Monday, August 22, 2011


By the way, it would only be fair of me to note that the Christ of the gospels was a stand-up guy when it came to women. His brand of iconoclasm spread to physical contact with unclean (bleeding) women, to embarrassing his core disciples with the superior faith of females, to forgiveness for adulteresses, and when he explicitly invited a non-Jew to come and join the salvation party, it was a woman. Even if the executive committee is seen in the canon as a small fraternal clique, Jesus' language works out to include females in the broader realm of disciples (unless Wikipedia is lying to me). Jesus Christ, if we can compile a good novel character for him, had a habit of seeing women as real people, which thwarted the social conventions of the day, and is worth bringing up even in a modern context. One of the things I do like about Christianity is that its lead figure had such a wicked anti-authoritarian streak. He made smoke come out of the appropriate ears. That these revered parables and anecdotes evolved to somehow underlie all manner of brand new patriarchies in the next couple thousand years is probably not surprising, but this guy who's spewing the evils of long pants, wine, and general uppitiness is nonethelss doing it with unintended irony, and it's things like self-seriousness and humorlessness that can really garner up my enmity.

Okay, I realize that a lot of the justifications of official church misogyny come from some select quotations in Paul's letters. But really, Paul's kind of an irritating zealot anyway (although if I understand it correctly, Paul's "genuine" epistles predate most of the gospels). I am not clear just how few generations of telephone* it took to turn the subversive messages from the original sermons into the decades-later transcription of them and then to their adoption as the brand new unimpeachable authority. I wonder if it contributes a serious enough advancement of the understanding of humanity to count as a scientific revolution. The impact of Jesus' message shares some similarities of form.

You can cherry-pick messages from the holy books, and people have long sought to use them to validate their own purposes. I am being undoubtedly unfair to generalize Christians by that particular priest who is wielding God's love for a crusade that I see as less than holy (which is redundant). And while I agree that loud professions of belief can be something to watch out for, a handy bit of projection, or maybe justification for any number of more objective failings, on the other hand, I don't want to deny that the church draws in good people, and inspires them to do good things. It can be the bedrock to good families and communities.

Now in my opinion--and I know it's not really nice to keep saying this--holy writ is a terrible basis for society, morality and natural study, thanks to it's inadequate scope, committee-written passages, innumerable authors, varying contexts, presumed infallibility, and unverifiable mysticism, but twentieth century history suggests that you can pull this trick with any godless creed just as easily. You put the right amount of material in there, and you can take anything you want out, particularly the stuff you already wanted to have, and that's pretty much the point. Add a "holy" element and now nobody can disagree. There's enough variation in tone and message in the books to reinforce whatever bias or cherished cultural marker you want to take in, and those can be positive as easily as they can be negative. I might be able form up to a mighty nice message based on the parts I like, but I've mostly given up on trying to balance the other stuff in order to get to the more noble take-homes. I'm just not a very good follower.

And as a rule, I don't like the idea of guardians to power and knowledge, which is to say priests of any vernacular stripe. There's a point to ceding power to educators and administrators, for example, but really that's only justifiable only so far as you share an aim to accomplishing something (learning, effective organization). I have lived my life without ever annoying the authorities much, and you wouldn't peg me for a subversive: I'm lucky enough to look like everyone else, possess socially unobjectionable habits, generally fit in on the local level, and of course I'm cracker-white. But I don't, in fact, believe in the goodness of our social order, and think with some conviction that it's irrevocably fucked up in a number of critical ways. My growing opinion is that I need to fit in to it less. But mostly, on a basic level, I just resent the insinuation that I should look up to power for power's sake. When someone begins to justify himself with unassailable moral arguments that only he is entitled to use, then that's the motherfucker you need to watch out for. Jesus had that one right.


*Safe to say they called it something else back then. I believe there was an appropriate scene in The Life of Brian...

[edited somewhat for clarity]

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