My title statement is the first line from The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1997 Grammy Award winning song, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, lead vocalist/songwriter Billy Corgan’s raging rant against the unfairness of life and the futility of even trying to win the battle. Never a big fan of the group, I had forgotten about the song until last week. I was watching Whale Wars, an Animal Planet two-hour long documentary chronicling the efforts of Operation Zero Tolerance, a nature nurturing campaign opposing Japanese commercialized whale poachers, led by a group known as Sea Shepherd Australia. Each program segment opens with Corgan’s disturbing appraisal.
The metaphor is not difficult to translate. Of course the song is not a complaint about the beautiful world we enjoy full of golden sunsets, cute puppies and ice cream sundaes. The dark psyche exposed throughout the rest of the song has been interpreted by its critics as either a protest of modern society’s morals and ethics or lack thereof by an artistically interpretive genius, or a deliberately overdone tongue-in-cheek ruse played on his fans in the guise of and for the sole sake of aggressively alternative rock. Has Corgan really confronted the lifeblood sucking, all-consuming Vampire, face to neck, either personally in his own troubled childhood or in the grownup rat race world of greed driven by big business? Does hatred of that same Vampire motivate a Sea Shepard devotee to risk life and limb on a hostile Antarctic sea to save whales in peril of being slaughtered for the financial gain of only a few?
Regardless of what inspired Corgan’s anger and angst-filled lyrics, it makes me wonder what kind of world do I see myself living in? I am also thinking about what Jesus said to Nicodemus, recorded in John 3:16, the verse even nonbelievers are familiar with. He said, “God so loved the world . . .” Although the conversation was undoubtedly in a regional dialect of Aramaic, the written scriptural Greek word we read in John’s gospel for “world” is kosmon, the same root from which the Russian language derives the term kosmonaut, a combination of two words meaning “universe” and “sailor.” In English we use an anglicized form of “cosmos” to mean the planets, stars and everything out there that isn’t earthly.
Kosmos, however, can present a variety of interpretations. According to Thayer, it can describe a harmonious arrangement or order; the stars, the heavenly hosts; the world, the universe; the inhabitants of the earth; the ungodly multitude, the whole mass of men alienated from God; or world affairs, the aggregate of earthly attentions or concerns; or a general collection of particulars of any kind. So what sort of world then did God love enough to consider it worth redeeming, worthy of His Son’s sacrifice to reconcile it back to the way it was fashioned originally? Does it include The Vampire?
Maybe the real question should focus more on what God’s unique kind of love means, rather than on that which is loved. Regardless, after a repetitive litany describing his powerless plight as a “rat in a cage” and an obtuse reference or two to Jesus, Corgan sadly confesses in the end, “I still believe that I cannot be saved.” C’mon, Billy, at some point we’ve all fought with some kind of vampire or another. Stop agonizing and trust someone who knows all about what you’re going through; the one who said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” It wasn’t Buddha. It’s Jesus. (John 16:33)