My paper on Discordianism and Marx and Freud.
Discordianism and the Hermeneuts of Suspicion: Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud
-Michael J Dangler
"If organized religion is the opium of the people, then disorganized religion is the LSD of the lunatic fringe!"Discordianism is a religion unlike any other in history. It is built upon conspiracy theories, heavy drug use, and sacred bowling alleys. It encourages people to think for themselves, break down barriers, and to disbelieve the establishment. It practically demands sacrilege, promoting illumination through any means possible.
When I refer to Discordianism, and in particular what Discordians believe, I must speak in the broadest generalities, and occasionally become extremely individualistic. In this paper, any time the word "Discordians" shows up, especially when paired with the word "believe", it must be read as "most Discordians" or as "some Discordians", not as "all Discordians", for there is nothing that all Discordians believe in. The Principia Discordia, the holy book of Discordianism, states: "A Discordian is Prohibited of Believing what he reads." Even the Goddess Eris Herself is not universally believed in.
Karl Marx, in several writings, including his "Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right", gives us his blunt, unkind view of religion: religion "is the opium of the people." Sigmund Freud gives us a similar, though slightly less blunt summation, saying that "longing for the father is the root of religion."
Each of these scholars, one an economist and the other a psychologist, found problems with religion, and believed that it was simply a mask for something deeper, more real. What would they say about Discordianism? Can it be fit into their respective definitions of religion, or is it something else? Further, how would Discordians themselves react to a Marxist or Freudian view of their religion?
Marx describes religion as a superstructure that is built to disguise the real, underlying drive of society: economics. The bourgeoisie are locked in a war with the proletariat, and because of the incredible ratio of proletarian to bourgeois, the latter are required to delude the former with tricks of illusion that keep the proletariat from realizing their true potential and seizing the means of production. Religion is one illusion, perhaps the most powerful illusion (or "opiate"), at the disposal of the bourgeois.
Religion is designed by the bourgeois to keep the proletarian happy. It prevents revolution, prevents the control of the means of production, and generally promotes order and fear of authority. This theory is very specific to Christianity, and reflects the time period and the social conditions of 1848 and the years surrounding it. Applying Marx's definition to a modern religion, especially one created nearly a century later, as Discordianism was, poses some immediate problems.
Contrary to being a useful tool to keeping the masses down, Discordianism encourages the questioning of authority. The fifth commandment in the Pentabarf reads: "A Discordian is prohibited of believing what he reads." Not even the Principia Discordia is an authoritative source on Discordianism. Discordians are known throughout the Neo-Pagan community for their flare for shaking things up to bring down order, to displace the current rules and regulations, and to generally resist and attack "the establishment" or "authority".
This poses some problems for Marx's theory. While Marx tells us that religion is a false happiness, designed to hide the oppression that the proletariat must bear, Discordians respond that there is no such thing as false happiness. Anarchy, play, and insanity are inherently religious acts, and revolution is central to the belief system, even if only on an individual level. If religion truly is a blindfold to the masses that keeps them in chains, why does Discordianism call for ripping away the blindfold and attacking the establishment?
Marx also implies that when we criticize religion, we are disillusioning the proletariat, helping to show the worker his chains. Discordians would respond that the criticism of religion, especially of their own, is one way of illuminating humankind, but would say that it is still an inherently religious act. The illumination that comes of self-criticism is not one that allows you to see the chains of the oppressors, but it allows you to see that there truly are no chains and that you may do as you wish in the world. A Discordian would argue that the perception of chains is just as powerful as not being able to see them.
Marx believes that people must first get rid of the root causes of exploitation before they can possibly be happy or better off. He is looking for revolution, which will strip away the oppression of humankind, to open up the proletariat's mind so they can overcome the things that make religion work (pain, anxiety, and subordination). "The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions." In his "Theses on Feurbach," Marx tells us that "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."
Discordianism does try to change the world, calling upon each person to force people to think about what is going on. Rituals like the Trukey Curse and the Paperclip Curse are designed explicitly for this purpose. Discordians are making everyone change, one person at a time. While this is not the large, sudden revolution that Marx envisioned, this small, gradual revolution has the same aims: freedom from oppression, a better society, and removal of authority. Marx has plans for what will replace the current structure, though, and Discordians (of course) disagree on what will replace it, though both communism and anarchy are common ideas.
Marx argues that religions are a form of social control, placed on the proletariat by the bourgeois in order to impose a hierarchy that cannot be escaped by the common person. Here, Marx can look to the very structure of Catholicism to support his point: no single person can attain salvation without relying on another person who has more perceived power and stands higher on the ladder. Even Protestantism doesn't go far enough, for while it makes each man his own priest, it still carries the stigma of false illusion. By the same token, a Discordian can point to the structure of her religion for evidence that Discordianism holds no person in an iron grip. Not only is every person in the world elevated to the status of "Pope" by the Discordian movement, but Kerry Thornley once said, "Discordians are warned against personal contact with one another," implying that there should never be an organization of Discordians to prevent just what Marx asserts religion promotes. Thronley once put it even more bluntly: “What is all this shit about who does or does not understand Discoridanism? Who the hell cares?” There is no single body of knowledge or text that is revered by all Discordians, and there is nothing that defines their belief structure in terms of a coherent whole.
Bruce Lincoln, a Neo-Marxist theorist on religions, has a four part definition of religion that is very revealing about how Marx could properly be applied to the study of religion:
Lincoln requires the following for a religion:
1)A discourse whose concerns transcend the human, temporal, and contingent and that claims for itself a similarly transcendent status.Many Discordians disagree on this point. Some will point to the Principia Discordia as the "bible" of Discordianism. But there are Discordians who have never read the Principia. They've only read the Illuminatus! trilogy. Then there are the Discordians who claim that the Illuminatus! trilogy should not be a source for any Discordian. Then there are those who take the Fifth Commandment to heart and don't believe any of the works.
Lincoln goes on to say, "Insofar as certain propositions or narratives successfully claim such status, they position themselves as truths to be interpreted, but never ignored or rejected." Discordians, however, are free to reject anything that is claimed to be "Truth" with the capital "T", or even things claimed to be "False" with a capital "F". In short, no such discourse exists within this religion, nor can any ever be created.
2) A set of practices whose goal is to produce a proper world and/or proper human subjects, as defined by a religious discourse to which these practices are connected.There are no practices that are seen in all Discordians, nor is there anything that all Discordians do. Discordian rituals are (understandably) individual and change from person to person. Though some rituals exist and are written into the Principia or the Illuminatus! Trilogy, we come back to the lack of agreement on the transcendence of these texts.
3) A community whose members construct their identity with reference to a religious discourse and its attendant practices.This is the only point in Lincoln's definition that can and must apply to Discordianism. Interestingly, several members of the Discordian movement use the Principia or the Illuminatus! trilogy to define what they are not. But the community accepts them all, and they all disassociate with each other. This seems to be the only one of these four sections that can be concretely proven to exist.
4) An institution that regulates discourse, practices, and community, reproducing them over time and modifying them as necessary, while asserting their eternal validity and transcendent value.Here, there is no institution. It's impossible for an institution of Discordians to exist, given the basic structure of the religion and the purposeful disassociation of its members, who may or may not even recognize each other as members. The Neo-Marxist view cannot survive contact with this religion, at least not in definition.
Freud's view on religion is not as blunt as Marx's, but we can easily see his general disdain for it. "Longing for the father," he says, "was the root of religion." As children grow, they become separated from their father, and use religion to replace him. As our fathers are strict, protecting, and strong, so must our deities be, since when we are children, we are protected by the strength of the father. When the child grows up, he seeks the strength and protection that the father gave, but when he finds himself without a father to depend on, he creates a supernatural entity to protect him and help him. Freud gives us a generally evolutionary model for religion, as well: first we have totemism, in which animals are deified; then, we move to the original protector, the mother who bore us and protected us in infancy; finally, we move to the father, who protects us and whom we ultimately wish to be. The patriarchal structure is key here in the scheme of evolution. It is entirely possible that Discordianism's feminine deity might cause Freud to construe this religion as one less evolved.
Freud goes on to say:
Thus, it [the child/worshipper] fears him [the father] no less than it longs for him and admires him. The indications of this ambivalence in the attitude to the father are deeply imprinted in every religion. . . When the growing individual finds that he is destined to remain a child forever, that he can never do without protection against strange superior powers, he lends those powers the features belonging to the figure of his father; he creates for himself the gods whom he dreads, whom he seeks to propitiate, and whom he nevertheless entrusts with his own protection.Discordianism does not have a father figure, though. It is, in general, a monotheistic system in which one divine Goddess is worshipped, and all other deities are mere players on the stage. This is not a deity of protection, war, or even one who will do things for you if you ask politely. Eris is more like the child in all of us. She may solve our problems for us, but Thronley once said: "Eris Discordia will solve all your problems and She will expect you in return to solve all Her problems."
Freud insists that religions require belief based on three tenants: "Firstly, these teachings deserve to be believed because they were already believed by our primal ancestors; secondly, we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from those same primaeval [sic] times; and thirdly, it is forbidden to raise the question of their authentication at all." Discordians would immediately respond that questioning authority is required in their religion, their worship dates back to 1958 or 1959, and most would say that they had never met another Discordian in person, much less a primal ancestor who believed this stuff.
Many of the problems with both Marx and Freud stem not only from the century or so between their writings and the founding of Discordianism, but also the self-knowledge that Discordians have about what they're doing. Discordians are not stupid people, but are usually educated, creative people. They have read Freud and Marx, or at least have a good grip on their theories, and often write essays that turn these two theorists on their head. Occasional postings to the alt.discordia newsgroup can range in focus from how Discordians should all be Marxists and attack the capitalist state to how Eris shows a reverse Oedipus complex, where it is the Mother that the Discordian wants to kill and take the place of. The process of thinking about these critiques of religion seems to cause the Discordian movement to consciously avoid constructing itself in a manner that would lead to a quick and easy critique from certain schools of thought.
Despite the messy nature of determining what caused Discordianism and how it works, both Marxists and Freudians might be able to reduce it in their own ways. Marx could point to the Discordian movement's lack of central organization and national prominence to show that the Discordians aren't really doing anything revolutionary, and the structure of their religion (such as it is) will not allow the Discordians to ever achieve their dream of disorganization and removal of authority. Their creation of enemies (Greyface, the Anti-Bob, the Magic Bullet theory, and the legions of Greys that inhabit office buildings everywhere) conjures up false enemies, deluding the Discordians and keeping them from working toward the goals they have set for themselves. There is also the problem of laziness in the Discordian movement. Discordians are natural procrastinators, and often don't see the point in mobilizing against the forces of order. Add to this that just about anyone can call themselves a Discordian, and there's no check on who is/who isn't, and you have the kind of illusion that Marx loves to hate. In short, they are still part of the superstructure.
Freud can look to Eris as a mother figure, tied up in the love that men have for their mothers. Because Discordians can't have their fathers as authority figures (either because they reject him or they perceive a rejection by him early in life), they turn to their mothers for the love and support that they require. Eris is constantly portrayed as loving humankind, and Discordians will speak about Her in very Oedipal terms occasionally. Depictions of Eris run the gamut of small children to voluptuous women, depending on how the artist wants to see Her. Interestingly, the portrayal of Eris as beautiful, young, and highly sexual is common, which is in direct opposition to the Greco-Roman portrayals of Her. It seems as if Her new worshippers do see Her in sexual terms at times, but these terms do not diminish Her child-like wonder and simplicity. Freud might even make out Discordianism as a haven for child pornography fetishists and other similarly socially dangerous individuals.
Finally, both Marx and Freud can reject Discordianism as a serious religion. It doesn't fit into their paradigms, really, so their reaction may just be that it isn't important. This is not, however, a valid argument. In response to the idea that Discordians aren't serious about their own religion, Thronley has the following to say:
You can only be asking yourself at this point how these guys could possibly be taking all this shit seriously. If we weren’t serious, do you really think we would have published so many tracks and pamphlets at our own expense for so many years? Do people who are not serious stay awake at nights thinking up new theologies and scriptures? Who but serious fanatics would have risked there lives by exposing their work to the readership of our first mass-circulation publisher, Loompanics?A Discordian would probably react to the idea that their religion was bunk, made-up, or a part of the superstructure or longing for the father by simply asking, "Who cares?" The point of it all is not whether it is created in reaction to economics, longing, or even if it was all one big joke. The point of the religion is that it helps to make sense of the world, either by seeing the disorder as order, or by accepting that it's really just one cosmic joke.
In order to make sense of a religion like Discordianism, we must stop looking to old theories and theorists as the only sources for understanding religion. We need to create a new theory, or perhaps a set of theories that can be better applied to Discordianism and like movements. Discordianism is also not the only New Age movement that makes use of the ideas of various religious scholars in order to help them change and create their religions, so the problem is not even remotely unique to Discordianism. Making sense of movements that make no sense is no small order, but there should be something in place to help us. Until then, looking at these religions from a variety of standpoints is the best we can do.
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. ed./trans. Strachey, James. College Edition. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1962.
Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion. ed./trans. Strachey, James. Standard Edition. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1989.
Lincoln, Bruce. Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After September 11. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 2002
Malcalypse the Younger. The Principia Discordia, or How I Found the Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her. IlluiNet Press, Lilburn, GA. 1991.
Marx, Karl, and Fredrich Engles. Marx and Engels on Religion. Introduced by Reinhold Niebuhr. Schocken Books, New York. 1964
Pals, Daniel. Seven Theories on Religion. Oxford Press, New York. 1996.