I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
“When the shouting grows loudest in the ‘Amen Corner,’ it’s time to go home and lock the smokehouse door.”
—Harry S Truman, quoting his grandfather, in “Plain Speaking”
Anybody who calls himself a holy man and owns more than two suits is a hustler.
—Lenny Bruce, in How to Talk Dirty and Influence People
Is it possible that the face our culture turns to the rest of the world could be any less Christ-like than it is now? It’s difficult to imagine how.
Christian conversion at sword or muzzle point has been a venerable Western tradition from Charlemagne to well into the House of Windsor. (I say “Western” with conviction. The Bolsheviks had the intellectual honesty to be Godless Communists, so their executors found no need to use the New Testament to prop up their adventures in atrocity. Nor have the Chinese. The thirst for power, wealth, and real estate has been pretty much res ipsa loquitur in their Hemisphere, at least since the Tsars.) Our Georges I and II have been no slouches in mimicking their imperial forebears in their brief interludes. (George the Much Less, serial thinker that he is, even managed to blurt out “crusade” before the March on Baghdad.) The difference between them—other than a truckload of IQ points—was that Sir Colin of Powell succeeded as Black Knight of the Pentangle but failed as the Baron of Foggy Bottom. The cream of our telehucksters continue to snatch up the Good Book, clasp whatever hands are available on-camera, wrench their eyes shut, and call upon the Almighty to rain death, pestilence, or (at the very least) retirement upon whoever hath offended Thee by failing to bend to their—uh, Thy Will. This, too, has time-honored roots; if history is too tedious, read Mr. Clemens’ The War Prayer. (If Scripture is your primary resource, the phrase “Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees” leaps to mind.)
All that is troublesome enough. What really knocks me off my horse is the ridiculous ease and unwavering enthusiasm with which self-proclaimed followers of Jesus homogenize the Old Covenant and His words and teachings to dismiss everything from Darwin to dykes.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the teachings of Jesus—mostly because I’m White, of Anglo-Irish extraction, and a cradle Catholic. That’s my acculturation. (If I’d been born and reared elsewhere and passed the same personal milestones, I’d wager I’d feel the same way about the Buddha, Muhammad, or Vishnu.) I might also have left it behind me at 18, but for two intervening circumstances: the elevation of humble Padre Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli to humble Papa John XXIII, resulting in Vatican II; and an intellectual kidnapping perpetrated by my Jesuit theology professor and the Gang of Three—Küng, Rahner, and Schillebeeckx, the accursed Reformationists. They opened my mind to what is possible if you’re not too distracted by your own imperfection—just like the Big Guy, no? Thus, I still worship and I pray.
Okay, let’s begin. Character arc—the “historical” Jesus Christ:
- Born Jewish circa 7-5 A.D (okay—0 A.D. if you can’t abide all that messy, calendar-reconciliation stuff) in Beth Lehem, Galilee; descended from royalty, his folks hailed from Nazareth, 120 kilometers up country from Jerusalem. (For future reference, note that it is about 875 kilometers due Northeast to the Fertile Crescent, near what is now Baghdad.)
- Except for a brief public Bar Mitzvah, at which the disrespectful whelp tied well-respected clergy in rhetorical knots, no record of his adolescence or young adulthood. (Favorite joke: Jesus wasn’t really Jewish; he was Irish, because (a) He lived at home until he was 30; (b) He never held down a steady job; and (c) His mother thought he was God.)
- After brief advance work by and a dunking in the Jordan River from John the Baptizer, Jesus organized an all-male Gang of 12 and they proceeded to traipse the length and breadth of Palestine, depending on the kindness of strangers to support their habit of talking nonsense in public. (To be fair and balanced, some poor and sick outcasts, a couple widows, and a wedding were saved along the way.)
- Too public, too much, too soon, the authorities had Him picked up by bribing homeboy Judas to rat Him out (although, it seems, it may have been a fool’s bargain forced on him by the Man himself), after which he was roughed up at Gitmo and impeached by Congress. Spooked by the polls, the Roman governor took a walk while vigilantes lynched him for Advocating the Overthrow of the Established Order—under full color of law, of course.
Quod erat Demonstrandum. In the flesh, the Son of God was a Black, homeless, peacenik criminal co-conspirator. No hard proof of having lain with a woman, either; draw your own conclusions—Mama’s boy or… (I have this image of Al Sharpton selling his crib and piling his Hip-Hop posse into a bus. After a leisurely media tour of the Northeast, they roll on down I-95 to D.C., where the Rev marches into the Halls of Congress, tells ‘em it’s all bullshit and time to start over. Two assumptions required to complete the metaphor: proof that some one of his ancestral Africans wore a crown and that Rev. Al would be able to keep his appetites in check. Same outcome, and—to borrow from Lenny Bruce again—in 2000 years kids will be wearing a Jeri-Curled icon strapped to a gurney with a needle sticking out of his arm instead of a crucifix.
Next Week: ‘”Pastorized” New Covenant.