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Rev. Martin Bergmann - Obituary


The facts surrounding the death of controversial Anglican minister Martin Bergmann, in Hammersmith, west London, last week, continue to be mysterious. Speculation as to the events leading up to Bergmann's untimely death at the age of 39 is still rife, with murder, suicide and death by misadventure all possibilities.

Police have so far refused to comment, saying that "investigations are in progress", but others have not been slow in coming forward. Claiming that "there are many who would want him dead", supporters and friends – all of whom declined to be named – said that Bergmann's death was part of an international conspiracy of mind-boggling complexity, in which P2, the enigmatic Vatican lodge rumoured to be behind the controversial death of Pope John Paul I, is supposedly central. But members of the Church of England's General Synod have moved to crush what they have called "these tasteless and irresponsible rumours", putting Bergmann's death down to the "final act of a deeply troubled mind, now, it is to be hoped, at peace at last."

The confusion surrounding Bergmann's final hours is all of a piece with the rest of his life. Reliable facts about Bergmann are few and far between. The often viciously partisan positions his extreme views have invoked meant that Bergmann was always surrounded by a fog of often ill-founded rumours, a situation exacerbated by his refusal to communicate with the media. Like one of his mentors, the Danish religious philosopher Kierkegaard, Bergmann professed a deep hatred of the press; a contempt extending beyond mere refusal to co-operate into occasional examples of outright violence. One – notorious – incident last year, in which a photographer threatened a legal case for assault, was ultimately settled out of court.

The "dark nordic prince" arrived in England under a cloud a decade ago, hounded out of his native Norway for leading a rogue Protestant sect whose practices and beliefs, according to one Norwegian churchman at the time, were "unspeakable and wholly unacceptable." ("Only the C of E would welcome you with a CV like that," a senior Church of England official remarked recently.) Some say that Bergmann "cynically and wantonly" exploited the ailing Church of England's renowned tolerance "to a parodic degree", using Church protection to disseminate beliefs "in every way contrary to established Christian doctrine."

Fond of quoting Kierkegaard's dictum, "Christianity is what Christ came to abolish", Bergmann developed what he called an "anti-Christian Gnostic Christianity". He characterised established Christianity as "the cult of Paul" and decried church buildings as "prisons for God." Drawing upon Gnosticism, he argued that the "Creator entity" – the Judaic Christian God – was a "blind idiot god suffering from autism"; all creation – and organic life in particular – were to be regarded as "foul excresences we must seek to annul or to escape". But it was his persistent vilifications of the Roman Catholic Church that proved the greatest source of embarrassment to the Church of England hierarchy, whose declining congregations are one factor impelling an increasingly strong ecumenical drive towards convergence with Rome. The vociferousness of his anti-Catholicism was taken by some to be indicative of failing mental health ("he was totally gone", one former friend said yesterday). Bergmann, however, claimed that "the only rational view of the Roman Catholic Church" was that it was "a monstrous blasphemy of transcendent evil: incomparably more corrupt than the Mafia (if indeed it can be separated from organised crime, which of course it cannot)". His views, he said, were backed up by "hard sociological data which even they can't suppress now" concerning the – apparently endemic – problem of institutionalised child abuse amongst Catholic clergy. But Bergmann alienated any of the few supporters he had even within Protestantism by adding that "any religion that is serious about worshipping the Father-God will always be about child abuse; the only difference between the religion of the Paulites and that of the Abrahamites is that, in the Paulites' case, child torture spills over into child murder. Despite tying and binding Isaac, the Jewish God ultimately spares Abraham's son; but the Paulite God actually kills his own son."

Presenting a "Spinozist immanent critique" of Calvin, Bergmann argued that "the Calvinists' biggest mistake was that they were insufficiently fatalistic. Evidently, fatalism and morality do not mix. They confused an ethical and transcendental injunction – if you eat the apple you will be ill – with a moral command – do not eat the apple." The "specific and unique" contribution that Protestantism had to make had been "systematically distorted into a dismal work-cult," Bergmann argued, "by a set of State-loving, self-serving money-grubbers." Bergmann's well-known detestation of consumer culture was based around an adherence to what he called the "category of the sufficient" which had been "annihilated" by a capitalism "insisting you gorge yourself on more and more things you don't want." Bergmann argued that "aseticism and self-denial are not moral positions but very specific programs for the systematic dismantling of secular identity, ways of opening up the body to the Utter Nothingness which is the reality of the true God."

Unsubstantiated rumours suggest that the Church's tolerance of Bergmann was not due solely or even primarily to the C of E's well-known spinelessness, but to his reputed competence in the ostensibly discontinued practice of exorcism, a subject about which the Church has been consistently evasive. But even Bergmann's purported expertise here had a bizzare twist, since his technique as an exorcist was supposedly based on "co-operating with demons" in an attempt to "free them" from "mammal meat." All of which prompted an exasperated High Church spokesman to remark that, "Surely even a Church as notoriously liberal as ours must abominate priests who openly sympathise with demons, and who make no bones about their hatred of God."

There are those who claim that Bergmann had "never abandoned the harsh and pitiless pantheon of dark gods" from his "ancient Norse heritage." But friends suggest that the "rot really set in" when he began to take seriously the works of the late Science Fiction writer Philip K. Dick. "Dick's sanity was questionable at the end," the Reverend Colin Wemmick, an erstwhile associate of Bergmann's points out. "But Martin had become convinced that Dick's [Gnostic-influenced] conviction that the Roman Empire had not ended was a vindication of his own views of an unbroken continuity of Roman power."

According to his opponents, the discovery of Bergmann's body – masked, and trussed with various kinds of harnesses - "make a mockery" of his theories of "anti-sexuality" which argued that "sexuality" was "a secular hell people voluntarily enter; a meat prison for the body." Others claim that the scene of Bergmann's death was "obviously faked by his enemies – of which he had many." Yet the most intriguing suggestion comes from those closest to Bergmann, who indignantly insist that, far from being some secret sexual perversion, the apparatus Bergmann had assembled was part of a regime of "systematic anti-sexual practice" ("he was building a machine to escape the meat"). A series of unpublished writings on Masoch which reputedly argue that "the properly religious attitude is always deeply masochistic," and which extol Masoch "as a profoundly religious thinker," apparently confirm this interpretation.

In death as in life, little is certain about Martin Bergmann. Reverend Wemmick probably summed up the situation best when he said, "when you look into Martin's life, you open up a can of worms – a writhing mass of confusion." Those worms are likely to writhe for some time yet.