The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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The Incredible Shrinking Jesus

May 21st, 2006 · No Comments · christianity, ritual

In the process of studying Biblical history, I’ve also studied a little bit of Greek, Hebrew, , philosophy, anthropology (physical and cultural), archeology, literary analysis, linguistics, economics, , military theory, and even (yes) basket weaving. The , itself, is pretty sparse, so all these other techniques are used to illuminate this ancient and hoary document.

My method has been to settle on a point in the Bible and to try to really understand it. I started with Genesis. Ten years later, I was still reading Genesis. No doubt there are many other gems in the book, but for my money, Genesis has the best stories and the best connection to so many different ancient cultures. Almost every word has magic in it. And the sequel is great! Miracles! Tribulation! Gnashing of teeth! By the third or fourth book, things dry up a bit until the big sweep of epic adventure returns in Joshua.

I hate poetry.
Pretentious breath of rhythmic meme
Wafting slowly ‘cross the page.
Wasting space.
Wasting time.
I have such a hard time reading Psalms.

The prophets were something of a mystery until I was able to key them to particular political camps during the various gyrations of national turmoil in the first and second temple periods and the exile. All of this (in most Christian Bibles, at least) brings me to Jesus.

Growing up, Jesus was big. There was a clear intention that I would be raised as a Good Christian, which meant that we went to Sunday service and Bible study after before going to Grandma’s house for lunch. (Yum: spaghetti!) I went to quite a few “Bible camps” that served up all manner of nonsense when they weren’t overtly pushing one agenda or another. But the mythology all was there. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, all the time. All these happy, smiling kids shrieking that their precious hippy Jesus Christ luuuuved them. Christmas was midnight candlelight services with carols and a big, fancy nativity scene. Easter was preceded by a week of Lenten observation, which if you’re not already familiar with, I won’t gross you out. Oh yeah, then we hunted for colored eggs in the field around the church. Whatever.

You know, there was a point when a large part of my self definition was being “not a Christian”. It took no difficulty to point to a half-dozen examples of modern Christians that portrayed a living lie that I wanted no part of. Even my casual (at the time) examination of the Bible revealed a violent deity with some severe impulse control issues that I was just as happy without. But now, where I saw “lies”, I now see “myths”. At this point, I can’t even point to anything about the rituals, theology, or behavior of my “home” church that is uniquely “Christian”. Other than self-identification and a relatively consistent assemblage of dogma and mythology, it would be very difficult to pick out that someone was a Christian and not one of a dozen other things: Jewish, pagan, Zoroastrian, Platonist, or whatever. From this perspective, I’m having a hard time deciding just what it was I was so angry about.

At the end of all this, Jesus disappeared into the mist. Even the question of an historical Jesus cannot be asked without introducing elaborate, interwoven suppositions and theories based on various fictions from the New Testament. The more one digs, the more one discovers these amazing, dynamic, colorful, and ancient civilizations with their beautiful cult objects and epic mythologies to which Christianity pales in comparison. The philosophies, ideas, and revelations that fed into the creation of the Christian holy texts are so far removed from any historical figure as to have made any such person irrelevant. It has made for a very interesting ride, that’s certain.

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