Friday, May 6, 2011

Chapter 53: In Which I Discuss the Gospels and Certain People who Read Them

I have been a lifelong fan of the Holy Bible. Anyone who reads my work can tell. I have literally been reading it my entire life, continually amazed by the literary quality of these ancient writers. Like many, I grew up on the King James Version, but have recently delved into new translations. I am partial to New International. While it jettisons the high language of King James, I think the straightforward phraseology is probably closer to the Hebrew.

I always preferred the Old Testament to the New. Going to Sunday school inevitably made me think Jesus was a boring guy, whereas the Old Testament provided all the blood, war and sex my young mind desired. Of course, as I got older I appreciated it more for the epic quality of the stories. I will always watch Moses' evolution into a prophet with interest, and cheer on Esther as she saves her people.

So I've been reading the New Testament for a class. Knowing more about the storytelling techniques used by these anonymous masters has given me an appreciation for the text. Mark is fast-paced and relentlessly gloomy. Matthew has a lot of historicity to it. Luke is a lavish, fantastical writer who gave the story its most exciting features. John is full of epic language. There are speeches, poems and stories-within-stories. All the Gospels, in their own way, present different facets to this historical figure, and contradict each other a lot. What is great about mythology is that the same figure can be a completely different person depending on the writer. Jesus existed during an actual historical period, making his story relatable in a way that the Old Testament is not.

Something happened last week that pissed me off. I was tabling for BAAP at the Cinco de Mayo festival in Oakland. A joyous celebration of Mexican culture. And I see these people who believe that Judgment Day is in two weeks. They have the audacity to be wearing shirts that say "Have You Heard the Good News?", smiling while they hand out pamphlets about their god's plan to cast most of the world into eternal torture. One of them came up to me, and my reaction was not polite. Out of everything in the Bible, they havedecided to internalize the Book of Revelations, which is a great source for heavy metal songs, but otherwise horrific stuff. These people literally desire the end of all creation. They want their deity to wipe away this beautiful planet. Fuck each and every last one of them.

I stopped believing in Jehovah, Zeus, Odin and Santa Claus all at the same time, around when I was seven years old. Of course, I think people should worship however they want. It's been hard being a "live and let live" type of atheist in a world where George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden declare war in God's name, and these death-worshippers try to scare people into joining their church. Lately I find myself leaning towards the new atheism, in which religion is the enemy of humankind. It pisses me off that these people and their ancestors invented Hell. Life is not scary enough, as an inevitable march toward annihilation of the consciousness. We need some pissy character from Middle Eastern myth to have his minions scourge us with flails.

And it pisses me off that they drill that stuff into children. When I was a teenager, I outed myself to my mother as an atheist. Like most black folks of her upbringing, she grew up Baptist. Would have been cooler if she was born a bit further south and did voodoo, bu I digress. She proceeded to spin a hypothetical scenario where I am walking down the street. Some white people drive up, beat me and lynch me. While they are stringing me to the tree, I will be screaming "My God, why is this happening to me?"

"Then you'll believe in God," she said.

I did not join the church after that. I did realize the scare tactics involved in religious doctrine. The Hell stuff was something I learned in Catholic school, alongside, you know, actually useful stuff like math and history. This was how they asserted control. The fact that adults threaten children with eternal damnation (or Jim Crow-style lynching) in order to bully them made me sick.

So when I saw these people smiling about the destruction of my planet and the damnation of so many non-Christian cultures, my response was not polite. There is a lot of great allegory in the Bible, and a large section of Biblical scholarship evaluates it that way. There is also beautiful poetry, like the highly erotic Song of Songs. Read non-literally, these stories are a source of philosophical and creative inspiration, as opposed to hate- and fearmongering.

Read the Gospels. In some of them, Jesus is a cool guy. In others, he's an asshole. The differing perspectives is what makes it so enthralling.

And for the love of god, people, stop wishing for the goddamn world to end.

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