Christianity is not about Rituals and Belief in Miracles or Being Virtuous, but it is about De-narcissization of the Human Psyche
(A Return to a Positive Humility of the Human Condition)

Father Nazario is a genuine and an intelligent believer in Christ. He is not a fundamentalist (literal) believer because he understands that literalism takes away the responsibility of interpretation (of taking a position inside the unique circumstances of each person’s life), that the task is how to follow God in meaning, not denotatively but creatively and not robotically. Literalism is ritualism and as such it is just a repetition of the tautological narratives. Human soul is an abode of connotation. The more purified a dogmatic believer is through rituals and tautology the more ambiguous his/her soul. The result is that the believer in love, compassion and mercy ends up with murdering and torturing the “heretics” and “infidels”. Fanatical followers of God are doomed to violate the spirit (meaning) of their own values and norms. Father Nazario’s motto of everyday virtuous life is very different from the literalistic idea of following religious texts. But, according to the film, it is not good enough to live according to the Scripture. The very logic of relations between earthy life and religious wisdom will force a person either to abandon their dedication to God’s message or be ready for an unbearable, super-human suffering.

Let’s, following Bunuel, imagine the Christ-like figure who tries to be virtuous and modest without any pride of being so. Father Nazario lives in a willed poverty. He helps the needy. He is not moralizing, is not judgmental and not revengeful. He is not bothered by lustful fantasies and destabilizing phantasies. And he practices equality in his relations with others – he never imposing, bossy or angry. Yet, there is a problem here that Father Nazario feels confident that he is okay. In other words, he believes that to follow the superior religious wisdom is the right thing to do, that Christ is right, that Christ’s rightness is final and that Christ’s authority makes him, father Nazario, right as soon as he honestly follows his Master. But the question here is the limitation of human understanding of God’s wisdom and the dangers arising from its misinterpretation that we are blindly prone to absolutize by the very fact of our belief (we unconsciously cover up our mistakes in judgments by the authority of our belief).

For Father Nazario life in this world is not valuable in comparison with the shining luminosity of “eternity with Christ”, and the only adequate approach to our earthy destiny is to follow “Thou Shall-not” and “Thou Shall” instructions. For example, just because he by mistake took a woman’s deep grief for her dying, he considers her marrying as his failure to deliver her to Christ. He is even prone to perceive her “resurrection” from dying to amour after the sudden return of her beloved as the work of the Devil.

The lessons for Nazarin come from unexpected directions. He is either idolized and worshipped, or exploited exactly for being genuinely virtuous, or hated. Some people (whom he helped and for whom the very closeness to him becomes a symbolic redemption of their downtrodden condition) admire him idolatrously for upgrading their social status simply by appearing near them, the others feel encouraged to use his presence as an advantage for achieving their earthy goals (like the relatives of the dying girl “healed” by Nazarin or the foreman agreeing to hire him to work for food), people of the third group predatorily use the chance to hurt him to avenge themselves – spirituality without spiritual protection is the easiest prey (people like to assert their power over those who are helpless or whom they consider to be frauds). As a holy man and a spiritual teacher Nazarin fails with all three groups – with the first because they admire him by wrong reasons (they believe that by being near him they will be saved from the truth of their factual condition); with the second group because human vanity is encouraged by his proximity inspiring in them hope for Christ’s help (Andara’s dwarf is one example, Beatriz’ lover is another); and with the third because virtue stimulates an irresistible desire in people to debunk it by defiling it (because of competition of virtues – priest in an episode with the colonel, religious jealousy – the complicity of the clergy administration in Father Nazario’s arrest, or the mocking hate felt by the criminals who beat him up and torture him).

Father Nazario failed where God’s religious experiment fails. The human foxy intuition outsmarts God’s project of human salvation – instead of battling God’s supreme religious power in the name of Evil (this position was Devil’s mistake that transformed the universe into an eternal battlefield and forced humans to live in a war zone) humans enthusiastically joined God, accepted His terms while continuing to stay fallen and capable of taking full satisfaction from their sinfulness, so to speak, between lines of God-inspired texts and images. Like parasitic insects humans inhabit the holes and fissures in God’s world and silently sin while loudly praising His glory.

Religiously based morality is too rigid and awkward – it is not able to address the human proclivity for evil impulses and desires without the support of a bombastic (supernatural) pseudo-ontological sphere and the image and idea of a superhuman authority. But as soon as this image and idea are invoked – the space is opened up for human identification with the super-human powers and, therefore, for human evil deeds in the name of the super-human perfection.

Besides, the sincere piety Father Nazario personifies is too limited – it ignores the impersonal and quite earthy powers which force people (through repression, seduction, confusion and disorientation) to behave in a certain ways under the banners of righteous religious and political ideologies. Piety reduces everything to the motivation of human individual. Father Nazario never thought that his offer of humility to work just for food could provoke such a violent conflict between the management of the local works and workers.

Nazarin is not conscious that he is enveloped in a narcissistic defense – he is ready to suffer as soon as he believes that he is associated with Christ by following the spirit of Christian enlightenment. When suffering becomes extreme and excessive not only his belief is challenged but his human intelligence is provoked like it never was before in his life. Is Christ behind his existentially intellectual awakening? Nazarin is persecuted and prosecuted while being innocent. What didn’t come to his heart and mind is that Christ’s concern is not just to guide human behavior by certain religious maxims (in this sense Christianity is quite close to other religious systems) but, mainly, to help people overcome their extreme narcissistic condition of perceiving themselves as being connected with the super-human energies and inspirations through their religious belief. It is from this unconscious megalomania hidden in the depth of belief in God that sins and vices of the believers grow and flower – the belief that their religion is more genuine than all the others, readiness to behave violently against another believers, and vainglorious dreams of possessing the super-human wealth, power, knowledge, wisdom and beauty and the maniacally tireless pursuit of these goals.

We know from the psychological studies about the unbelievable degree of narcissism and innocent cognitive self-centeredness of human being and how difficult it is for us to overcome this narcissistic blockage and try to become a mature people. To reach the psychological maturity of modesty and humility is much more difficult than to continue the instinctive self-glorification reinforced by the adults’ childishness. The goal of spiritual development is not to move from human to super-human and from less power to more power, but, conversely, from the unconsciously feeling ourselves super-human (narcissistic condition) to the feeling just human.

May be, Christ’s real spiritual call is about becoming human – God, by deciding to become human, shows human beings the way to follow Him, to put down our psychological narcissism (unconscious self-aggrandizement) and become completely human, without narcissistic pretense and vainglorious dreams. May be, Christ wanted people to grasp that “if even God decided to become human then I should follow his example and stop to pretend that I am really a spirit, an immortal soul, and somebody who tries to become a possessor of weapons and wealth of super-natural proportions.”

Bunuel after "Bunnueloni" drink
Luis Bunuel after one or two “Bunueloni” drinks (by his own recipe and craft). Those who are interested in the recipe can find it in “The Autobiography of Luis Bunuel – My last Sigh”, Vintage Books, 1984.

Why Father Nazario is Nazarin
Father Nazario worships Christ’s self-sacrifice but by the composition of the shot Bunuel makes Christ and Nazarin as if comparable. Is Nazarin for Bunuel just another person with connotation of being connected with Nazareth, not geographically, of course, but semantically?

The Three Graces of Slums
These women (the three graces of the slums) who live in the same neighborhood where Father Nazario’s asceticism commanded him to live are transformed by poverty and humiliation into (demonic) furies. They permanently battle the world by trying to assert their public image of importance and self-respect which contradicts their deeds as prostitutes, petty thieves and scandal mongers. Their compensatory fixation on their public image transforms them into more than just being small street criminals – into sociopaths with destructive and murderous tendencies. Their desperate desire to defend goodness (of their self-images) makes them do really Evil things.

Spiritual Teacher
Father Nazario as a spiritual teacher and a father-figure treats his “disciples” with an amazing patience and tolerance. As a priest he puts all the responsibility for their emotional and intellectual underdevelopment on them and ignores the determining role of the living conditions on people’s personalities and behavior.

Bullet for the Help
Nazarin tries to help people on the road only to find himself almost getting shot by a colonel (who happens to be the local boss) for putting God’s commandments ahead of social hierarchy which in colonel’s mind is blessed by Christ.

Beatriz Impersonates Sainthood
In paroxysm of the unconscious desire to elevate her public image Beatriz impersonates sainthood and by this is trying to cover up her dreams about bodily love and belonging to men. The truth of her desire she tries to hide still expresses itself through its opposite by the ecstatic sensuality which penetrates her religious dedication.

"What Did They do to you?"
Here we see Nazarin after he was almost killed by his criminal prison inmates.

Father Nazario's CalvaryFather Nazario's Calvary
Father Nazario’s Calvary – unjustly accused, beaten up and mocked he walks to face court and people’s disgust and contempt but still trying to help those in need.

Thinking As a Part of BeliefThinking Inside Belief
Christ expects us to think not only about our personal behavior and salvation but about our life in human society and history. He expects us to include disinterested thinking into our belief. Near the end of the film Nazarin starts to think why his destiny should include so much suffering and that the problem is not only in being wrong but also in being right.

The Radical Transformation In Religious Belief
For the first time in his life Nazarin starts to understand what it means to be completely human – not to be psychologically protected by self-aggrandizing identification with God. While belief in God is self-supporting belief in Christ has a potential to outgrow the dependence on God’s rewards. Belief in Christ is a belief in somebody who has renounced status of God and became as fragile and vulnerable as human being. Christ exists to help people to become more human, to be ontologically humble, without any self-aggrandizement through association with the super-human power. When at the end of the film the dishonored and exhausted Nazarin is offered food he is for the first time morbidly hesitant to accept the gift. Before he always and easily accepted givens before because he took them for other people, never used them for himself. But now he needed it himself. His surrender to the gift is a point of Christian transformation, from the carrier of super-human posture of the pious follower of Christ as God – to just a human being identifying with the earthy humiliation of Christ. The pineapple Nazarin accepts with an overwhelming emotion of being awakened to the human condition, is a metaphor of the crown of thorns – Nazarin’s very baptism into not psychologically defensive but a real, existential Christianity. “Nazarin” is Bunuel’s Gospel which was difficult to expect from this irrepressible critic of Christian dogma.

Posted on Feb 3 2015 –   “Nazarin” (1959) by Luis Bunuel by Acting-Out Politics