A matter of faith

Being a “formally” trained journalist means I tend to require some semblance of evidence before I’m willing to commit an assertion to paper (or electronic screen). In j-school the old saying was, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Which tends to conflict with religious belief or faith. If you’re supposed to doubt the love of your mother, how on earth can you accept what a church (or any institution) tells you?

Good Friday represents the day the son of a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth (born in Bethlehem) was crucified for acts of heresy and sedition. Christians believe Jesus was the human incarnation of God, the Son of God, who was sacrificed to cleanse humanity of its sins. And on the Third Day. … You probably know the drill.

These events are generally believed by historians to have actually occurred (the resurrection is another matter), although the details vary, even among the four accepted Gospels in the Bible. Then there are the many film renderings of the Passion, the crucifixion and resurrection. The most recent is The Passion of the Christ, the Mel Gibson project starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus. It was a well-made movie, although it certainly created a good deal of controversy, especially over how the Jewish people of the time were portrayed. I thought the flogging scene was a bit much.

For the Doubting Thomases among us, the facts of the resurrection are a tad problematic. To believe that a human being could have died in such a horrible, gruesome fashion and somehow become reanimated in three days (two and a half, but who’s counting, right?) takes a huge leap of faith. You have to be able to suspend your disbelief to accept that what had been believed to be impossible is possible. You have accept that a dead human being came back from being dead. And not just “mostly dead.”

Growing up Catholic, I was expected to accept certain things as true: the pope is infallible (HA!), there is one God (technically three-in-one, but let’s not confuse matters now) and Jesus Christ was born, died and rose from the dead to become our eternal savior.

That “infallible” business was of course declared by a pope somewhere along the line. I quote Matthew 16:18 (King James version): “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

That pretty much is what is known about the founding of Christianity as an institution. Jesus said “rock,” not infallible.

My level of faith wavers from agnostic to hopeful. Sometimes on the same day. I have experienced what seem like miracles. And have seen what can only be cynical manipulation of gullible people’s minds. I see a lot more of the latter than the former.

And don’t get me started on the child-molesting priests and the “holy men” who protect them. Disgusting.

Getting back to Jesus and his time on Earth. The prevailing art in Christian churches usually depicts Jesus as a  white guy, in the image of European men. Except that Jesus was almost certainly a brown-skinned man of the Mideast. He was Semitic. Unless he was an albino (not likely, I’m just throwing it out there). But that could explain in part the huge following he attracted. Albinos (think Great White Buffalo) are often believed to hold mystical powers, sometimes regarded with suspicion, sometimes great reverence. There were lots of superstitions then (critics of Christianity say Christianity itself is an enormous superstitious fairy tail), so the idea is not as far-fetched as you might think. Still, I see no reference to Jesus being lighter or pure white skinned in the Gospels, do you? Unless “I am the light” is somehow a mistranslation. Maybe it should have said, “I am the light, the ultra-white dude who glows in the dark, therefore you must bow down before me.”

Ahem. I digress.

Jesus most certainly was viewed as a threat by both the Jewish leadership and the occupying Romans. He dared question the scribes and the pharisees. That’s bound to piss them off. He was viewed as a rabble-rouser. He hung out with tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes. The Romans didn’t know what to do with him. He was, in essence, leading an insurgency.

Jesus the insurgent.

Imagine a first-century Gen. David Petraeus looking for the least messy way of quelling an insurgency in occupied Israel and Palestine. You have various parties with conflicting interests and the Roman army trying to keep a lid on it all. You have governors and prefects and judges, then you have the leaders of the Jewish community. They all have agendas.

Then you have this Jesus guy saying outrageous (to them) things, telling parables, performing miracles, traveling the countryside, this guy out of seemingly nowhere, and toward the end he rides into Jerusalem and is greeted by crowds laying down palm leaves before him as he is riding (or not) a donkey or a horse.

You have politics, you have betrayal, you have military occupation. We had Abu Ghraib, the Romans had Golgatha. Parallels are inexact, but close enough for illustrative purposes.

For the Romans, crucifying Jesus was an expedient solution to a messy problem. Kill the messenger? Hell yes, if it’ll quiet things down.

So this heretic, this rebel, this revolutionary, is dead. His disciples are freaked out. His mother is heartbroken. Pontius Pilate has washed his hands of the matter. John Wayne declared, “Surely, this was the son of God.” (Sorry)

What now?

And that is the question for the ages.

To borrow from the U2 song, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

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