Literary squibs

This blog is a venue for me to publish short essays about literary topics. No specific theme is envisaged, although religion, politics and sex will probably figure prominently. Let’s see how it develops!

dimanche 24 mai 2009

Suffer the little children: Jesus as child abuser?

Years ago, in the early 70s, I was a minor fan of the Munich-based German band Amon Düül II. Part of my motivation, I must admit, was that it went along with my image of being a bit weird. Fans of Amon Düül II were pretty thin on the ground in provincial Adelaide in the early 70s. Anyway, I liked the music, but could not make out too many of the words. Quite a few of the songs were in English, and the odd phrase I could make out was suitably dark and weird, which suited the feeling of the music quite well. The same could be said of the German words. I must also admit that there were some songs which appeared to be in no language I was familiar with.

More recently, I have downloaded quite a few of the band’s songs in MP3 format, which, as some readers may know, removes a lot of echos and things for the sake of compression. The result of this is that some of the words become a lot clearer. On top of that, words to some songs have been posted online. To be frank, in many cases, I appreciated the songs more before I knew the (English) words, which have often turned out to be little more than ungrammatical nonsense.

Not so with the German words (which shows the advantage of writing in one’s native language). And so it comes to pass that now, forty years after the song was released, I am writing about the words of the song Dem Guten, Schönen, Wahren (lit: “To the good, beautiful, true”) from the album Phallus Dei. Below are the words, as I hear them, with the aid of some previous listeners. I have also included my own, deliberately somewhat over-literal, translation.

Ihr ließet die Kindlein zu mir kommenYou let the little children come to me
In weißen Kleidern und Blumen im Haar.Clothed in white and with flowers in their hair.
Hab ich ihnen die Unschuld genommen;I took their innocence;
Ich kann euch nicht sagen, wie schön es war.I can’t tell you how good it was.
Dienet dem guten, dem schönen, dem wahren;Serve the good, the beautiful, the true;
Peitschet ihn aus; er bebt schon danach!Flog him; he is already quivering for it!
Lasst ihn die süße Qual erfahren;Let him experience the sweet torture;
Er sehnt so nach Schande und Schmach! Ja....He so longs for shame and humiliation! Yes....
Wir tanzten zusammen RingelreihenWe danced ring-a-roses together
Und sangen ein wunderschönes Lied.And sang a beautiful song.
Die jüngste fing an, nach der Mutter zu schreien;The youngest started crying for her mother;
Ich durchbohrte sie sanft mit meinem Glied.I penetrated her gently with my member.
Kommet zuhauf und seht ihn euch an:Come in large numbers and look at him:
Das Haupt kahl geschoren und lächelt er noch.His head shaved bald, and still he smiles.
Frisch ans Werk ist leicht getan;Fresh to work makes it easily done;
Hänget ihn auf, den geilen Moloch! Ja....Hang him up, the randy Moloch1! Yes....

One of the comments one often hears about the album Phallus Dei is that the German is archaic. I have even seen it described as “Middle German”. This is wrong; it is archaic modern German. In particular, the first line of the song is a dead give-away. I have translated it as “You let the little children come to me”, but it is a clear biblical reference to Mark 10.xiv: “But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God”. In Luther’s German translation, the relevant clause is: Lasset die Kindlein zu mir kommen. The change from Lasset to Ihr ließet is equivalent to going in English from “Allow” to “You allowed” (the word suffer in the KJV is used in the sense of “allow”). The archaic -et ending (in place of -t) for the second-person plural is retained, and indeed used elsewhere in the song where metric considerations allow. In other words, this song starts with a biblical reference and is written quite self-consciously in biblical language.

This should not really be very surprising. Consider, for example, the names of the tracks on the album: Kanaan, Dem Guten Schönen Wahren, Luzifers Ghilom, Henriette Krötenschwanz and Phallus Dei. Of these names, Kanaan is the name of a country mentioned frequently in the Bible, Luzifers Ghilom mentions the Devil by name (Lucifer) and Phallus Dei mentions God. The title Dem Guten Schönen Wahren is not specifically religious (although of course it is open to religious interpretation), but the content of the song is. So the only exception to the religious theme is Henriette Krötenschwanz, which is 2 minutes out of a total of around 40 minutes of music on the album. In other words, 95% of the album is devoted to biblical or religious themes.

So, getting back to Dem Guten Schönen Wahren, we may ask: What is it about? You will note that I have written alternate stanzas in italics. The Roman text is sung, if that is the word, in a falsetto voice by a single performer. The text in italics is sung by a chorus of deep-voiced male singers. Obviously, the falsettist is boasting about his sexual abuse of children (even if you missed the bit about taking their innocence, penetrating the girl with his member should leave you in no doubt), and the chorus is in some sense sitting in judgment on him and calling initially for his whipping and then for his execution. After each of the falsettist’s stanzas, he produces some of the most demonic gloating laughter I have ever heard.

So far, so good: the guy is a child abuser and he gets his come-uppance. But where does the biblical language come into it? This is where things get disturbing, at least for some. I have remarked that the first line of the song is a clear allusion to words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel according to Mark (there is a similar passage in Matthew 19.xiv). Moreover, the very last line of the song, Hänget ihn auf, den geilen Moloch!, could be interpreted as a reference to crucifixion. The verb aufhängen in German, although it translates literally as “hang up”, is not used for hanging as we understand it in English (a form of execution in which the prisoner is either dropped or suspended with a rope around his neck). It is the sort of thing you might do to the washing or a picture. Certainly, it could encompass crucifixion. Then there is the question of this Glied or “member”—and here the falsetto character excels even himself in his embarrassing, child-like frankness about a rather un-childlike topic. Is this the Phallus Dei (and yes, that is Latin for “God’s dick”) of the album title?

So where does this leave us? Jesus Christ as child molester? That would seem pretty shocking if you were a Christian. Then, maybe this guy is not supposed to be Jesus, but is being compared to him: a martyr. This would be pretty shocking, too. Not only that, but the he is not exactly painted as an attractive character, with his almost painfully high voice, his somewhat confronting language, his Mephistophelic laughter.... At best we are left with a disquieting contradiction.

Or is it a reference to the Church as the “body of Christ”? If this is the case, it is a salutary reminder that child sexual abuse in the Christian church is not a new phenomenon or even a new issue. It has been around a lot longer than forty years.

However we look at it, the words of this song, unlike many of the English-language lyrics, are not mere nonsense, but are dark and disturbing, providing some pretty serious food for thought.


1. Moloch or Molech was a Semitic god to whom children were sacrificed.