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein and Byron was writing his dark poem in 1816 in the wake of the French Revolution. We have horror films now, sometimes combined with science fiction. Which of us is not caught unawares and made to become fascinated by such things? It is a part of us all, including Fr Benoît.

I suppose I would see in modern youth culture a kind of “Romanticism on steroids”, something gone very wrong and which repels me. Perhaps it is something that needs to be channelled, which would involve getting people off the noise and the drugs. Those people need humanity and beauty, music and harmony, a light to chase away the darkness. I don’t know how that can be done – certainly not be sending them to the “purifying flames” as some in the past would have done. I don’t know Fr Benoît, but going by his rhetoric, he follows the kind of Catholicism that found Fascism useful in the twentieth century, and turned a blind eye to killing and imprisonment without trial. There is no notion of offering a new impetus to reviving a culture of beauty, harmony, love and peace, a notion of the transcendent and man’s deepest aspirations. Such a priest does not represent the “reality” of Catholicism.

We won’t solve the problem of evil or the plight of people living in lowness and darkness by repressing it. I can’t go up to one of those people and tell them to stop listening to “heavy metal” and start getting to like Beethoven and Bach. But, there may be some circumstances in which an opportunity is found.

Perhaps light is only perceptible in relation to darkness. The old Gnostics had profound intuitions, and Carl Gustav Jung discovered many of them through his research. The little boy fascinated by ideas of people being executed on the guillotine or being hanged would logically become a murderous psychopath, but yet might go to the light in such wise as the evil thoughts become a part of holiness and search for God and light. Only God knows how each of us will grapple with our own demons, the very central theme of the old medieval Ars Moriendi.

I pray for that priest, and for the dead of the atrocity, and for the aborted babies, and for the souls wriggling in the pits of hell among the severed body parts of their victims. I pray for everything that is dark in this world and for what is beautiful and light-filled. We can do so little in human terms, but somewhere in the madness, there is a beacon of light leading us home into port.

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5 Responses to The Dark Side

  1. J.D. says:

    I grew up on death metal and admit I still listen to it when I exercise. Admittedly it’s a style of music that is not for everyone, with themes that run the gamut from snuff porn, serial killers, horror movie themes, mass murder, satanism, torture and all the worst of the dark side of human nature. I hate the themes but i love the energy in the music. Perhaps that’s totally unchristian of me.

    The way I see it most souls into death metal are trying to make sense of the problem of evil, and rather than hiding from the deepest darkest realities of life in this fallen corrupted world they face it head on and embrace it. They turn towards contemplating evil rather than denying it and turning away.

    I’ve never known people involved in that scene to be truly evil individuals, although I’ve known a few that dabbled in satanism. Most were and are just semi lost souls who have found a way to cope with the reality of evil by facing it and embracing it.

    Did these youth deserve the death they got? No way, to me that’s just wrong. No one deserves to be gunned down in cold blood like that even if they aren’t religious or whatever, it’s crazy.

    • Thank you for this very enlightened and enlightening comment. The last time I took an interest in any music other than classical was shortly after the days of the Beatles, with Led Zeppelin (a favourite of my brother at the time) and Slade, the latter of which I already found unpleasant. From about 1972, I broke with peer pressure at school and went for “classical” (medieval to post-romantic) music. Since then, I have only heard pop, rock, metal, etc. in passing and accidentally (eg. hearing it blaring on a car radio at the traffic lights).

      I agree that many of us find God through the “valley of the shadow of death”, and that most young people listening to death metal, etc. are not intentionally evil. Dabbling in the occult and Satanism are extremely dangerous and possession can be very real as attested by exorcists and enlightened / informed psychiatrists. Personally, I react to these sounds in the same way as from a machine producing a lot of noise. On the other hand, who am I to judge someone who finds good in them? In me, these sounds provoke revulsion and fear, but they mean other things to other people.

      Certainly, none of those young people deserved death, and it was reckless, insensitive and erroneous for that priest to compare them with their killers. I hope this priest reflects and repents of having expressed these cruel and unjust words.

      • Dale says:

        It would appear that both myself and my son are so out-of-date that we are hopeless. Yesterday we were discussing why we both prefer the music of the Baroque and Romantic periods over the classical music of the 18th century. Hopeless must be the only word.

      • Of course you have the great Mozart and C.P.E. Bach, and then the Strurm und Drang of Haydn and Beethoven, but the rest of the classical style can be quite dreary. Men like Purcell and J.S. Bach were ahead of their time, audacious and brilliant. The Romantics like Schumann had flair and brought emotion and humanity into the classically-based harmony and counterpoint. I agree with you. I am also fond of the Parry, Stanford, Elgar, Vaughan-Williams school in England in the Arts & Crafts era. That is about as modern as I go apart from Ravel and some of the better Parisian organist-composers like Duruflé.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I ‘got into’ metal a few years ago thanks to the late Sir Christopher Lee whose name I saw on an album by Rhapsody of Fire – it turned out to be symphonic metal (with full choir, too), some of it in Latin, some very Vivaldi-like bits (or borrowings?) on virtuoso electric guitar rather than violin, some very Renaissance-y bits with recorder, all an installment in a sort of huge, sub-Tolkienian fantasy romance (it was Symphony of Enchanted Lands II (2004), if anyone want to go looking up samples or borrowing it from a public library).

    This led me to discover that a lot of ‘metal’ (of various sorts) is more like the Romanticism that likes epic, and romance, and ghost stories, rather than ‘dark Romanticism’ or ‘Romantic agony’.

    I don’t know anything about Eagles of Death Metal (whom I’ve heard tell are not a ‘metal’ group at all, the name being a playful one) – I’ve seen there is an interview, but have not steeled myself to try it, yet – I also ran into this:

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