I think I’ve been pretty open about my belief that Jello Biafra’s singing kind of ruins the otherwise great Dead Kennedys. But he was also the soul of the band. And his writing was great. And don’t get me wrong: I understand that Biafra’s voice was meant to be annoying. But that doesn’t change much. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is a great album despite his vocals. But if those vocals work anywhere, it is on “California Über Alles.”
It’s funny to listen to California Über Alles now. It is an attack on Jerry Brown from the left — extreme left. It calls him a fascist. And based upon its content, you would well imagine Biafra growing into some kind of libertarian freak later in life. But that didn’t happen. Biafra has only become more serious and thoughtful throughout his life. The song was meant more to be a joke anyway. The point, more than anything, was that Jerry Brown was power hungry and that everything he did was in the service of becoming President of the United States. And there is something to be said for that interpretation of the Jerry Brown of the 1970s, just as it is of Gavin Newsom today.
Not California Über Alles, but America…
But what’s really amazing is that we now live in a nation in which we have actual big name politicians who are the modern day equivalent of fascists. California Über Alles? Well, there are a whole lot of Americans who would proudly sing, “United States Über Alles.” I’ve gotten to be tired of people claiming that politicians like Cruz and Rubio and Trump are not fascists. I don’t think you can base modern politicians by the details of old politicians. All the Republican candidates are in favor of the same kind of government supported business system — a kind of modern feudalism. And does anyone question that if Pakistan went to war with us that all of these men would be eager to round up all Muslims and put them in camps? (Cheered on by Sam Harris, no doubt.)
Today, Jerry Brown is the ultimate technocrat. He’s been a great governor for the state. And there is no doubt that he is liberal. But he’s never been a radical. But our country’s politics is so out of balance that he is seen as an extremist today. All liberals are. When the old and unhealthy Antonin Scalia died, millions of them spent days talking about how he must have been murdered. This is projection, pure and simple. Even as conservatives have been highly successful over the last 40 years accomplishing their stated goals, they are unhappy. Because what they really want — what they always wanted, was fascism in America. They want a nation where it is just accepted that patriotism means cheering every act of state belligerence.
In that context, “California Über Alles” is not as funny a song as it ought to be. But it’s still pretty great.
“California Über Alles” album colver taken from Wikipedia. Licensed under Fair Use.
On this day in 380 CE, the Edict of Thessalonica was released in the Roman Empire. It was issued by emperors Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II. And it basically said that all Roman citizens should convert to Christianity. It was the result of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 312. As I discussed before, this was when Christianity died, “No religion ever survives this kind of power.” And the Edict of Thessalonica shows that ultimately, religion is about power. If religion is about God, you don’t need governments stepping in and telling people what they must believe.
What the people were told they must believe was specifically Nicene Christianity. And anyone who was ever forced to go to Sunday school or catechism can tell you what that is. “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.” Given that God made all things, you would think he could just tell the people himself. This is why it is so funny in Small Gods that the Great God Om comes down to Discworld and only manages to be a tortoise. He has a grand total of one believer. Most people don’t think through their religious beliefs very well. That’s why we are so blessed to have minds as brilliant as Terry Pratchett to do it for us. Unfortunately, people insist upon reading things like the Bible rather than Small Gods.
Edict of Thessalonica: Not Just Any Christianity
Of course, it couldn’t be just any old Christianity either. The Edict of Thessalonica chose a side in an ongoing religious war. People have this odd idea that Christians mostly got along except for big events. We know the Orthodox split from the Catholics. We know the Protestant split from the Catholics. And we know the Spanish Inquisition. But the truth is that the religion has been fighting within itself from the beginning. Things are actually more placid now than they ever have been. There are zillions of different kinds of Christianity (including Mormonism). But they don’t seem to care enough (or believe strongly enough) to do much fighting. Still, it could all fly apart again. After all, no one expected the Spanish Inquisition.
So what was the effect of the Edict of Thessalonica? Well, just what you would expect. According to Wikpedia, “After the edict, Theodosius spent a great deal of energy suppressing all non-Nicene forms of Christianity, especially Arianism, and in establishing Nicene orthodoxy throughout his realm.” This was because he believed in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible — who was nonetheless dependent on petty dictators to make sure that the people worshiped the right god in the right way. Otherwise, without the Edict of Thessalonica, people might have worshiped a god that didn’t need so much care and upkeep. And then imagine what would have happened: people would have been oppressed in the name of the wrong god!