I made a comment on my personal Facebook page a while back about the History Channel’s ‘Bible Series’. The comment addressed all the snarky speculation concerning Jesus being white and Satan being black – I noted that of course that’s the way it’s going to be, history is written by the winners after all, it’s one of the first tenets we learn as historians. A very ugly conversation ensued and atheists got blamed for racism, but it got me thinking……
Why is Christianity so vulnerable to a myriad of interpretations and presentations? Why are all religions vulnerable to radical changes depending on the particular view of a specific group of people? Even Islam and Hindu religions are divided amongst themselves as to the real interpretation of their saviors. Then I realized what the issue is: religions are subject to mass evisceration for the very reason that they are myths.
Let’s think for a minute about a couple of real live humans that have existed. You know, their deeds of good and ill are recorded in numerous references from historians of the day to newspaper articles to public records to eyewitness accounts. It’s difficult to get their legacies wrong. We don’t have much wiggle room to revise their accounts for the very reason that their accounts are stolidly recorded and fixed on the historical timeline.
Henry VIII – one of my favorite figures from early Britain and certainly one who changed the course of history – is ever viewed as one thing only: a womanizing king who was willing to break holy precedence and as a result managed to create a religious rift that Satan would be proud of. We can’t spend days and months speculating about his thoughts and actions and looks because too much evidence exists to only interpret his historical presence within a very narrow window.
I can hear some of you thinking “Henry VIII is pretty recent though,” and you are right. Let’s go back Before the Common Era then and pick out some other historical figure……say, Aristotle for instance. We have a pretty good idea how he looked based on paintings and sculpture so most portrayals we have of him are basically similar (unlike many depictions of Christ – who knew he was Aryan?). Aristotle’s work and deeds and influence are recorded by many so it becomes impossible to surmise what he meant except within very strict parameters, he wrested incessantly with other brilliant minds of the time after all and their arguments still haunt us. By contrast, whole denominations are built as a result of various suppositions as to what Jesus, or Paul, or the angel Gabriel really meant (by the way, denomination means division).
I could mention Alexander the Great, Marcus Aureoles, Genghis Khan, and Galileo, along with hundreds of other historical figures whose interpretation is limited because of the various forms of information we have about them. Not so for Jesus, whose divisive presence failed to capture the attention of historians of the time and whose lack of images allows us to re-write history so that a middle-eastern Jew looks more like an American lumberjack.
Of course there will be many versions of Christ, mythological figures are prone to various revisions and wild interpretation in a way that historical figures can never be.
I’ve been busy working, as in that-job-i-want-to-quit-someday, AND getting my first book through smashwords (tedious stuff as many of you may know. who knew a book cover was so important?), AND trying to keep up with short story writing at the same time. It’s not working too well at the moment. I wanted to get something out today though, so thought I’d sent a personal note for once; you know, let go of the formalism and just prattle a bit.
I hope this finds you well and moving forward! We’ve been enjoying beautiful sunny weather here in Northern California, mixed with some decent rain which is much-needed and makes this gardener happy. Then again, there are friends and family posting news about hiding easter eggs in the snow!
Here’s some snow for you as a matter of fact. This is the view from our local Sonic drive in, Lassen Peak, N. California – I really love where I live!
Talking easter reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a christian friend. I made the comment on my facebook page about the bible series being aired on the history channel and the buzz going on around the internet about jesus being white and satan being black, blah blah blah. My comment was that, of course its going to be like that, history is written by the winners. What I thought was a somewhat inane remark turned to a slogging discussion about racism…wtf? Even more astonishing was the belief (of many, apparently) that atheism is at the heart of racism. Again, wtf? One of the first things one learns as a historian is the gi-normous role religion plays in racism, yet christians claim it is the atheists who are responsible since they ‘have no morals’. The irony leaves me dumbfounded.
The argument left me exhausted. And frustrated. And stuck with the reality that ignorance is alive and well. I realized that I sometimes resent that I feel forced to ‘fight’ back when it comes to calling out complete bullshit. I hate fighting, of any kind. At the same time it’s difficult to let untruths go unnoticed . Some days I simply can’t and then I end up feeling like I’ve been beating my head against the wall which of course is what I was doing. Then, I end up feeling duped, once again, into arriving at place that I know is unproductive.
I know I am not alone however. An acquaintance of mine recently relayed his story of having to stand against close friends who, once again, questioned how on earth he could be an atheist and still have morals. My facebook feed is full of friends who become embattled with family members over similar questions of religious beliefs (or lack thereof). It’s interesting because we’d really just rather be living our lives instead of having to stop every few steps along the way in order to explain our decisions and choices. It gets tiring.
Really, if they’d just stopped for a minute and watched us live our lives, they’d see that we are not morally bankrupt just because we don’t surrender ourselves to an imaginary being. We stay faithful to our spouses because we value the sanctity of our relationship. We don’t steal from our employers because our consciences would never let us sleep. We don’t abuse our children because we want them to achieve a healthy self-esteem and grow up to contribute positively to society. On and on.
Maybe I’ll try that as a new tactic: instead of engaging in the same arguments, I’ll simply draw their attention to the way I live my life and let them decide for themselves.
Have I prattled enough yet? I think I have for now. I’ll be off then, living my morally deprived wretched lifestyle of trying to do my best every day. And here’s to all of you who live the same morally deprived wretched life, where freedom is sweet and the effort is worth it.
i LOVED the way this panel went about its study.. and the feedback is excellent….
Everywhere I go on the internet there’s all kinds of bru-ha-ha about the depiction of a ‘white jesus’ and ‘black satan’ in the History Channel’s Bible Series.
I really don’t know why we are so surprised. One of the first things we historians learn is that history is written by the winners, OF COURSE jesus was white and satan was black…..
It is always interesting to me how the religious hold tight to their right to have as many children as they can produce, yet they want to limit other’s right to NOT have as many children as they can produce…….
My local Police Department and certain businesses recently put together a “Don’t Feed the Habit” campaign aimed at discouraging people from giving money to the homeless. There is definitely an underpinning of disdain for the homeless within my community, I am ashamed for some of the comments I read on the local paper’s website. No empathy whatsoever. No thought of “There but for the grace of god, go I.” None of that, only criticism, judgment, and heaping suppositions about the person’s life. (Two caveats: I work on the main strip where many of these ‘ne’r-do-wells’ come into my lobby and I have to shoo them off. I myself was homeless for a while, and worked three jobs at the time – I know the gig intimately. Read: I understand the homeless issue from both sides of the coin.) And then there are the Facebook posts: “Why should the girl in front of me that has an iphone and tats be able to pay with food stamps?” “Why should I feed a homeless person and his dog?” “We should drug-test every welfare recipient and generally micro-manage their lives.” Unfortunately, there are million variations of this theme: blaming the poor for being poor.
…What I’ve heard and read just today: from Bloomberg TV, “Banker compensation has now outpaced shareholder profit,” and “16 Giant Corporations That Have Basically Stopped Paying Taxes — While Also Cutting Jobs” or “From 1987 to 2008, corporations paid an average of 22.5 percent in federal taxes. Since the recession, this has dropped to 10 percent — even though their profits have doubled in less than ten years.” There are a million variations of this theme: the rich getting richer at the expense of their fellow Americans.
We are witnessing The Greatest American Failure to date: blaming the poor while allowing the wealthy to escape accountability.
We sneer and blame the down and out for being down and out, assume they are lazy and without ambition, and blame them for taking money out of our pockets so they can at least survive.
Meanwhile, the real moochers, the real psychopaths, the real thieves and villains sit in their palatial surroundings without a word of condemnation from us. They finagle and manipulate in a way that no welfare queen could dream of doing. They break the laws and pay no penalty. They are without government oversight, or if they do have oversight, their overseers tend to ignore any discrepancies. They take money out of our pockets so they can maintain their extravagant lives.
Then…..they manage to convince us that the poor are the parasites of society since they expect entitlements and a free ride without putting forth any effort, they milk the system and drain it dry.
Then….our focus is distracted and we fail to observe that the real expectants of entitlements are the wealthy. They ‘expect’ their government to keep their taxes low; somehow they are entitled to low taxes because of their high income. They ‘expect’ that we will trot along with their schemes like blind, haltered horses; somehow they are the only ones entitled to freedom and vision. They ‘expect’ that their illegal activities will go unnoticed; somehow they are entitled to immunity from the law because they are wealthy. They milk the system and are draining it dry.
But because they are far off and difficult to see, we end up condoning the behavior of the wealthy by default – that is we don’t hold them accountable. The homeless and poor however, because we see them every day, bear the burden of our focus and derision. Tough crowd.
What does it say about a nation whose willingness to blame the poor is greater than the effort to bring justice to bear and hold the wealthy accountable?
One could interpret it as a Great American Failure.
I was out walking a while back, contemplating that love thing. I found myself considering it in terms of the Christian belief: that god is the only source of love for humans; man is a fallen animal and is redeemed only through the love of a specific supreme being. Many of us are brought up with this mindset (myself included, which is probably why my thoughts came here). Yet, once we figure out that science debunks the myths we’ve created in order to explain the mysteries of nature, religion and its gods become a dying paradigm as well. But what about that love thing? Part of the process of leaving the confines of religion is dealing with this notion of a divine love. Do we have an innate need to be loved by some creator? Is there something wired within us that seeks to feel loved specifically outside of our own reality? If I declare myself an atheist am I forfeiting an omnipotent attachment? This was some serious contemplation.
As I let my mind wander around its landscape I eventually ended up with a fairly basic question: Why did we need to invent religions in the first place? Did we create them because we needed to feel loved by some unseen force? Was there some place within us that can only be filled by a benevolent deity? What was the impetus for creating these early cultural narratives?
It turns out that our need to create religions and their heroes wasn’t because of any craving for divine affection. Instead, we constructed our myths and gods as a means to explain our world. We invented them because we have an insatiable curiosity to understand how the universe works, and in the absence of scientific information, some wild stories ensued; Helios in his chariot driving the sun across the sky comes to mind, or a magical dirt act that created humans.
I recalled as well that many religions are sprung from specific socio-economic and political soil, as a means to cope with oppression or chaos. The prospect of an all-saving messiah must’ve sounded really good to an entire populace who had been suppressed for centuries by foreign rule. The early international town of Medina and its surroundings was fraught with a materialistic, lustful lifestyle – a voice of strict religious tactics that sought to bring order to both home and government was welcome to many. Islam also provided an important common ground and unity to the various tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, who were more often fighting amongst themselves previously. Confucius’ sage words were a reasoned response to the inconsistency and injustice of the political climate of his time. There is no quest for love in these religious histories, only the attempt to bring a sense of control to the current social environment.
Our religions were composed around worldly issues for their ability to provide answers to our curious questions and comfort to our social plight, not for the need of supernatural attention. I decided that leaving a religion didn’t mean I was giving up some vital element to my being; it merely meant accepting a more logical answer to the questions of the Universe. My need for love was provided more than enough by my mother, siblings, friends, children, and spouse – not to mention an unusually large helping of self-esteem.
I contemplated a little further. I considered the lives of those of my family and friends who live without religious influence, just to make sure I wasn’t alone, and I examined the love they exhibit as well as the love they accept. This completely unscientific observation allowed me to witness that we are capable of immense depths of unconditional love entirely on our own. This makes sense though, if we consider the fact that many other species in the animal kingdom share a sense of caring and compassion. And if we consider that Homo sapiens have a tendency to perfect that which is evident throughout the animal kingdom, it is no stretch to assume that we humans are also capable of perfecting those traits of compassion and caring into…..that love thing. We don’t require an outside source of adoration; the lives we lead provide us the opportunities to fill that need perfectly.
By the end of my walk I concluded that there is no inherent need within us to bond with an unseen power. That love thing is a wholly human notion, not something instituted by a mysterious deity. Leaving behind a religion didn’t mean I was losing a source of mystic compassion, the reality in which I live provides all that I need thanks to those wonderful people I am privileged to share this time with.
Serious contemplation, over……for now.
One of the most endearing qualities we humans possess (to this speck of dust at least) is our passion and ability to create. We are an amazing creature to be able to create the way we do. We use our imagination in infinite ways to bring a new picture, or story, or gadget to realization. But it’s not just the ways that we invent new things that make us creative – think of the way we create our ‘nests,’ by which I mean our homes. We pay attention to every detail. Not only do we want a specific color of curtain, it must also be the right texture. We paint trees and paw prints on the walls of our children’s rooms, with matching comforters and light switches. Some of us even make sure the color of our Kitchenaid matches our kitchen theme. While we’re on the subject of kitchens, there’s no greater place we love to create: mixing new spices with traditional recipes to produce an original dish, making cupcakes in distinct flavors and colorful frostings, or adding a surprise ingredient to a tried and true soup. One of my favorite observations about cooking is the intimacy inherent in this form of creating. All that chopping and stirring and tending and measuring is done with care as we infuse our love with each twist of the spoon. We don’t limit ourselves to creating in just the home however. There are the Steve Jobs of the world, the Richard Branson types who carry us forward, like da Vinci did during the renaissance. These creators stand on the edge of everything we know and then have the tenacity (and audacity) to take us further. Same goes for those daring astronomers and physicists who spend their dream time creating new ways for us to interpret our universe. There are the designers who weave and sew in order that we may create a way of dressing that expresses who we are. We owe our cultural fabric to singers and writers and painters and sculptors who somehow manage to capture a bit of the Universe for us with each stroke of the hand or movement of a note. We owe our knowledge to those who have ever stood in front a classroom, creating an environment to challenge our minds and dig to the depths of reason. Everywhere we look, we can observe ourselves creating in some form or another. It is a beautiful sight to behold.
If we consider the thought a little deeper, we come to the conclusion that we can’t help but be creators. We are born of creation itself, it is therefore in our very fiber to be creative – the old ‘acorn doesn’t fall far from the oak tree’ adage applies to us here. If we dig deeper we can see a dynamic between the creator and the created, intimate and beautiful, a result of the fact that we are co-creating, working in tandem with the very universe that put us here. Imagine – we are working side by side with Nature when we are creating. Nothing is more terrible. Nothing is more sacred. There could be no greater act of worship.
So the next time you cook your family’s favorite meal, or dream up a new math formula, or pluck the next guitar string, or figure out a way to communicate with your sixteen year old for a minute – remember that you are creating, working with the universe, just as we were born to do. Is there nothing more fulfilling in life?