Tuesday, April 26, 2005

You Can Know Jesus ...

... through any way other than, apparently, reading the Bible.

There's sort of a long road into this post, which like most of my posts will turn out to be half sick joke and half sincere. This is probably a habit I should curb, for I get several e-mails a week asking me to repost sections of previous essays for quotation without the attendant nastiness. ("Dear John: Is there any way you can post the argument for gay marriage without the 'Stephen Harper is a bottom-bitch' part? Thanks!")

So, I'm in one of the glorious Canadian bookstores in the coffee shop, working on my laptop. Sitting opposite me are a boy and girl -- and I mean that in the 1950's "boy and girl" sense. Squeaky clean-cut, maybe 16. They're talking about the Jesus and their faith. Plainly evangelicals, all the buzzwords are flying around.

Despite what you may assume, I found this very, very sweet. When fat old bastards in suits are screaming about the downfall of youth and society, they are, well, lying. There's less teen sex -- except, of course, among kids in abstinence-only sex education programs -- a rise in social awareness and spirituality ... anyway, I dug it. "Evangelical" doesn't mean "radical" -- it's just where a lot of them come from. It's a brandy/cognac, cognac/brandy thing.

Then they started talking about the Rapture. The Girl asked about it, the Boy explained, the Girl asked another question, the Boy was stumped ... don't get me wrong, they in no way seemed less sure what they were discussing was absolute truth. But it was readily apparent that their entire understanding of Revelations came from the Left Behind Series and mainstream Dominionist prophecy.

I couldn't help myself. I stepped in, and explained how Revelations was laid out, what sequence the Rapture, Tribulations, etc were ordered in, and which sections were actually in the Bible, and which were sort of tacked on as cultural artifacts. (I'm a fair hand with this not because of my faith -- I was working on a one-man show about the End of the World for a while, and did a helluva lot of research ...) They were very appreciative, and we had a lovely chat. They seemed a little wary when I suggested that they read a few things about the history of the Bible. Seeing as they actually couldn't be bothered to read a book they were using as the basis of their life and faith, I could hardly complain. We parted amicably.

I have an odd emotional relationship with the Bible. I'm a lapsed Catholic (post-Catholic?), and we didn't so much read the Bible as go to Church every Sunday and have sections of it explained to us. But I'm reading it again now, an excellent student-annotated NIRV. Not as soaring as the King James, but with slightly less "10 guys sitting a room making shit up" factor. For both non-believers and the more devout folk who come here (and we have more than a few), I can not recommend strongly enough Don't Know Much About the Bible. Kenneth Davis examines the history of the Bible as it was assembled over the centuries* without ever losing sight that it's an important document of faith.

*(and if you don't believe it was assembled over centuries, you;re not using the brain God gave you, and you need to crawl back into whatever Dominionist compound you escaped from and let the adults talk)

Anyway, I'd honestly say Davis' book may be one of the few "must-reads" I ever push.

So, putting aside the Bible, which I view ambivalently as both inspiration and cudgel, connection with the Holy Spirit and framework of Organized Religion which does Many Things What That I Do Not Dig, how can one get closer to God? Well, there's ...

Clown Ministry. Clown. Ministry. This actually made me scream and back out of my chair, as if suddenly on my computer screen Samara had risen from the well with big, floppy shoes.

Or Gospel magic.

Or, my favorite, Gospel Juggling. Where:

"A running hedge trimmer, a sword, and a set rat trap are juggled to discuss the fact that we were created to know God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. (John 3:36)

Whatever it takes to get you through the day. Or night. Or more specifically, 3 a.m. But, just, if it's Clown Ministry, don't share. I don't know if we can be friends any more.

I do find myself drawing a line, however. Personally, I don't much care for Revelations, where the modern theocrats live. Too many flaming swords and vengeance. Seems a bit, oh, I don't know, out of character with the four frikkin' Gospels that are supposed to be the foundation of faith. But lordy lord, those guys sure live in Revelations when it comes to their preaching. Revelations or the Epistles, with Paul laying down the law. Just don't expect them to bring up the words "peace." or "poor." They'll usually keep hopping back and forth between Leviticus and Revelations, skipping over the tranquil waters of the Gospels proper, pants-legs pulled up lest they get stained with any unsightly pacifism, or sacrifice, or tolerance.

Luke, by the way.

Luke, this agnostic's favorite Gospel. Lots of singing. I never noticed that the first time around.

I don't know if I'll ever quite believe in God. But I know that I believe we can rise, through intangible Spirit or inspired Reason, to something closer to God.

Closer to love, or acceptance. Or simple damn joy in the unexpectedness of the new, or the different. Closer to a place where we help because we take "Do Unto Others" to heart, where we see the world differently. Because while they see a world where "they are damned,they are the enemy, because they are not us", we see a world where "we have to help them, because they are ALL us." In the New Testament, as my sainted nuns taught me, Jesus basically broke it down as "All right, I'm going to make this so simple you screwheads can't POSSIBLY misunderstand. One word -- empathy. Got it?"

And the sonuvabitches still screwed. it. up.

That's my fatal flaw, of course. It's only, on these very rare occasions, when I consider the uplift of humanity be it by the concept of God or humanity's own potential for joy -- only when I consider the height of such a possibility, and for one moment discard the safety of reason and hope ...

... do I then really consider the anchor, the chain around our necks that these manipulative, terrified, close-minded self-righteous pharisees yank down, how they spike our ascent, keep people suspicious and angry and clannish in a world of wonders -- and I hate, I hate with all my heart, the black hate of the Irish.


I only truly, truly hate ... when I believe there might be a God.

That's a hell of a thing to realize sober.


Justin Cognito said...

I have nothing more to offer than a hearty word. In my blogging experience, I actually stumbled upon an article about Ultimate Christian Wrestling, where the combatants lead the audience in prayer right before the folding chairs get brought out. Sometimes, you have to wonder if your entire life is just a MAD TV sketch.

Luke Barnett said...

John, thanks for your post. It's funny reading that as my church is in the middle of a series on Revelations. Always good to get into the word and hear some other ideas on it. There's obviously a lot of stuff and books out there about it, but it's good to actually read it and understand that Revelations was written for people 2000 yrs ago as well, and not just us here trying to work events into whats written!

Unknown said...

I have to say, one of the most refreshing and radical things we were taught by the Jesuits, was the inspiration for the Bible. The best was how this would blow away the conservatives in the room.

Seeing The Flood story come from Gilgamesh as well as other myths from other cultures making their way into the Bible.

By the way, TBN seems to always focus on Revelation and the fact we are in end times. Yet, they seem to fulfill some of the things they are against. Like everyone having the Mark. Yet they Mark everything they sell with their weird coat of arms.

Anonymous said...

As a member of the evil Atheist conspiracy I thought I would chime in.

I feel sorry for those kids. When they finally get down to reading that book they put so much stock in, I mean really reading it, they will likely shit their pants. Lots of atheists start on their deconversions by just taking the time to read the Bible.

The case for a historical Christ is weak, just look at the big deal caused by that tomb a couple of years back and the shroud of turin. In truth is the Christ figure is a hodge-podge of myths and legends from Europe, the middle east and the orient.

The kids you met would never accept that information, they will continue to believe what they were indoctrinated to believe. But then again, if it makes them happy, more power to them.

DougBot said...

Have you read Ken's Guide to the Bible? It's a shortlist of some of the weirder aspects of the Good Book. (Weird stuff, oppression of women, family values like killing all non-believers, just outright weird shit from Paul, etc.)

One of my favorite parts of the book is the litmus test that Ken gives to see the politics behind the translation. Plus, it's pretty laugh-out-loud funny in spots.

Smith also wrote a fairly entertaining book about 50s educational films, but that's a whole other blog post...

Scott said...

When I was about sixteen years old, an uncle of mine felt compelled to shed some Biblical reality on me when he became privy to the fact that my music collection contained the likes of Def Leppard. He was convinced they were pawns of the Devil himself, here on Earth to recruit young punks like myself. He showed me all this radical propaganda that proved, without a doubt of course, that "modern rock music" was like the great hammer of Satan being used to bludgeon the hearts and minds of the worlds youth. He even shared with me a document that detailed the connection between the celebration of Halloween and "Heavy Metal" that served as some evil conspiracy to drag us all kicking and screaming, including myself, to the bowels of Hell. He outlined all of this madness by quoting scripture from the Bible, all of which he felt proved that which he was washing my brain with. I felt so dirty.

Sadly, I was mildly convinced for a couple years after that that anyone who chose to wear a mullet, wear a little make up, sport a "holy" pair of jeans, hang a little silver and/or gold bling-bling from their ears or use their snide and clever intellect to manipulate "Armageddon It" into "Are you gettin' it?" was clearly and without a doubt, someone working for Satan.

Several years and a few tearful therapy sessions later, I'm happily agnostic and feel content with whatever comes to pass. Except that Def Leppard's musical career has gone to hell and the dogs of reason are howling their scrawny asses off. Bastards! ;-)

Anonymous said...


Thank you. You managed to articulate many of my feelings about faith in a manner far more eloquent and moving than I would ever personally be able to do.

Sean said...

You should ask Ross about his experience with Clown Ministry sometime. ;)

Best story from that best-forgotten chapter of history: we're cruising through neighborhoods, a van full of teenage clowns, and see a few kids we think it would be neat to talk to. The van stops, several of us clowns tumble out the side door and start toward the kids...who take one look at us and start running away as fast as their little legs would carry them.

Cassie Schoon said...

I'm a lapsed Catholic (post-Catholic?)

I had a friend who called himself a "recovering Catholic." He gave up Catholicism for Lent and never went back.

Excellent post by the way. I always like to tell these kids that Dionysus was born to a virgin to be the savior of all mankind, died and was resurrected. Just like Horus, Mithra and Osiris. The entire concept of mythology escapes people like this, as does its purpose.

Cunningham said...

I was raised in the Lutheran church.
I went to a Catholic high school.
I graduated from Presbyterian College.

What the hell am I? (other than confused)

Scott said...

Good Job!

One of my favorite classes in college was the Bible as Literature. When you read the books as stories, it is pretty scary. Not a lot of sense there. Moses was put ion the Nile because they were killing the first born, but later he makes his older brother a high priest? But I thought . . .

Where did Cane and Abel’s wives come from?

When you read them without the faith, it’s actually pretty funny. (or scary)


Scott said...

One more thing, read The Apocrypha, these are the books that didn’t make it into the Bible. One was even written by a woman (gasp!).

Alex Epstein said...

Logos, John. The contradictions I like are Jesus saying, "Do not pray as the heathens do, by vain repetition," and then gives as an example what has now become the Lord's Prayer, which everyone repeats... and the admonition to render unto Caesar ... and the not casting the first stone ... and the Christians who forbid drinking wine because, um, well, uh, waitasecond, didn't Jesus turn water into wine???

Anonymous said...

Mmmmmmmm. As a struggling person of spirit, gee, I can remember actually reading the bible in Catholic schools... Primary, Middle, High and College... there was talk about the sources, literature, mythology and many things that a few of you think have never been considered before. And yes, I took a class on the case for and against the historical Jesus. And surprise, there is a fantastic case for a historic Jesus, but to call him Christ, well, it takes faith, which is sort of the point. As a Mad (crazy) Apologist (defender), I suggest you not to close you minds so much, as Fr. Guido would say.

As to the links between Rock and Satanism, I did attend a Knights of Columbus lecture about said link. The whole background of Hotel California is scary, but I must refer to the souce liturature of a Howard the Duck issue involving Rev. Yung Sung Moon, Kiss and some kinky dominatrix/therapist. Something about when you see reality, kiss it.

ooops, did I have a point here? well, nevermind

Karl said...

At least the kids played nice, that seems rare form for how John describes the way they talked.

It seems to me there's an understood radicalist Christian axiom.

Love thy neighbor...as long as you perceive them to be the kind of God Jesus loving believer that you are.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Don't remember where I heard this, but it's true - why is it that the same people who insist that UPC codes are the Mark of the Beast from Revelations, and that the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the 'Time of Jacob's Troubles,' also contend that the seven days of creation in Genesis are literally 168 hours?

Luke Barnett said...

For historical accuracies and interesting reads for anyone interested check out the books "The Case for Christ", there are many different ones (as in The Case for Faith and other topics) I've forgotten the name of the author but he writes well.

Thanks scott for funny posts.
Man, In Kings 2 i think there are some crazy things!!!
It's either Elijah or another prophet walking up the street right. Some "youths" pay him out: quote "Go on up you baldhead! Go on up!" (sorry for all bald people, but what a crazy payout for over 2000 yrs ago!)
So Elijah (or whoever) curses them verbally, can't remember exactly, maybe he just turns and thinks 'at them'. But then 2 she-bears come out of the woods and tear the kids to pieces!!! funny stuff.........

Anonymous said...

Not to get overly pedantic here, but (Crazy Dominionists != Crazy Left Behind Literalists). Dominionism (or theonomy) is a postmillenial theology: they believe that the events of Revelation have already been fulfilled (c. 1st century AD), and thus it's their job to return the world to God's Law (which happens to be all the non-kosher parts of the Mosaic Law). The Left Behind crew, on the other hand, believe that Revelation should be read literally, and that the events are happening/soon to happen/any day now, I promise. Left Behinders are also dispensationalists, and don't buy into the idea that the Mosaic Law applies post-Christ. (They also have insanely complex charts and tables that lay out different ages in the relationship between God and Man, which, when considered carefully, makes that relationship look like a marriage counseler's worst nightmare.)

What links Dominionists and your garden-variety Tim LaHaye-style nutcases is, of course, the fact that they share 75% of their politics, and that the arch-conservative evangelicals don't think the theonomists will ever get enough power to carry out the remaining 25% of their policies (which include stoning not only gays, the divorced, and children who talk back to their parents -- paging Dr. Dobson -- but any Christians who don't buy into Dominionism. In an act of intellectual consistency, non-Christians are exempt from being killed. Mostly).

Perhaps a minor point in the let's-not-return-to-the-Dark-Ages scope of things, but it's a pretty big difference when viewed from within their worldview.

Anonymous said...

it seems you and your 18 commenters talk alot about christians and whats wrong with christians and how screwed up the church is and hypocritical...etc.

but, that's the whole point. the whole point is that we are all jerks and we need forgiveness. now before you just blow me off and mark me as just another one of them, let me ask you something. do you really know Jesus? does He speak to you? is He there when you're hurting? when no one else can see you. when no one else has any idea what you're thinking. If you would swallow your pride for just a moment and say "Jesus if you're really there, please speak to me and change my life."

you can talk all day long about this thing you read here or what these people say. I know that the Bible is true because Jesus speaks to me TODAY and it's more real than anything I've ever experienced. and the reason you're still alive is because God is extending His grace to give you a chance to turn to Him.

Anonymous said...

Clown Ministry. Wow. And here I thought nothing could beat Clown Pr0n.

Anonymous said...

I just swallowed my pride for a little while, and said "Jesus, if you're really there, please speak to me and change my life."

I mean, my life is a mess, and the world looks like a mess too. I would love to have someone save me and make everything okay. I would have to adapt my belief system to this new reality, but that would be a small price to pay. I asked in all sincerity.

But I didn't get an answer. I have asked various times in the past too--I know you can't hurry God. Until I hear from him, though, I am going to feel very doubtful about his existence.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was some powerful stuff I read. And the doubters. I love it. Don't we all wish for a relationship with Jesus.

Anonymous said...

There is that number again 328 on what I wrote above. That number follows me everywhere. The last site that I visited, a kid from Canada had a system of turning the bible upside-down then he cut and stitched words together. Not only did he find the months of March, April and May. But he also found my last name in the bible with his method. I didn't think he was nuts at all. I was more than interested. He found the months that Jesus came to talked to me in 2006 and he found my name. The kid found my last name. I was more than interested. Doubt all you want, that is part of the fun in finding the answers, and Jesus. Love, Melanie
Oh, to find the site I just mentioned I typed in "Everyone thinks in am nuts because Jesus talked to me", in the google box. That is how I found this site too. I think the kid was on page one of ten. He is from Canada.

www.muebles-en-alcala-de-henares.com said...

This can't have effect in actual fact, that's exactly what I suppose.