Rev. Chris Korda Dines For Our Sins
BY DAVID GRAD
For those obsessed with the prospect of planetary overpopulation -- or just really, really depressed about their own lives -- the Church of Euthanasia has a modest proposal: "Save the Planet -- Kill Yourself." In fact, suicide is just one of the four pillars of the Church's dogma, along with abortion, cannibalism, and sodomy -- sacraments of non-proliferation for a crowded and despairing world.
It may look like just another joke religion, but the Church of Euthanasia's founder does a great job of sounding completely serious. A radical environmentalist gone spiritual, she insists that unless immediate, voluntary steps are taken to reduce the world's population, within a decade we'll be facing a cataclysm of such massive proportions that the living will envy the dead.
The Boston-based Church of Euthanasia is the brainchild of the Reverend Chris Korda, who alleges that in 1992 an alien intelligence she calls simply "the Being" visited her in a dream and intoned the words, "We are not of this planet," going on to describe a coming eco-catastrophe. The self-anointed Reverend, with a flippy hairdo and statuesque good looks more often found among fashion models than shamans, concedes with a small laugh that it all "sounds spooky, sounds kooky," but still swears to the authenticity of her experience. And if her alien's message sounds a bit cryptic to you and me, she attests that it was "sufficiently powerful so that pretty much on a dime I turned around my life and founded the Church of Euthanasia."
To those who might consider the comely Reverend Chris an unlikely prophet of the coming apocalypse, she points out that her whole life before the moment of revelation was preparation for her role as defender of the "living earth" against the powerful forces of humanity run amok. Reverend Chris Korda, you see, was born 33 years ago as Christopher Korda, sole progeny of jet-set author and Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda; I refer to the Reverend in the feminine at her request.
Pulp ideologue to the power-lunch crowd, Korda Sr. is responsible for the carnivorous self-help books Male Chauvinism!, Power!, and Success! A profile in the March Vanity Fair describes how, when he wasn't promoting bottom-feeder culture, he used to enjoy classic manly pursuits like sports-car racing and gun collecting, until a recent bout with prostate cancer softened his style. He now seems content to spend leisure time managing his upstate horse farm.
That article makes the briefest mention of "... one son, Christopher, now a computer programmer in Boston." For her part. Reverend Chris is rather reticent about her upbringing, though she does tell me that about the age of 13, "I began to notice that I saw things differently from the people around me." I had this special gift of detachment," says Korda, "that enabled me to see people and events perhaps the way an alien from outer space might see them. I would see the big picture, where people tended to see small tactical things. That's pretty unusual for a teenager, and because of it, I had a pretty extreme adolescence. I was even incarcerated for a period of time, so I paid a price for my poetic sensibility.
"But," she adds bravely, "I didn't let them crush my special world view, and it grew over time."
Asked about that incarceration, Reverend Korda will only say, "I don't want to elaborate on that, except to say they were a lot of extreme things happening in my family situation that required external intervention of various different kinds. I left New York when I was 14 and never went back."
By 18, Korda was seeing humanity as nothing more than "tool-wielding apes, each shut off in their individual bubble." She surmises that it was the continuing development of her cross-gendered persona that made her the perfect channel for the Being's message. She cites traditions of cross-dressing among Native Americans, who regarded transvestitism as a type of shape-shifting. "Balancing the male and female aspects of the personality are essential to the process of receiving spiritual wisdom," she explains.
If that's true, she was a prime candidate for enlightenment by 1992. She had just retired from performing as a female impersonator, having considered -- and decided against -- going through the full medical procedure to become a transsexual. Engrossed in reading and pondering the state of the world, she says, "I was just waiting for something to come through. When it did, it came in a completely unexpected fashion."
When Korda describes the dream in which the Being spoke those fateful if enigmatic words, her demeanor assumes an intensity appropriate to one who's been touched by God, or at least solicited by one of his messengers. If nothing else, she instills a willingness to believe that she believes. When I ask her if she's willing to entertain the possibility that her spiritual experience was, well, self-generated, she remains admirably uncompromising: "I wouldn't say so -- but then, if I was confined to a Freudian analyst's office, they would say something else. You can't get hung up on other people's definitions of what the universe is or isn't. My personal feeling is that the Being inhabits the earth, perhaps in another dimension that we don't normally perceive."
One could point out that this is not a particularly original notion, but somehow she makes you feel this would be terribly rude, so I let the matter rest. And besides, if Korda's Being sounds like a trite sci-fi character, what she's done with his message is inspired. In the-best millenarian tradition of Judeo-Christianity, she interpreted it as a warning that the final days were at hand -- or, in her words, "that we had overstepped our bounds, and soon events would be set in motion from which there will be no return." She turned her dream into a wake-up call. And in an era when preparing for the millennium has become the uncontested property of the extreme right, she's actually made the apocalyptic vision kind of hip.
Unlike many apocalyptoids, however, Reverend Chris has the common sense not to welcome the end of the world, but to do everything she can to delay the day of reckoning for as long as possible. Thus the Church of Euthanasia. The Church articulates a single commandment: "Thou shall not procreate." Breaking it means instant excommunication. The four pillars of "Euthanist theology" -- suicide, abortion, cannibalism, and sodomy -- are not exactly obligatory, but strongly advocated as the Church's solutions for restoring the earth's biological equilibrium.
In discussing the first of those pillars, Reverend Chris initially sounds pretty militant. "People have the absolute right to euthanasia. It should be as easy as getting your teeth cleaned. Make an appointment and walk right in. It shouldn't just be for the terminally ill, either. If someone feels that's the best they can do for the planet, we support that."
Then again, when I pose what she calls "the most often asked question," she laughs and points out that she is far too busy managing the affairs of the Church to die just yet. "I always say, I may kill myself, I may not -- don't nudge. It depends on whether our work is successful. Maybe 10 years down the line I will finally come to the conclusion that all my effort was wasted and the Church of Euthanasia was a colossal flop, and then I'll kill myself. So buy your tickets now, front-row seats. When I do it, it's going to be a big deal, national television and all that."
Moving on to abortion, Reverend Korda says that in the Church of Euthanasia, "If you get pregnant, abortion will be required to avoid excommunication. We don't have many rules around here, but that's one of them."
The Church is not pro-choice, she explains, but pro-abortion -- a distinction she quite correctly identifies as much more than mere semantics. She believes that the women's movement has made a massive tactical error in emphasis. "Pro-choice is a euphemism that softens the message," she says. "They have contributed to the perception that abortion is something bad and shameful. By not presenting it as something morally good, they have contributed to the erosion of Roe v. Wade."
As controversial as her first two pillars may be, it's the cannibalism that could be the most misunderstood of Reverend Korda's tenets. "We don't support people going around snuffing one another so they can eat dinner," she says definitively. She sounds genuinely amazed at some of the enthusiastic mail the Church has received on this issue. "We get menus, recipes, and recently even received some very detailed instructions on how to butcher the human carcass, with pictures and everything. It was quite extraordinary. We have also received letters from people who have allegedly engaged in these actions."
Rather disappointingly, the Church of Euthanasia endorses strict vegetarianism. It only recommends cannibalizing the dead for those who simply can't live without eating flesh. Still, Korda does put a nice Soylent Green spin on it. "To give a perfectly concrete example," she says, "we have 60,000 auto-accident fatalities a year. This is a total waste. That meat is getting buried in the ground. We're lucky if we get a couple of organs out of the deal. It should go straight to McDonald's, where the food is already so processed I don't think anybody would notice the difference. It would be an excellent test case. It's no more obscene than people taking the flesh of other larger mammals directly into their bodies."
Since Korda is a confirmed vegetarian -- she even wears plastic shoes -- it's no surprise that she can sound a little ambivalent about the whole cannibalism thing. Not so, however, for the final tenet of her faith, which she confesses, with a giggle, is "my favorite pillar." Sodomy, she declares with gusto, is where we pick up the slack." Reverend Korda employs the classical definition of the term to include any sexual activity not for the purpose of procreation. "In return for making small sacrifices" like eating the dead, she declares, "you have license to 'do what thou wilt.' Whatever floats your boat. From foot fetishism to naked Twister, you name it, we're for it. I'll support even stupid stuff like penetration, as long as it's protected. Though one of my favorite mottoes," she giggles, "is 'Prevent AIDS: Aim for the Chin.'"
(This is, in fact, one of a few dozen bumper stickers you can buy from the Church. Others include EAT PEOPLE NOT ANIMALS, GOD IS COMING/STICK OUT YOUR TONGUE, DON'T BLAME ME I'M A PARASITE, DRIVING DRUNK? TAKE OFF YOUR SEAT BELT, and HONK IF YOU NEED AN ABORTION.)
One gets the strong impression that the practice of sodomy is an area in which Reverend Chris leads her congregation with distinction. "Nary a week goes by without several examples of it," she happily declares. "I feel like I'm doing my share."
For all that -- and perhaps reflecting how mainstream gender-bending has become -- when Reverend Korda describes her daily life, it sounds surprisingly staid.
"My life is pretty normal. I work freelance as an engineering consultant. I have a girlfriend. Right now I'm living kinda butch. 1 don't put myself rigidly in one box or another. For special occasions I inevitably go for the female, and it's very rare that I meet anybody who says, 'Don't do this shit around me.' In fact, the only one who has ever said that to me is my father."
What does any of this have to do with spirituality? Aside from having an invisible alien intelligence for a mascot, what is it about the Church of Euthanasia that justifies calling it a religion?
Ask Korda those kind of questions and she'll dumb down her delivery like she's talking to a straggler who's wandered in from the slow class. With just the slightest trace of impatience in her voice, she explains, "We espouse sex for pleasure as a spiritual goal not only because it reduces the population, but because we believe that pleasure is a prerequisite for compassion. And lack of compassion is one of the essential weaknesses of the species right now that's causing all destructive behavior."
The preacher in the Reverend begins to assert itself as Korda describes the leap in evolution when humans advanced from consciousness to self-consciousness. Struck by the force of her own words, her voice trembling, she warns that "Self-consciousness is a two-edged sword. [On one hand] it could allow us to become the most spiritually evolved creature on the planet, the eyes of the world, the conscious expression of the great spirit, the crown of creation, the hand of God. But there is a flip side, and that's where self-consciousness becomes self-obsession, a turning inward, the force of devolution, an inward spiral taking us down.
"So we need a new leap from self-consciousness to species-awareness," she says. "We must choose as a willful act of compassion to rejoin the web of other beings on the planet and become a part of the living organism that we call the earth. That's what the Church of Euthanasia is trying to provoke. We can show people that by turning our awareness to a higher frequency, we become in tune with the sensations of the earth as spiritual entity, and we begin to develop the spiritual power to sublimate our biological drives."
The Church has been spreading that message through a fanzine -- appropriately entitled Snuff It -- featuring articles with titles like "Eating Fetus in China," "My Vasectomy," and "This Old Cervix." There are also alluring photos of Reverend Chris in a plastic bubble-wrap miniskirt, and contacts for like-minded groups including the Hemlock Society; Oregon's Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, and Toronto's Gate Liberation Front. The Church also has an active Web site (http://www.churchofeuthanasia.org) that includes a "Suicide Assistance Hotline." Reverend Korda has even made a few recordings (on Kevorkian Records, naturally) on which she proselytizes over techno-trance beats.
The Church claims a Boston-area membership of "around 100" and a cyber-congregation numbering in the thousands. There are Euthanists in 48 states, says Korda, as well as in Italy and Latvia.
The Church is still in the process of developing its rituals and liturgy, and Korda can be a bit sketchy about those. She describes Church practice as being both exoteric and esoteric -- and, of course, refuses to reveal anything about the latter. When asked to describe a typical Church service, she says some things about "tree-hugging" and ceremonial readings from Ginsberg's Howl, but adds that everybody's favorite part is when she holds a large mirror in front of each parishioner in turn and asks the ritual question: "The most dangerous animal in the world . . . ?" To which they respond, as they gaze at their own reflections, "Tool-wielding ape!"
The ranks of CoE membership are somewhat less twinky (a favorite Korda expression) than you might expect. There's Lydia Eccles, a local political artist. Saying she's "not a joiner by nature," she emphatically describes herself as a "collaborator" in the Church, as opposed to a "member." She says that what attracted her to Chris Korda's ministry was that it's "the ultimate heresy, which turns all of society's values upside down. It's amazing, as a woman, to have someone patting you on the back for not having kids: The prevalent culture defines not having kids as an act of selfishness. Chris is redefining it as an act of selfishness to have kids.
"Also," Eccles adds, "since getting involved with the Church, I feel like I can take pride in not having a car. In society at large, that's considered pathetic. Now I'm getting recognition for things that used to be signs of dysfunctionality."
Eccles goes so far as to compare Korda to Malcolm X for the ways she takes new information and experiences and integrates them into a spiritual system. She confesses, a bit hesitantly, "I do see Chris as a prophet. I believe that she experiences the burdens of the problems she is discussing in a very personal way and feels immense pressure to stop the catastrophe. She breaks through the detachment that we all feel."
Noah, a social worker, is a Church member who sees things from a somewhat different perspective. He doesn't have much time for Korda as a prophet, but says, "The Church was saying a lot of things that I could relate to. Being that I'm gay, I agreed with sodomy and not having sex with women. It fills a political role as opposed to a spiritual role in my life. I don't think anybody else is getting out the same message. People usually use politically correct terms. I find PC to be like mind control and censorship. There is not a whole lot of room for fun. PC sex would probably be in the missionary position."
As I talk to CoE members, a picture develops of sensitive and fun-loving -- albeit alienated -- young people, and I'm struck by the paradox of the Church: these are exactly the type of people you'd want to see reproducing, rather than the usual brutish, uncaring breeders who seem dead-set on crowding the neighborhood with little versions of their bad selves.
Korda hears that. She notes that the Church is not opposed to adoption as a viable way for members to indulge their child-rearing instincts without actually producing children of their own. She says it's inevitable that, at least in the beginning, the Church's message will be best received by sensitive types. "Word," she says, "is going to have to spread through the easiest channels first. We are going to win the easiest victories first." Eventually, she insists, "we have to convince all people that for a period of time we are not going to be procreating."
She pauses for a second, then sighs. "Sounds twinky, sounds hopelessly Utopian, I know. Hope is hard: But without hope," she concludes, "the ugly spectacle wins."