I woke Easter morning and, like I do most mornings, thanked God for the gift of Jesus. I do this although I have long ago ceased to really buy into the whole Jesus thing. I suppose I continue to do this because there is an immediate sensation of comfort received from the familiarity of it all. However, it could be a lingering vestige of a faith that died some years back.
In any event, a question occurred to me in that moment that intrigues me. I asked myself if it were in my power to either make the whole Jesus thing true, the Immaculate Conception, walking upon the waters, water into wine, the loves and fishes, the death and resurrection, the resurrection of Lazarus, casting out demons, the entire mythology, or make it all go away, would I do one or the other and which one?
I have thought about it a great deal and have applied the question to the other great religions of the world as well. So far, the only conclusion I have reached about any of them is I am glad I don’t have this power.
Virtually everyone with whom I have discussed this, even those who don’t put much store in religion, default to a defense of religion based upon its mitigation of man’s more base instincts. While the defenders of the various faiths will acknowledge that the use of religion in history has often been for the celebration and encouragement of those self same baser instincts, they still contend that, on a personal level, religion often works “miracles” in effecting change in people. Further, it is asserted, these personal changes for the better, taken cumulatively, amount to more import than the vast horror and evil perpetrated by and in the name of religion. (I don’t know who keeps an accurate count of all this, but I have my doubts the former outweighs the latter.)
At the very best, religion’s appeal to the better and baser instincts of humanity would have to be ruled a tie between the two, meaning it is about equal in effectiveness with common sense. At least, in my experience, common sense works only about fifty percent of the time.
Beyond the good and evil done because of religion and in its name, there is the issue of its long-term effects on human society. The various precepts of a religion work their way into the cultural and mental heritage of a people. I have, for instance, often wondered how different our society might be if the Judeo/Christian/Islamic concept of original sin had simply stopped with the jealousy Cain felt over God’s preference for Able. Had that been the single Christian narrative, the blame for the entry of sin into the world would have rested with God, primarily, and with Cain’s need for God’s approval. However, because of the whole ‘Eve and the apple’ story, our society developed an ingrained belief in feminine duplicity and fear of female sexuality.
Other than to bury my wife, the last time I attended church was for a service of Lessons and Carols at the Episcopal cathedral in Columbia many Christmases past. At that service a number of Biblical passages are read aloud and various hymns sung in celebration of the season and to ‘stitch up’ the entirety of the religion leading to the birth of Christ. I am not sure whether the service’s Biblical passages are the same every year, but in this service the Eve version of original sin was read. Some prize jackass took it into his or her head to assign that reading to a young girl of fourteen or fifteen years. So, this lovely, poised young woman stood before the packed house of pious Episcopalians and read how her gender had condemned all mankind to a life of sin, pain and misery. It has always been my hope that the young woman had enough sense to realize what horses**t all that is. Still, it could not be a pleasant memory for the, now, women, unless, of course, she bought into the whole women are guilty message she read that day. Then, she might be happy with the memory but fatally warped.
If I decided, going back to the original question of this essay, to simply make all that Eve and the apple stuff go away, make it never have happened, how would our society be different? Obviously, I don’t know the answer but I suspect that simply getting rid of that misogynistic bit of cultural foundation would have resulted in major cultural differences from the realities of the past and present. Even though that small bit of plastic surgery on the body cultural would likely have major ramifications, I can begin to imagine a world like that. I cannot get my mind around what life would be like if I could make all the mythology go away.
If I had that power, the power to simply eradicate the entire mythology of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic religions from human consciousness, like it never happened: no Abraham, no Jacob, no Joseph, no Tamar, no Moses, no David (that son of a bitch did the world no favor making Jerusalem into the “Holy City”), no Jesus, no Judas, no Peter, no Paul (Really, I might settle just for no Paul), no Mohammed, none of them and none of it, what would society look like? Truly, I cannot imagine.
Good thing I don’t have that power, though I really do think God needs to re-evaluate the whole Paul thing. Good thing nobody has that power. That means we still have to shoulder the burden that is religion and try to get on with life.