Saturday, December 23, 2006
Revolutionary Jesus - Seeking Truth at Christmas
In my search for an image for this post, I became interested in how the Left viewed the teachings of Jesus and contrasted it to their view of conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular. Although the Right are personally more generous, the Left finds the Right un-Christian because the Right is not as generous as the Left with other people's (taxpayers') money.
It’s time for weak-kneed agnostics to stand up and be counted!
Well one of them, anyway.
I’m a confessed weak-kneed agnostic.
How did it happen?
Mom and Pop were not church goers, and encouraging Ron and I to say bedtime prayers when we were little was the extent of our religious instruction. I think they thought it was cute, in particular the list of blessings we asked of God that grew steadily to include our parents, brother, grandparents, over a dozen aunts and uncles, many of our over forty first cousins, friends, pets, and our cow Dolores. I think I even included President Roosevelt, which probably didn’t set too well with Mom, but she never objected.
I can still feel the sincerity of emotion of those evenings when I beseeched God to watch over all who made my world so safe and loving. I didn’t know, and would have been terribly upset if I did, that in this world that seemed so wonderful to me, millions of innocent fathers, mothers, and children were imprisoned, tormented, afraid, hungry, cold, then killed like the ants we sprayed on the back porch.
The day I was born, July 18, 1942, Japanese-Americans were getting off a train at Lone Pine, California, on the last stage of their journey to the War Relocation Facility at Manzanar, to be interned there for the duration of the war.
All the New York baseball teams won: the Yankees 7-6 over the Chicago White Sox, the Giants 3-1 over the Cincinnati Reds, and the Brooklyn Dodgers 4-3 over the Saint Louis Cardinals.
The world was at war, some parts of it more than others.
We lived in Bakersfield, and Mom and Pop sent me to a Catholic School kindergarten, Our Lady of Guadalupe, because it had a good reputation for educating students, not because of its religious instruction. I was a natural day dreamer, but woke up when Sister Immaculata pulled my ear, or when the priest opened the tabernacle at Mass, which I thought was God’s house. I tried to see Him, but was too far away.
Later, Mom and Pop would send Ron and I to Catholic summer school in Point Arena, or across the street to hear Reverend Teel at St. Paul’s Methodist, or down the hill to the old Point Arena Record building where Reverend Westfall, and later Reverend Horn (a Native American, whose tribe I've forgotten) led the Church of Christ congregation.
I loved the Bible stories, at first the ones from the Old Testament, and later the stories of Jesus. The Old Testament stories were exciting and fanciful, and fed my imagination. At about the same time, movies covered biblical stories like TV covers crime procedures today. Notable among the many were The Ten Commandments, Sampson and Delilah, Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, David and Bathsheba, Solomon and Sheba, Spartacus, Salome, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. You could get a Bible-based education without ever opening a Bible, which could possibly have been said for the writers and directors of these movies too.
I liked church services too. The ceremony of Catholic Mass, the Methodist minister’s jokes and the sweet voiced choir, and the most fun was listening to the lively gospel music of the Church of Christ. It was pure pleasure to be walking down Main Street and just stop and listen to the music spilling out of an evening prayer meeting.
There’s a lot to like about religion, in particular the many forms that the Christian religion takes on in the United States. Before television destroyed most forms of social life in America, the churches provided a rich array of activities for all age groups. Just the potluck dinners alone were reason enough to be active in all three of the Point Arena churches. Every lady at every event brought out her best dish, the one that everyone praised and raved about.
Elderly women got together and sewed patchwork quilts, and played cards. When they needed a couple more card players for a second Canasta table, my brother Ron and I gladly played. Long before we reached our teens, we were already, if I do say so myself, among the best Canasta players in Point Arena, and it wasn’t because we were playing with elderly women who were poor Canasta players. They were good, Ron and I were just better.
Youngsters like Ron and I had a good time at Catholic Summer School, Sunday School, and Bible classes.
What I didn’t like about religions were all the rules and procedures. How could I be a sinner if I had a bad thought, but didn’t do the bad deed? How could someone sin, then be forgiven, then do it again, and be forgiven again? How could you be saved, and be saved for Eternity no matter what bad things you did the rest of your life? What’s wrong with eating pork? How could a dog be unclean in the eyes of God, when we loved Puddles so much? How could there be so many religions, each claiming to be the true one?
Slowly I became aware that religions were different because they were produced by men, not God.
Of all men, of all time, I have the greatest love and respect for Jesus of Nazareth, and I don’t know whether or not he was divine. I hope he was. Weak-kneed agnostics wish for an afterlife too, and since we don't believe in a Devil or Hell, if there is an afterlife it has to be a nice one.
Hitler, and Stalin, and Mao and the rest won't go to Hell, they just won't have an afterlife. Or better yet, they will have an afterlife, and will spend all eternity being damned.
Jesus was the greatest revolutionary of all time. Many revolutionaries preceded him, thousands followed him, but he was the only one who got it right. He taught of love. He taught a religion that could be practiced by the sick and poor among us, not one that was the province of the wealthy and administered by powerful priests.
The world was already full of such religions. The fate of men could be ruled by the priestly elite seeing omens and portents in the wind, the sea, the birds, in the entrails of rabbits.
Gods were here to reward and punish, and the rules of the Gods were intricate and detailed, yet arbitrary and capricious.
Jehovah could be an angry, jealous God, a God who must be feared and obeyed. Allah passed his teachings to a man of the sword, and of lust, and of intrigue, who then miraculously produced a “perfect” Quran that can’t even withstand the inquiry of a high school natural sciences class.
Jesus, on the other hand, appears to have been a true revolutionary, who took the body of Judaism and spun it into a more personal and loving religion.
Then his followers started adding rules and rituals and proceeded to mess it up. Soon there were priests, and high priests, and bishops, and popes, a vast army whose sole mission was to intercede between man and his god.
At the moment Jesus was no longer a living presence among his followers, they brought error into his teachings as they processed them through their own abilities to understand and communicate. And so it came down through the ages.
Occasionally his followers got together in great assemblages to reconcile the differences. From errors came distilled error, and then over time variations crept in, and another great assemblage was needed to reconcile the differences. Finally enough was enough, and a Martin Luther was needed to try to get back to the basics.
But by then it was too late.
Where do you find the basics, when all you have are the collected errors of over a thousand years of error? When all you have left are transcriptions of collected works produced by a variety of men long after Jesus, which were passed through translations from their original language?
There’s only one place left then to find truth.
Look within yourself, and if you find yourself full of feelings of warmth and affection for a teacher of love, your search is over.
And has just begun.
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