2019 To-Do List: Reform religion
The white-robed minister who dispatched my teenage younger brother was caught off-guard by our mother’s furious blast.
The luckless dog-collared fellow had told her Neil, who’d died from a misdiagnosed brain tumor (‘take an aspirin and lie down’), had gone to ‘a better place’. In reality he’d just entered the crematorium’s furnace.
‘How do you know?’ she screamed and repeated her question with even more force while Dad tried to lead her away from gawping grievers. The chaplain, who should have had an answer for this basic question, hurried back to his sanctuary.
Mother was right; I’d started to ask the same thing having reached ‘the age of discretion’ and been confirmed into the Anglican Church.
For a while I thought of studying to be a minister and charming congregations with my knockout sermons and wise counsel. I went on a church camp and thought the thunder outside meant I had a calling.
Having been reasonably well educated I should have remembered it was shock waves caused by a thermal expansion following lightning. Science eclipsing the occult.
Instead I prayed as instructed but found it hard to focus; there were girls in the group and coming from an all-boys school meant mixing closely with these strange beguiling beings for the first time.
Unbidden lascivious thoughts elbowed out my pleas for wisdom, which we’d been assured would be effective.
They weren’t, so doubt flooded the void between sessions of what used to be called ‘self abuse’ and which would drive us blind. In the adolescent tussle between carnality and Christianity the body wins, hands down.
Ah, the lies. If the churches in the west are to pull back disillusioned worshippers they need to be honest and say, as the funeral minister should have replied: ‘We don’t know, Mrs Graham. What do you think? This is what I believe based on the evidence’.
There’s little enough; only three known references to Jesus outside the scriptures. One is false, another probably so, leaving just one brief mention of the crucifixion in a Roman administration inventory.
None of the gospel writers knew the man. They were writing decades after his death and relying on stories passed down by word of mouth and embellished along the way. I know because for a few years I worked as a daily newspaper reporter, often covering courts.
Here defendants, prosecutors and witnesses, all under oath, often gave strikingly different interpretations of events.
Not all could have been malicious liars; they offered truths as they remembered them; the white car from the left though police claimed it was black and from the right. The rain was intense, but the weather bureau said the night was dry. An old man was driving – no, a young woman.
I could now not report with any accuracy events I saw so long ago; if I had to rely on the recall of others then the accounts would be even more fictional.
I’ve also worked alongside translators moving stories from Indonesian into English, wrestling with multiple definitions in almost every paragraph. Language isn’t mathematics – there’s no precision.
Bits of the New Testament were written in Hebrew and Aramaic, which Jesus probably used. It’s the language of the Palestine Jews. Cue: Irony.
Later the texts were translated into Greek, then Latin and eventually English, much to the fury of the priests who wanted the words kept out of the minds of ordinary folk who might then read and think for themselves, corrupting the Beatitudes with platitudes:
Don’t start revolting; just accept your wretched lot on this world Your reward waits after you’ve died in agony from poverty, illness and being exploited – and if you’re a woman, giving birth every year.
God forbid – but he didn’t.
Translator John Wycliffe was excommunicated, and William Tyndale – responsible for the first printed English Bible - was executed in 1536 for heresy. If there’s a Christian light here it must be obscured by the smoke and flames from Tyndale’s burning.
Fundamentalists say none of this matters because God has steered every penman’s hand - a claim also made by Muslims with the Koran. This conveniently shuts down dissent and extinguishes questions. The real word here is ‘censorship’.
If the title page includes the credit ‘By God’ then the deity is a dreadful writer. She, he or it never read back their composition; they ignored the contradictions, illogicalities and absurdities and wouldn’t get past the subs’ desk with most sentences.
Then there’s so much cruelty, prejudice and hatred it would be deleted by Facebook bots. Not a book for disturbed minds.
A few stories are cute and worth the telling. Curiously alike versions crop up in other cultures with slightly different settings, the heroes and protagonists having other names, but still doing similar smart and stupid things to win and lose love, fame and fortune – then using magic to get out of tricky spots.
No GPS, so stars move to provide the birthplace coordinates. A Jewish shepherd finds his girl already in the family way though he hadn’t even got into her pants.
Instead of showing her the stable door he accepts her explanation that angels got there first – as they do - and remains the perfect hubby. Joseph should be consecrated Saint of Cuckolds.
Believe that and you’ll believe everything that Donald Trump says about himself.
The kid grows up in a carpenter’s workshop. That’s great – the common touch. Sores on the palms, splinters under the fingernails – we can relate. The sweet scent of sweat and sawdust in the toga folds.
Any brothers or sisters? And where’s Mum? She’s already done her duties and been erased. Can’t allow JC to have soft filial feelings. .
Chiseling is a worthy activity and once mastered gives time for the mind to wander, to note the injustices of living under Roman rule and consider the alternatives.
A woodworker can be as good a philosopher as any other – though that cut against the grain for the Jewish clergy. They briefly gathered round the young improver when they thought he might help front rebellion against the colonialists.
But first he had to be promoted to be a lord, a king, with a bloodline back to the ancient Jewish rulers just to give him the credibility among the snobs.
Messiahs don’t wear chippies’ smocks and clumsy clogs. Forget your family, son, it’s holding you back, smothering your potential.
Have we got big plans for you! Step into the Executive Lounge, meet your personal assistant. He’s got connections among the high priests so can watch your back should things get awkward.
You’ll like him. A gentleman, though fond of silver. Name’s Judas.
Miracles? Pull the other one; a lad boring it up the hypocrites wouldn’t be acceptable to the ordinary folk. They demanded seers with supernatural skills. So the stories were ‘improved’. JC had to feed multitudes, walk on water, cure the blind and do a bit more party conjuring to earn the right prophet status for the times.
As the late Christopher Hitchens wrote: If God can perform miracles why isn’t he intervening in the refugee camps, the war zones, the famines and particularly Palestine where the Christian story started?
Today the charlatan prophets should be spelled profits; they need flashy cars and jewelry to show they’re genuine. Going around like Gandhi in a loincloth doesn’t fill the collection plates and widows preparing their wills get turned off.
So does the image of 12 brown and bearded blokes wandering around and stirring crowds. Didn’t they have jobs? Who was looking after Joe’s workshop? The fellow must have been getting old and not so sure of his levels. The stepson should have been there.
No dole in those days, so how did the gang get bread? Can’t do the loaves-and-fishes every time the lads get hungry. If they rocked up in our suburb we’d call Border Force, then shoot smartphone videos and share. That would spread the gospel: Seven billion ‘likes’.
Maybe the disciple dozen were all gays with indulgent Mums giving regular allowances to keep them away from Dad. If not, where were the ladies they loved, and were loved in return?
And the kiddies they fathered? No condoms so it would have been coitus interruptus with a failure rate equal to past peace plans for the Middle East.
Any decent author would have assigned some speaking parts to the women seeing that he’d also been their creator. The only other explanation for their absence is that the misogynist editors cut out the fair sex every time God took a kip.
Sir Lloyd Geering, New Zealand’s most treasured theologian, reckons the bones of Jesus still lie in Palestine. Floating into the clouds might have satisfied the masses that’d been told the world was flat, Galilee the center and heaven just out of sight.
But it convinces no one who’s followed NASA’s New Horizons probe on its 6.5 billion kilometer journey past Ultima Thule.
When Muhammad died of natural causes (so no test of faith required), he also headed for heaven, but in a neat piece of one-upmanship and theatre, rode a white horse. A stallion, of course; the man was a general with many wives so a gelding wouldn’t have been right.
Who wants ‘eternal life’? Do we sit around plucking harps and singing praise? Sounds like a celestial North Korea. Or can we fall in love, read books, learn more, study at the University of Heaven (hope Google Search is available) and get useful jobs? That doesn’t seem to be part of the package.
So why not just dump the myths and the magics, make the most of what we have here, and get back to the basics which endure?
About two thousand years ago a young guy with radical notions for the time, was seen to be a threat, so had to be eliminated.
Nothing new here – rewriting facts happens every day in politics and businesses. Right now, as you read this sentence, those pushing discomforting ideas – like global warming – are ignored, discredited and persecuted.
Here in Indonesia we’re told the personable Sandiaga Uno, running mate for Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, is really more humble holyman than suave super-rich business tycoon, and raised in a Islamic boarding school. Wrong – the Catholics got him first. Then George Washington Uni.
Back to Jesus, with his homespun notions of love and tolerance; he applied his teachings, turned the other cheek and forgave his persecutors.
That’s an admirable formula for living decently. It’s also bloody difficult. Literally. Imagine absolving the brutes hammering nails through your hands and feet, then thrusting a spear into your guts.
Which is why professional Christians choose the well-lit paved freeway for their souls’ journey, not the dark jungle trails, mountain paths and desert tracks where moral questions lurk, ready to leap out and confront.
Meanwhile the rotten rich churches, with their pederast priests and pastors still stamp a mortgage on faith, fraudulently claiming insights beyond our reach. Their hypocrisy goes back to the moment in Gethsemane when JC told Peter to sheath his sword as the arresting soldiers arrived.
A pacifist, hallelujah! Pity the Crusaders forgot this story when they set out to slaughter Muslims in the 11th to 13th centuries and convert the heathen. Embrace the cross or die – did JC say that? And we used to sing ‘Onward Christian soldiers’. Catchy tune, evil lyrics.
Jump a few epochs of grossly unchristian behavior to the Inquisition of 1633. Galileo Galilei reckoned the earth circled the sun, and not the other way around as stated by the infallibles.
It took the Vatican 350 years to grudgingly concede he was right. Their reluctance is understandable. If the incense swingers had got this observable fact so spectacularly wrong then their faith foundations were going to be undermined by every new discovery.
And so it came to pass.
Galilei reportedly said: ‘I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use’.
What a sterling quote to damn the phonies’ unholy hides, their bigotry, their rank immorality, their betrayal of sacred oaths, their discrimination, greed, arrogance and ill-gotten opulence.
If you really want to follow Christ sell your fine their fine churches and sacristies, your cathedrals and monasteries, give all to the poor, lead simple lives, shop in Good Sammies, preach in parks and paddocks with everyone, whatever their creed, color and sexual tastes.
Tell them how you know of ‘a better place’.
Why not try this in 2019? Show you’re fair dinkum by living your mentor’s message, brilliant in its simplicity:
Do to others what you’d want them to do to you.
All this is too serious, so let’s end with a joke:
After years of squabbling over authenticity, a Muslim cleric, a Rabbi and a Jesuit decide to write to God and ask which is the genuine religion.
Surprisingly God replies and starts the letter with the greeting Assalamu'alaikum. ‘See’, says the overjoyed Imam – ‘God is Muslim!’
‘Wrong,’ interrupts the Jew – ‘you ignored the valediction. It’s Shalom.’
‘Ha! He signs it God SJ’, responds the Jesuit, ‘so he’s clearly Catholic. Anyway we’d better read the letter. It’s too short; I expected something like the 184,600-word New Testament.’
‘Disappointing, I agree,’ says the Muslim. ‘It should equal the 77,429 words in the Koran.’
“Certainly nothing less than the 419,687 words in the Hebrew Bible,’ complains the Rabbi – ‘but let’s check. Good Lord, only six words’:
Why don’t you all work together?