Christ at Christmas and Easter

No. 078


T. R. Young
The Red Feather Institute

(Revised 8 Dec., 1999)





Distributed as part of the Affirmative Postmodern Sociology of Religion Series of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.


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     The categories of cultural Marxism are used to explore
     the ideological fields in which the Jesus Symbol is
     located.  The typifications in which surround the Christ
     figure define two quite different ideological fields: 
     the one at Christmas lending itself t the social and
     commercial needs of advanced monopoly capital while the
     Easter ideological field and the significations
     surrounding that Jesus lends itself more to a radical
     revolutionary movement.  While commercial capitalism in
     crisis may prefer the Christmas Jesus, the Easter Jesus
     has more appeal to oppressed people and resonates with
     their lived experience.

 INTRODUCTION:    Durkheim said that when we celebrate the gods, we celebrate
our society.  Marx said that when we speak to the gods we cry out,
in anguish, for a better society--a futile, misdirected, pathetic,
fruitless cry for help.  Both contradictory positions have merit. 
For Durkheim, religion heals, binds, consolidates and transcends
social cleavages.  For Marx, religion is a fraudulent institution,
a false healer, a patent medicine itself oriented to private, not
social ends.  In the United States the Durkheimian view is the
received truth for most American sociologists.  For those who look
at national and international structures and see widening faults
glossed over by established religion, the Marxian view has
considerable appeal.  The truth-value of a theoretical explanation
is always grounded in the shifting, complex whole of a society, the
boundaries of which may go far beyond the area in which particular
gods are constituted by the worshipping activities of the religious
     The analysis which follows applies some recent developments of
Christ at Christmas and at Easter in Macherey's (1978) explanation
of the literary subject.  In general, Macherey holds that the
irreconcilable cleavages in society can be expressed in concrete
terms, in the written/spoken/singing text.  In the novel, in the
story, in the song and in the religious myth, these cleavages are
transformed from the ungraspable richness of everyday life into a
graspable, solvable symbol.  These cleavages are realized in a
form, in a format, which offers a solution to them on a fictive
plane.  All the varied, shifting complexities of the "signifying
practices" of people are reformulated in language alone--in the
text of song, poem, novel, play, or myth.
     It is through language that people are inserted into life and
literature as subject.  The form of language is such that an I, or
a me, or a we is constituted as subject perforce--even if that is
not the case in the lived experience.  One cannot, of course,
literally be inserted as a subject in a novel, song, movie or
television program.  But in every case of fictive literary art--and
in most non-fiction--there are characters with which one
identifies.  In the novel, play, or poem the point of view of the
central character becomes the point of view of the reader, auditor
or viewer.  The subjectivity of that character is presented as the
proper, natural, normal way to experience life.  To develop the
analysis here we must shift, as Macherey shifts, from the
subjective experience of the central character--as well as from our
identification with it--to the larger social context in which the
author writes.
     The author who creates a work of art works out of an
ideological structure.  This ideological structure is grounded in 
the material interests of a given social group.  Depending upon the
author and the text at hand, the group is one connected to another
by the larger structures of social life.  In American society, the
divisive structures are class, ethnic (race), gender, age, and
nationality.  In the class structure, capitalists and proletariat
are related and have, each, an ideology which helps interpret,
justify, and sanctify the lived experience of each group to the
other.  It is always a political question which ideological field
will prevail.  The same is true of gender, ethnic and other social
divisions.  Out of these ideologies, the author of the song, movie
or novel creates a fictive subject whose lived experience helps
interpret, justify and sanctify a solution to the problems of life
brought into focus by the story-line of the novel or song.  In the
case at hand; Christian plays, programs, songs, and pageants, the
ideological field is mediated by a sponsoring process on the mass
media.  This sponsoring process ensures that the dominant
typifications suffusing the Jesus symbol are compatible to the
concrete interests of the sponsor--in this case that of commercial
capitalism undergoing a crisis of accumulation and of legitimacy
(O'Connor, 1973).
     Macherey adopts Althusser's view of ideology in which the role
of ideology is to dispel the contradictions of the lived experience
of people by offering a solution which is framed within the logic
of some one privileged group.  An ideology is always a closed
system.  In order to stay within its boundaries, the ideas which
contain the solutions to life's difficulties must remain silent on
problems which call into question the relationship as lived.  In
order to free oneself (and society) of the ideological work going
forth in song, novel, and ceremony, it is necessary to step outside
the social group whose interests are celebrated.
     The novel, song, or movie, then, enables us to experience a
given problem and a putative solution as understanding subject.  In
the case of the Jesus symbol, the authors/artists who present it to
us grasp the fundamental problematics of an age from the
perspective of the group in which the author/artist arises and
lives.  The defining quality of great art is that it cannot be
reduced simply to those interests.  If it is, it is merely bad or
mediocre and strikes us as dull.  But Christmas and Easter are
seldom dull--nor are the stories which grasp the fullness of the
contradictions which are experienced at Christmas or Easter time. 
Irreconcilable positions are delineated in play or song at
Christmas time and Easter time.  In each story a fictive solution
emerges.  For Macherey, the appeal of literature and language is
the illusion of reconciliation of that which is, within the
existing structures of society, irreconcilable.  However, one must
add to Macherey that such fictive symbols can show the way to new
radically different social arrangements.  This is the emancipatory
dimension of every authentic work of art whether it is Goya,
Gerschwin or Brecht.
     It is the particular appeal of the Christ figure that it
allows one to experience, in differing typifications, alternate
reconciliations of one's own experienced unsolvable fears. 
However, Christmas and Easter offer two quite different
problematics and two quite different solutions to these private
fears and collective conflicts.
The Subjective Experience of Christ at Christmas.  At Christmas, we
experience life from the perspective of the holy child and of the
holy family.  In song, in cinema, on television and in the novel,
as well as the news story, the perspective which we are expected to
take is that of the child, helpless in a hostile world but embraced
by a living, protecting mother and a more distant but dependable
father.  At Christmas time in the United States in 1983, the themes
of Christmas center around the family.  The plight of the family as
experienced in the 1980's includes the problematics of generational
conflict, homelessness, inflation, employment insecurity, divorce,
child abuse and disintegrating kinship structures.  The story-line
at Christmas time in song, play, and pageant suggest how these may
be repaired within the structure of commodity consumption.  We are
offered a solution which does not take up questions about the
larger structures which strain and crack the family.  In fact, the
mythic solution offered on commercial television is a warm, strong
caring family circle made holy by the delight we take in each
other's joy in gifts--toys, cameras, perfumes, wines, watches as
well as kitchen appliances, video games, and power tools.
     In its noncommercial moments, television offers a wide variety
of fictive Christmases.  Children can learn through Raggedy Ann
that Alexander Graham Wolf can ruin Christmas by sealing toys in
unbreakable, transparent boxes.  The (Christ) child experiences
life thusly as visible but untouchable--and within the context of
gifts as a central typification of Christmas.  Peanuts, Bugs Bunny,
and the songs of Perry Como interpret, justify and sanctify Christ
as the collective child and justifies the family as the receptacle
of alienation.  Parental love, abstractly embodied in the gift as
a concrete expression of that solution to alienated relations in
family, school and society is also sanctified.  The fact of the
matter is that the sources of inflation, unemployment, family
violence and juvenile delinquency run far beyond the boundaries of
the family in the first instance and gift-giving cannot repair the
structure of alienated familial, class, gender or ethnic relations
in the second instance.
The use of Christmas and the Christ figure in American society
to interpret the structure of alienation and to sanctify gift-
giving-in-the-family as the solution warrants critical reflection.
For six weeks out of the year, beginning in October, amid great 
excitement and effort, Christmas is made to embody the full range of these
structural distortions.  No other institution--not even the
American presidency or the American state--is so celebrated. 
Consumption of non-necessary products come to preempt the meaning of
Christmas, while its meaning as communal activity as in some
European or South American villages is progressively lost.  The
notion of the religious experience as a binding, incorporating
experience oriented to the widest possible social solidarity is
de-emphasized.  The notion of the church as an encompassing
fellowship in which each person stands in unshakable supportive
relationships to all is quietly displaced by the notion of
Christmas as a mass of isolated families engaged in a great
shopping spree attended by ringing bells, electronically broadcast
street carols, special town decorations and cheerful clerks ringing
up record sales until after the New Year.
     Such an organization of the Christmas experience represents a
response to the needs of industrial capital to produce and to
dispose of high-profit, capital-intensive products; of commercial
capital to merchandise such products to uncritical, vulnerable
customers; and to the needs of finance to loan out the high
reserves of capital it has accumulated at the highest possible
rates of interest.  The joy of Christmas and the promise of
surcease from alienated work, politics and sex are thus shifted
neatly from serving the need for community and intergenerational
accord to sales on favorable terms in the market place.  The mass
electronic media as well as the mass print media are preempted by
the task of constituting this typification of Christmas as a
marketplace; the problematic of alienation for the capitalist
system is consumption and the redemptive act is shopping.  Visa,
MasterCard, and Carte Blanc replace the three wise men as the
givers of gifts.
     Easter, on the other hand, receives considerably less
attention in the mass media.  It is located mostly in the social
media, i.e., home and church.  Easter receives but two or three
days attention in the media.  The central typification of Easter is
change and renewal of the social order.  In earlier times, Easter
had to do with change and renewal of the seasons.  In Christian
times, the death of the old social order is symbolized by the
crucifixion while the birth of the new social order (Heaven on
Earth) is symbolized by the resurrection of Jesus.  On television,
this change and renewal motif is reduced to clothing and fashion
and the Easter Parade.  While Christmas is a six billion dollar
economic complex (1980), fashion is a three billion dollar complex
(1980) spread out over the year and only marginally connected to
Easter.  Easter does not lend itself to the economic and political
needs of advanced monopoly capitalism as does the fictive
Christmas.  Easter programs are far fewer on mass media, slotted
outside of prime time and presented as a public (i.e. religious)
service.  Inserted into Easter through the symbol of the Crucified
Jesus, the agony of the individual and the anguish of the grieving
Christian community attracts few sponsors and fewer playwrights. 
What can one learn from Disney or Dr. Seuss about Easter which
meets the needs of commodity capitalism?
     The viewing audience, then, can be inserted in the Christmas
myth through the protected Christ child in ways which help
reconcile (fictively) the cleavages of family and society in modern
capitalism.  The viewing audience, when inserted in the Easter myth
through the symbol of the suffering adult Christ does not heal the
cleavages of the existing social order but would, rather, call it
into doubt, cast it aside and move to a qualitatively new social
order--the Kingdom of God on Earth.  
The Easter message, founded in Christian understanding by the new
testament, especially in Revelations, calls forth a utopian vision of Satan
thrown into a bottomless pit and of Christian martyrs reigning on Earth 
with the resurrected Christ for a thousand years.  In the millennium there
is to be peace on earth, freedom from evil as well as the rule of
righteousness realized by faith in Jesus and the power of God.  The
advent of millennium is concerned with the prospects of a human 
community on earth.  This is not the subjective experience useful
to the sponsors of the American Christmas on mass media.  Insertion
of the alienated person in such a fictive vision creates trouble
rather than a happy consumer whose compulsive shopping helps 1)
reunite production and distribution, 2) realize profit, 3) dispose
of surplus production, 4) accumulate capital for further expansion
of the economy, and which 5) displace pressing, macro-structural
questions.  Easter brings these macro structural distortions into
focus for the understanding subject.
     One can better understand the way in which the Jesus figure is
mediated by the mass media and the needs of advanced capitalism by
comparing the central typifications of Christmas with those of
The Structure of Christmas Hymn.  There is a semiotic approach
which helps us understand developed singing: voices-without-
Semiology is an effort largely stimulated by Barthes
(1971) which tries to place a given message--photo, text, or art
form--in the ideological field which helps define its meaning and
in the same instance, reproduces that ideological field.  The
search in semiology is for the "significations" which are preferred
in any message and which gives an ideological field meaning as a
totality (Weedon et al., 1980).  At the level of pure semantics,
Christmas songs are nonsense.3  At the level of semiology, they are
important events in renewing an ideological field.  The structural
features of these songs are significations which constitute the
ideological field.  The first signifying structure is the tonal
structure which tells us we are not to respond at any action level
to any given information bit of any word in any lyric in any given
Christmas carol.  We are to respond to the whole ideological field-
-that which constitutes the setting of the songs.  Tonality,
tonality-in-song, tonality-in-Christmas-carols have no message and
no meaning on their own terms at purely the linguistic level.  It
is only when we enlarge the analysis and place it in the totality
of the entire life-world of which it is a part can we make out its
meaning.  Its structural characteristics provide the
significations--how we are to take these songs--which shape our
consciousness and guide our overt behavior.  We will make the
interpretations on the semiologic meaning of Christmas, Jesus, and
the carols as we explore and make visible some of the structures of
these songs.  Generally, songs are a form of social opinion and
help reproduce existing social structures

1.  The Structure of Gender Domination.  Almost all of the popular
     Christmas songs are sung by an older male.  Crosby, Como,
     Torme', Johnny Cash, Glenn Campbell, Mac Davis and Dean Martin
     have a virtual monopoly on Christmas singing in the year of this
     Study.  Taking a look at the list of Christmas songs ranked in order
     of popularity, we see several women listed.  Women's liberation
     will, doubtless, continue to change the gendered nature of Christmas
     as an ideological field.  However, at present I think it fair enough to
     say that the use of a male voice is a structural device which signifies 
     the gender division and reasserts the superior status of the male in
     celebrating the sacred.
     Female voices, as in the family setting, back up the older
     male voice.  This emphasizes the baritone--hence maleness--
     quality of the voice lead and, in the same moment, asserts the
     power relationship between male and female in the family.  The
     politics of gender is an important part of the total
     ideological field in the U.S.  Such song format, even when
     they do not say so specifically, linguistically, say so
     structurally.  Power--this time sacred power--is a male
     monopoly in song, in family and in society.
 2.  The Nuclear Family as the Significant Social Unit.  The
     structural arrangement of voices often reproduces the
     structure of a small kinship network called the family.  The
     choral group typifies, in its form, the structure of the
     gender differentiated extended kinship system.  The choral
     group is more often found at Easter than Christmas.  In the
     U.S. there are about 55 million such kinship units.  The trend
     is changing toward childless couples and to single-parent
     families.  The ideological content of this male-dominated song
     structure is to deny and discourage this trend.  Get married,
     have children, let-the-male-dominate this structure is the
     unvoiced message of this format.
 3.  Jesus, the Sacred Child.  The fictive subject in Christmas
     songs is the sacred child represented by the real person of
     the infant Jesus.  Every child who is old enough to grasp the
     ideological system of its own culture understands itself as
     the object of the lived experience of the Christ-child as it
     is depicted in song.  The child is inserted into the song as
     object of all of Christ's experiences--as a precious, loved,
     and cherished object.  As the lived experience of the child
     deteriorates the fictive expectations incorporated in the song
     become all the more urgent.  A loving mother, a protective
     father, a warm strong family setting, the touch of a
     benevolent God, the unending flow of gifts and food astonish
     and sanctify the child--especially those as in Dickens'
     Christmas Carol whose lived experience is different.
     The vision and image of life presented in this voiced music is
     at once a prophecy and a command--and, in modern times, an
     impossibility.  On the one hand the songs command solidarity;
     on the other, they sing of an impossible dream since a
     Christmas, even if joyous to a few million parents and a great
     many million children is not the lived experience of most
     people, most of the time in Christendom in 1981.  It is no
     accident that suicide, alcoholic excesses, depression and
          family violence increase in the Christmas season. 
4.  The Gift Structure.  The structure of Christmas which
     validates the sacred character of the child is the gift
     structure.  In most societies, the gift is the non-exchange,
     non-commercial practice which demonstrates beyond question the
     social character of a relationship (Mauss, 1955).  Gift-giving
     when it is irrational, when it is painful, when it is
     troublesome, when it serves no productive purpose, is the
     generic form of the practice and the highest test of the
     social nature of a relationship.  The child is sanctified and
     brought into a social relation by being identified as the
     subject of gift-giving.  When kings and princes and saints
     bear the gift, all the more special is the child.  Saint
     Nicholas brings the gift; not the more mundane (profane)
     parent.  Christmas is the peculiarly modern expression of the
 5.  Society as Harmonious, Orchestrated Object.  The form of the
     music is of special interest.  Music produced by choral
     groups, orchestras and in programs have, as their structure,
     the idealized structure of bourgeois society.  Christmas
     carols in concert, for example the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,
     have all of the idealized characteristics of a well-ordered
     society.  Everyone has a part, is part of a social division,
     everything is prescheduled,  coordinated and contributes to
     the emergent whole.4  At the level of lived society, Christmas
     music often takes the formal characteristics of a well ordered
     society with a single dominant male orchestrating everything. 
     At the level of abstract theory, the use of the orchestra
     format resonates with structural-functional theory of Parsons,
     Merton, Radcliffe-Brown and other consensus-oriented
     In contrast to jazz which is idiographic, concerts are
     nometheic.  Jazz is unpredictable, in choral concerts
     everything is predictable since it is planned and rehearsed.
     In jazz, there is no ordered division of labor, no leader and
     led as in the case of the orchestra or choral group.  Jazz
     could, of course, be used in Christmas song but it would not
     have the structural characteristics of the present form.  It
     would not contribute to an ideological map of Christmas which
     sanctifies a special, bourgeois form of social organization;
     control, predictability, profitability, and commercial
     transformation of gift-giving into gift-buying.
 6.  The Structure of Belief, Faith, Innocence, Awe and Mystery. 
     The tone of the songs at Christmas about the Jesus-child are
     full of the awe and wonder of the ineffable.  This emphasis
     upon belief and faith, innocence and magic stands in sharp
     contrast to the profane world of physical reality in which
     cause and effect is mechanical and mundane.  The important
     thing to note is that social reality requires faith, belief,
     and innocence in the process of constituting it while physical
     reality does not.  And the effect of Christmas song, taken
     innocently, preserves the ability to create social reality
     even as this ability is eroded by secularization trends in the
     production of culture in politics, marketplace, factory, shop,
     office, and classroom. 
7.  The Structure of Peace.  A conflict-ridden world requires
     peace to suppress the aspirations of the oppressed.  Class
     elites need labor peace to keep the factories going. 
     Transnational corporations need peace to keep the traffic in
     wealth and food flowing out of the poor countries toward the
     rich countries.  Merchants need safe, peaceful streets to keep
     customers coming.  Politicians need peace to maintain their
     continued political legitimacy.  A central message of
     Christmas is unreflexive, unqualified peace.  The ideological
     utility of peace arises when class and national interests are
     threatened.  The use of Christmas as an ideological instrument
     for peace is made possible by the conflation of the special
     interests of class elites with the general interest in a
     peaceful society.  The experience of the various revolutions
     in history often demonstrates that the general interest is
     better served by the violent overthrow of feudal, slave, and
     despotic elites then by peace per se.  Song, pageant, and
     television programming separating peace from social justice is
     part of the ideological field of contemporary Christmas.

     The structures above abstracted from Christmas song together,
with other structures, synergistically, define the ideological
field in which the figure of Christ is situated at Christmas time. 
Since these are the stressed features in Christmas song these are
the typifications by which the ideological field is made visible.
Below is a list of the all-time favorite Christmas songs according to CDCB, 
an on-line record company.
However, Church programs, Network broadcasts and radio offerings do
not follow popular taste.  Christian and Patriarchal cultural themes are
more determinative in determining ideological fields in these forums.

White Christmas - Bing Crosby 
2.Merry Christmas all - Brook Benton 
3.O, Little town of Bethlehem - Dinah Shore 
4.Away in a manger - Bing Crosby 
5.I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus - Bobby Sherman 
6.Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow - Bing Crosby 
7.I wanna rock 'n roll guitar - Johnny Preston 
8.The little boy that Santa Claus forgot - Vera Lynn 
9.Little Drummer boy - Rosemary Clooney 
10.The Christmas song - Peggy Lee 
11.Silver Bells - Bing Crosby 
12.When a child is born - Brook Benton 
13.Jingle Bells - Nat king Cole 
14.We wish you a merry Christmas - The Drifters 
15.You're all I want for Christmas - Brook Benton 
16.Blue Christmas - The Platters 
17.Jingle bell rock - Bobby Sherman 
18.Beautiful memories - Brook Benton 

     In brief that ideological field posits as sacred a social form
in which a male-dominated family structure uses gifts to celebrate
the position of the child.  This family of three generic roles--
mother, child, and the commanding father is the basic building
block of a highly orchestrated, highly stable peaceful social life
world.  Other possible building blocks are foreclosed in this
ideological field.  The community, the individual, the friendship,
the cohabiting couple, the homosexual couple, the extended family,
the clan or other, historically viable, building blocks are
excluded from the ideology emergent from this structural
combination.  Excluded as well are democratic societal forms,
spontaneity, rotas, and unique, idiographic permutations.
     The transformation of Christ from a revolutionary in the early
years--symbolized by his crucifixion--can be seen in the treatment
of Christ by Weber (in Lash, 1980:7).  Weber notes that
transforming social change (diachronic change) became embodied in
the Christ figure as he became the vehicle of natural law
(Wertrationalitat).  While the priests preempted legal rationality
(Zweckrationalitat), Christ had to resort to Charismatic
nonrationality as his source of authority.  It is possible to
understand that the Wertrational Christ of biblical times has been
replaced at Christmastime, by the Zweckrational Christ of advanced
Zweckrational Capitalism.  The Christ of Easter is altogether a
different story.  There remain elements of Wertrationalitat in the
Christ of Easter among many Latin Americans associated with the
Liberation Theology movement.
     In interpreting the selection of typifications in Christmas
song, the first point I think is useful to make is that the
structures selected are of significance (and thus worthy of
selection) only when they are problematic.  One does not have to
create a special ideological field for structures which are not
undergoing change; which are not threatened by still deeper,
unexamined reified contradictions.  Only when structures are
undergoing dereification is the social labor of reification and
deification necessary.  Out of the thousands of taken-for-granted
structures the production of which are necessary for a given
social-life world--a culture as we say--only a few are problematic
enough to burden the Christmas season with them.
     The status of the family is made more problematic as the need
for more labor from both males and females increases.  Christmas
carols and caroling formats which reproduce the family structure
(e.g., The Osmond family, the old Crosby shows, the Johnny Cash,
Glenn Campbell, Lawrence Welk television programs of the 1981
season) vary in popularity over the years.  By problematic, I mean
that some processes in society depend upon the family while other
processes tend to change it.  In capitalist society, a large number
of highly mobile family units with highly productive members
blessed with a lot of disposable income for consumption is just the
family structure best suited to capitalism.  It supplies the highly
trained labor force so necessary to produce profit.  Family units
with disposable income help realize profit.  The structure of gift-
giving absorbs that disposable income.  But family and other
structures in late capitalism must be reproduced if they are to
absorb the costs of supplying trained labor, help to realize profit
by absorbing surplus production and help provide the dramaturgical
facsimile of a solution to the problem of alienation.  The use of
Jesus as Christ-child helps the family--on a yearly basis--to make
the sacrifice for twenty years or so to rear and train a child to
be a punctual, conscientious, productive worker and dedicated
consumer.  By the time the child is twelve, he or she has learned
that the good life, obedience, and consumption are ineluctably tied
together through the Sacred Christ of Christmas.
     The American Christmas, in its television, radio and newspaper
version, orients the family to absorb 6 billion dollars (1980)
worth of surplus production.  In a Marcusian analysis, the Christ
of Christmas helps sanctify to parent and child alike to an
expanding layer of false needs.  The economic dynamics of Christmas
are such that high profit is realized and, to some extent, the
accumulation crisis of advanced monopoly capitalism is moderated. 
Buying at Christmas time is especially irrational.  That is, the
ordinary canons of caution, calculation, and utility are set aside-
-indeed they must be set aside if the spirit of Christmas is to be
captured.  And the control over media accorded to commercial
capitalism by virtue of the advertising format of television
sponsorship provides the industry with a virtual monopoly over the
defining process.  What is defined as a suitable gift is controlled
by the sponsor.  It is in the fiscal interest of such private
sponsors to define high profit/capital intensive items as the
appropriate gift.  A full analysis of this control is a long
treatise itself but it suffices to say that such control over the
defining process creates a long time trend to economic distortions
among which is the movement of private capital to cheap labor
countries as well as the movement of investment capital to high
profit lines of production.  The essential lines of production are
thereby deprived of capital investment.  Housing, health care,
child care, education, pollution control and other labor intensive,
low-profit lines of production are deprived of resources.  the
ideological field at Christmas contributes in some small but
important degree to this institutional distortion.  It is difficult
for parents and others to define labor-intensive necessities as
suitable gifts in the face of this multi-million dollar campaign by
commercial capital at Christmas to dispose of high-energy, high
technology, high profit forms of production.
     However, the aspects of Christmas and the aspects of Christ
selected by sponsors of television, radio and municipal pageants
are also mediated by tradition, by family needs, and by religious
functionaries as well.  needs for love, affirmation, selfless
giving, surprise oriented to affection and to the warmth of the
extended kinship/friendship complex are not false to the human
process--these are central to it.  The Christ of the American
Christmas also endorses and elevates these out of ordinary time and
ordinary experience.  The American version of Christ at Christmas
is not entirely alien to the human project.  There is a whole
universe of experience at Christmastime which, although not the
focus of this analysis, deserves to be included and weighed against
the mystifications of Christmas.
The Jesus of the Easter Ceremony.  Once again, it is central to a
critical semiology to identify the ideological field in which this
version of Christ is created and helps recreate.  The immediate
observation which presents itself is that the Jesus of Easter does
not lend itself to the capitalist venture to the same extent as the
Christ-child of Christmas.  The centrally important significations
of the Easter Child are far different from the Christmas Christ.
     A structural analysis of the Easter Christ provides us with
these typifications:  In the first place, the Christ at Easter is
an adult, not a child.  He embodies suffering and the accumulated
sins of the whole society rather than the joy of the hearth and
home.  The Easter Christ stands as a voiceless critic of the
established institutions of society:  of the marketplace, of the
occupying army, of alienated governance, of personal greed and
collective indifference to justice.  Church, state, police and
ordinary life are the targets of the protesting Christ-figure.  A
child cannot carry such a burden.
     Easter, of course, can be depoliticized and, as the hoar
leper, refreshed once again to the April day.  Easter can be
trivialized by egg-rolls on the White House lawn, by tiny chicks
and rabbits held by inept tiny hands as well as by melting
chocolate candies but this is not the central feature of Easter in
the lived experience of many Christians, especially those in the
poor capitalist countries--the "Third World."  For these people,
the typifications of Easter are more oriented to Christ and to his
     A structural analysis of the Easter Christ provides us with
these ideological typifications:
1)  The suffering of Christ and rejection of a sinful world.
 2)  The symbol of the egg and the spring colors used to decorate
     it are both typifications of rebirth brought over from the
     pagan spring rituals which predate the Easter service.  Change
     and renewal are the significant meanings.
 3)  The renewal of the human spirit and the reconstitution of a
     moral order oriented to community embodied in the resurrection
 4)  The emphasis upon the Holy Mother Mary and her despair at the
     sacrifice of her child.
 5)  The association of Christ with the outcast and the thief on
     the Cross.
 6)  The redemption of sin through the death of Christ.
 7)  The emphasis of the church (congregation) as the social unit
     rather than the family as in Christmas.  In the same moment,
     there is the collective anguish among the disciples and the
     small following of Christ at his death.
 8)  The displacement of redemption from the present to the future;
     from this world to the heavenly city, from the gift to the
     sacrifice of human beings.
     The pain, anguish, suffering, sacrifice and rebirth of the
Jesus symbol does not lend itself t a safe resolution of the
defects of advanced monopoly capitalism.  Compared to Christmas,
sponsored radio ignores Easter.  Sponsored newspapers stress
clothing and Easter parades.  Television finds few sponsors for
Easter specials.  In the face of the suffering Christ, one cannot
create false needs for electronic toys, automobiles, or such
solidarity supplies as beer, candy, and food.  The simple,
unadorned seminude body of Christ on the Cross is not conducive to
the realization of profit.  The generation of false needs so vital
to consumerism cannot be supported by the real grief of Mother Mary
at the loss of her son.  Buying high-profit items cannot be made to
assuage the grief one feels at the death of Christ.5
     The Christ at Easter reflects the alienation of humanity in a
world defective in significant ways.  The resurrection of Christ is
a promise for transcendence of the humiliation, the indignity, and
the suffering of the oppressed.  It is precisely the same promise
of a critical and revolutionary marxism.  it would be a distortion
to say that the typifications which infuse the Crucifixion Myth
lead toward the radical transformation of life in this world.  Such
an ideological field may lead to mysticism and not explicitly
toward emancipation.  However, it would be equally a distortion to
deny that the Jesus of Easter is indifferent to human suffering and
does not, cannot, speak to an authentic emancipation.  The
ideological field in which the Easter Christ dwells defines an
apocalyptic view of redemption.  It is an ideological field which
is fundamentally critical of injustice, oppression, and the
suffering produced by an exploitative/privileged society
The figure of the crucified Jesus continues to rage
against the corruption of every society in which a Christian
suffers from structural sin--the institutional distortions of war,
profit, privilege or denial of a common human part.  This is the
grounding of every revolutionary faith--Muslim, Marxian, and
Christian alike.  Every social movement which teaches the
irreformability of the present system, that teaches the radical
transformation on a new and more communal basis is apocalyptic in
its typifications and emancipatory in purpose whether it couches
its argument in scientific or in sacred language.
     It is the ideological map of Easter typified by anguish,
suffering and rejection of corruption in this world which informs
the liberation theology of the third-world poor especially in Latin
America.  In the capitalist third world each suffering Christian is
inserted as subject in the crucifixion by the Christ figure.  The
Christian is not inserted as subject in the ideological field of
the Jesus child comforted, plied with gifts or defined as bringer
of joy to the world.  The subjective experience of that Jesus
speaks to the middle class children in the fourteen rich capitalist
countries more so than the increasing desperation of poor children
in the 115 deteriorating capitalist countries (Table 1).


Figure 1.  Structural    Characteristics


                     AT EASTER TIME

Anthropomorphic Subject

Jesus as Child

Jesus as adult male

Subjective ontology

Joy and Comfort

Suffering and Sin

Redemptive action


Death of the old and birth (resurrection) of the new

Social Unit in Focus

The Family

The society (The Church)

Social Action required

Peace and Goodwill

Sacrifice and renewal

Medium (U.S. 1980)

Mass Media
(esp. radio and television)

Social Media
(esp. the family and the Church and congregation

Media Controlled by:

Capitalist ad agencies

Church and Community

The Political Message

Repair the present
social order (Solidarity)

Overthrow the present; establish Heavenly Kingdom on earth(Revolution)

The Agent

The Parent

The Son (as society collectively)

Economic Meaning

Consumption =
The Good Life

Redistribution/Social Justice


     For the unemployed, the ill, the elderly, or the lower echelon
employee as well in the still wealthy European and North American
countries, it is the Jesus of Easter which answers to the lived
experience of the alienated Christian.  In a society which has
become accustomed to better things, to responsive action in this
world, the Easter Christ poses more danger than in other, more
docile times.  The fifty million born-again Christians in the U.S.
turn to right-wing politics and toward that ideological amp for
responsive action.  As the contradictions of capitalism exacerbate
rather than transcend the situation for these millions, the
ideological field of the apostolic church, the social gospel, and
liberation theology stand by close at hand as a revolutionary
alternate for alienated Christians.
Conclusion.  There are two generalizations to be made in light of
the foregoing analysis.  One generalization is germane to the
sociology of religion while the other speaks more to the sociology
of knowledge.  Which of the two ideological fields takes precedence
in the religious practices of the Christian World is a historical
question related to quality of life variables--including those of
a spiritual nature.  By spiritual I mean here those variables
relating to joie de vivre, enthusiasm for work, self-esteem, social
anchorage, confidant, easy interpersonal support and boundless
affection for life and for living peoples.  The final judgment we
must make at this historical juncture is that the Christ-child of
Christmas takes precedence in the media as well as in the social
life world over that of the Crucified Jesus in the United States
and Europe.  It is organized to repair exploitative cleavages and
so works to some degree.  The analysis is that religion, in the
present Christmas mode, preserves defects in the structure of
society and thus stands against human emancipation.  However, the
efficacy of Christmas to help bind together a given society varies
over time.  
Such efficacy varies with the material conditions of a society as Marx
would have said.  It is my present opinion that Richard Quinney
(1980) is correct in his insistence that the spiritual and the
sacred are important to humans and must be accommodated within
critical, socialist analysis and practice.  An open cultural
Marxism must examine the Quinney thesis unblinded by a dogmatic
anti-religious bias.  (Quinney (7) argues that it is wrong to
dismiss the revolutionary and human character of a religion even if
the capitalist version is particularly subversive of community and
in many ways hostile to social justice.  Neither Marx nor Durkheim
can tell us whether religion* is always and in all ways hostile or
conducive to the human process--that is an empirical question.
     In South America, a different finding might be appropriate. 
There is an open invitation for competent research on the South
American situation.  The future will reveal any social and
ideological changes in the way the Christ figure is mediated and
constituted in the capitalist complex.  I expect a shift in the
importance accorded to the two ideological fields.  I should think
that Easter will gradually displace Christmas as the significant
way to experience the Christ figure as the crises in capitalist
societies continue.6  Along with Quinney, I am willing to concede
an emancipatory dimension to a religious ideological field,
especially as it is developing in liberation theology.
     A second generalization is that to fully understand how
ideological fields are constituted and used, one must go beyond
semantics, information theory, and the spoken language to include
typifications and semiotics.  An understanding of the ideological
field of Christmas cannot be acquired by listening to the words of
the Christmas song, by following the line of meaning of a Christmas
play, by attending to the words of the announcers, critics or by
reading the listings in television guides and sections.  The
meaning of Christmas, Easter, Veteran's Day, Halloween or any
collective cultural production must be located in the social
totality.  Such meaning arises out of nonverbal typifications and
significations.  Sometimes these meanings are located in deep
structures--in the very form and sequence of patterned activity. 
The work of Macherey, Barthes and other cultural Marxists help
provide the analytic tools with which to extract those earnings and
to contribute to the authentic and self-knowledge of a society in
its quest for social justice.
     Finally, those who believe all religion to be alien to the
human condition must pause and ask themselves what other
ideological field speaks clearly and deeply to the oppressed masses
in Latin America.  Surely it is not a scientized Marxism any more
than a scientized capitalism.  Whatever are one's views on the
reality of God, Christ and the religious doxology, the oppressed of
the world act upon their own beliefs, understandings and
interpretations.  I agree with Quinney that:
     *It is important to remember that religion is a word which
simply means "to bind," "to bind back."  It has the same etymology
s ligature (a thread), the word "religion" does not appear in the
Bible.  It is necessary to solve problems of integration,
unification, coordination and solidarity in every social
philosophy.  As there are no Gods to do it for us, the operative
question is how to do this in a secular world.one must speak to the
oppressed through the symbols they know, accept and believe. "
That these symbols are not now of the choosing of critical theory 
is a small tragedy on the scale of tragedies now
haunting the world.  Seventy-five percentage of the capitalist
world face starvation; infant mortality rates once again rise, the
technology of coercion continues building, torture is official
policy in thirty-eight capitalist countries, the global corporation
needs dictatorships to guarantee its  markets and labor peace.  In
the face of all this, the redemptive power of Christ is a more
realistic instrument of social justice than the sanitized
structural analysis of orthodox Marxism for most of those people
who will have to finally act on their own understandings.
     And, apart from Cuba and perhaps China, the socialist world
has little to offer the third world other than the model of a
dispirited bureaucratic socialism.  That the socialist block
outperforms the capitalist block in measures of social justice
counts little and in fact these data are not even available to the
peasant in the third world.  They are not even available to the
highly educated worker in the information-rich societies of Europe
and North America.  Still less is the Marxist vision of authentic
democratic socialism celebrated and sanctified in the West.  In the
short run, it matters little what Marxist theorists prefer--what
counts is commitment to revolutionary ideologies.  In that arena,
the Easter Christ has a present advantage.  Another century or two
may alter that fact but right now, the student of revolution,
social justice, moral development, and spiritual renewal might well
focus in on Jesus of the Liberation theology--the crucified Jesus
of Easter rather than the helpless child of Christmas.

     1A critical sociology is not the carping, debunking, cynical
sociology as the atheoretical criticism of American sociology has
turned out to be.  Rather critical sociology is one in which the
contradicting positives of a society are made visible and those
social practices most conducive to the human project are
illuminated.  The purpose of critical sociology is political:  to
locate the knowledge process both as product and process in the
social sphere.  In the case at hand, I am not so much interested
in the destruction of Christmas and the Jesus myth but rather in
extracting the positive aspects of these so that they might
transform to a less alienated; more praxical form.  The
alienating aspects of the Jesus myth and the Christmas season are
also made more visible, of course.
     2I'm not sure why tonic sound is not keyed to information
while atonic sound is.  It may be that the infant learns how to
respond to which voice.  When the parent talks, the child must
answer in words or behavior.  When the parent sings, the child
need not.  But I rather expect that singing frequencies somehow
mesh with basic frequencies of the body--especially in harmonic
relation to alpha waves.
     3Technically, a signal set (sound, electronic or light
waves) have no meaning until they are interpreted by a second
person.  At the social level of informing practices, this means
someone must hear, see or feel the signal set, decode it and act
in ways compatible with the message.  If there is no action then,
there is no meaning.  The signal set is noise in the system. 
Hearing and thinking and feeling alone while important in
psychological terms, is not sufficient for social meaning--action
is necessary.
     4The concert form used by the N.Y., Philadelphia, Cleveland,
and Denver Symphony Orchestra is modeled on the traditional
European concert.  This concert format recapitulates the feudal
system.  Indeed the system of ranked hierarchy, the division into
mental and manual labor and the integrated parts of the emergent
whole which marks all stratified societies whether feudal,
bureaucratic and elitist.
     5Advertising genius has come up with ways to use God the
Father figure in selling and realizing profit.  The Xerox ad in
which a group of "Monks" display astonishment at the "miracle" of
xeroxography as they look up (toward God) is perhaps the best of
the current lot.  Any number of ads use the structural features
of the religious experience (again without words) to solve the
realization problem of private capitalism.
     6The role of the mass electronics media is strategic here in
as much as they are controlled by private capital.  Christmas can
be elevated in importance.  Since Easter is primarily experienced
in small face to face situations, it is easy to see the uneven
contest.  Mass media overwhelms the social media easily.  But
about one television station a month is purchased by religious
organizations as are about 12 radio stations (1979 figures).  And
all the cable television have religious programming available
continuously.  This may alter the rate at which a given
ideological field displaces another in Christendom.

Barthes, Roland
          1971       "The Rhetoric of the Image."  In Working
              Papers in Cultural Studies for the Centre for
              Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of
          1977       Image, Music Text.  Stephen Heath, ed. 
              London:  Fontana.
Burneston and Weedon
          1978       "Ideology, Subjectivity and the Artistic
              Text."  In On Ideology (Bill Shwartz, ed.). 
              London:  Hutchinson and Company.
Lash, Scott
          1980       "Right and Liberalism in the Thought of
              Weber."  Paper presented at the Conference of the
              American Sociological Association:  New York.
Macherey, P.
          1978       A Theory of Literary Production. 
                            Routledge:  London.Mauss, Marcel
          1955       The Gift.  (I. Gunnison, Tr.)  Glencoe: 
              Free Press.  (1928)
O'Connor, James
          1973       The Fiscal Crisis of the State.  New York: 
              St. Martin's Press.
Quinney, Richard
          1980       Providence:  The Reconstruction of Moral
              and Social Order.  New York:  Longman.
Sumner, Colin
          1979       "The Semiology of Roland Barthes."  In
              Reading Ideologies.  New York:  Academic Press.
Weedon, Chris, et al.
          1980       "Introduction to Language Studies at the
              Center."  In Culture, Media and Language.  London: 
Young, T. R.
          1980       Social Opinion, Public Opinion and Mass
                            Opinion.  Red Feather:  The Red Feather Institute.

By Alma Guillermoprieto in Managua
          It could be an ordinary Easter, except that it is the
second time Jesus has risen again in Nicaragua since the
Revolution.  The difference shows most inside the churches.

          At the Church of Mercy, Father Antonio Castro is proud
to show the new alter, built in the shape of a barricade, out of
the same paving stones local children used to build barricades with
against the National Guard of the late dictator, Anastasio Somoza.

          "The congregation wanted it that way," he said.  There
was popular enthusiasm as well for the new Stations of the Cross. 
The First one--Jesus condemned to death--shows a young man being
pushed in the back of a lorry by the National Guard.  "At first
some people objected to that," said Father Antonio, "but I
explained that the old paintings we used to see were of old people,
who painted a thousand years ago what they thought happened two
thousand years ago.  We have to do that again today."

          The initiative to make Christ a contemporary figure is
transforming the Nicaraguan Church and the way it is perceived by
the faithful--and creating some internal friction.  What a local
observer calls "the great battle for Jesus Christ" is on between
the prorevolutionary clergy and the traditional Church.

          In the name of Jesus, the "popular Church," as it is
sometimes known, is actively collaborating with the revolutionary
regime.  In the name of Christ, the religious hierarchy is warning
against excessive Church involvement and cautiously siding with the

          The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) could
not be happier with its success in capturing the imagination and
loyalty of so many of the clergy.  Four priests serve in cabinet-
level positions.  Ernesto Cardenal, the poet-priest, is Minister of
Culture.  His brother, Fernando Cardenal, a Jesuit, headed the
literacy campaign.  He is now executive director of the Sandinista
youth organization.

          Miguel D'Escotto is in charge of foreign relations. 
Edgar Parrales is Minister of Social Welfare, and like his
colleague in culture, a lay priest.  In addition, many of the
country's 300 or so priests are serving in government.

          The alliance of a left-wing revolutionary organization
with the radicalized pro-pounders of "liberation theology" is not a
Nicaraguan phenomenon.  In the early 1960s Father Camilo Torres of
Colombia was one of several priests to exchange his vows for a
guerrilla rifle.  The difference in Nicaragua and the rest of
Central America is that the clergy does not give up its vows, but
preaches liberation from the pulpits.

          Many revolutionaries are no longer ashamed to call
themselves Christians.  Among the Sandinistas, many of the leaders--
among them the National Directorate member, Louis Carrion, and the
army's second-in-command, Joaqui Cuadra--began as members of the
Christian communities.

          The FSLN's statement on the role of religion in the
Revolution last November made the new alliance explicit:  "Our
experience shows that one can be a believer and a committed
revolutionary at the same time, and that there is no insurmountable
contradiction between the two."

          The Nicaragua Church hierarchy disagrees at least with
the interpretation of the statement, and a year ago it asked clergy
serving in government positions to resign.  The priests asked the
Vatican to mediate.  The Church softened its position to say that
those priests who could be replaced in their government tasks
should resign.  The Vatican said the affair should be settled in
Nicaragua and to date, no priest has withdrawn from the Government
and more have joined.

          The Opposition here is as intent as the clergy in
claiming the certificate of Christian authenticity.  The Catholic
radio station and the Opposition daily, La Prensa, use the
Christian vocabulary to voice their attacks on the Government.  The
Archbishop of Managua's homilies are regularly reprinted in La
Prensa and the Opposition and the FSLN think that the sermons are
subtle attacks on the Government.  The archbishop claims

          "The hierarchy is growing isolated, and it is concerned
about that," said Father Antonio Castro, as he prepared for an
austere celebration of Good Friday.
                           *  *  *  *  *  *  *  
                     IS "CHRISTIAN" JUST A CODE WORD?
Here's what the spokesmen for the Religious New Right say:
"We've already taken control of the conservative movement.  And
conservatives have taken control of the Republican Party.  The
remaining thing is to see if we can take control of the country." 
Richard Viguerie, key fundraiser and strategist for the Religious
New Right.
"Groups like ours are potentially very dangerous to the political
process...a group like ours could lie through its teeth and the
candidate it helps stays clean."  Terry Dolan, Chairman, National
Political Action Committee.
"We're radicals working to overturn the present structure in this
country...we're talking about Christianizing America."  Paul
Weyrich, Director, Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress.
"If necessary, God would raise up a tyrant, a man who might not
have the best ethics, to protect the freedom and the interests of
the ethical and the Godly."  Rev. James Robison, TV evangelist.
"You can't be a good Christian and a liberal at the same time." 
Rev. Jerry Falwell, TV evangelist, President of Moral Majority,

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