Monday, September 8, 2008

The Reality of Jesus

As far as I know, this Jesus is by Rembrandt. Not quite as Semitic as I think he may have been, but real. I note the smudges on the forehead, perhaps Rembrandt decided showing a crown of thorns was a bad idea, and painted over it.

This painting is a fact, a thing. An art historian could probably tell me whether my supposition is true; paintings are examined by x-ray techniques sometimes.

Was Jesus "a fact"? Did he actually exist? Recently I was conversed with by a radical atheist, who brought forth several "facts" that proved to him that Jesus was not "a historical figure."

Do I care? Not at all. And it does seem to me that people argue passionately about the damndest things.

If I "am" anything, I am a Unitarian Universalist, and subscribe to the principle of approaching all religions and world-views with respect, and asking what value they have. Perhaps there is no intrinsic value to ideas, so I ask what value a conceptual framework has for me.

The idea of Jesus was a window for me when I was five, and my mother dragged me (literally, furious that I had slipped in mud and fallen down) to a Sunday School. Baptist, maybe. On the wall in that room was Jesus the Shepherd, holding in his arm a little lamb. The idea: that there was someone who cared and protected us. As a child in an abusive family, oh how I wanted to think that somewhere, someone would hold me in their arms. The concept of God was too misty for me; the idea of a handsome, rather feminine young man in robes, I could relate to that. (In the late forties I never saw a man with long, wavy hair.)

I think it was that Sunday School that taught me the 23rd psalm, the one that begins "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." I was to use that some fifty years later to combat the terror I felt during radiation treatment for breast cancer.

No historical figure is real. The past is no longer real, except as the consequences of past actions unfold in our lives. What is strikingly real is the need of some people to argue vehemently and irrelevantly against some particular religion. The people I run into who call themselves atheists are in fact anti-Christian; the theism they are specifically against is the Christian concept of God, as they understand it. What is real is their contempt for everyone, it seems, who does not agree with them one hundred percent.

I know dreadful things have been done in the name of Christianity, and of other religions, like Democracy. And I know, further, that all dreadful things done under any banner are based on contempt for someone who does not think like us: The Other. What I liked about the Jesus I met when I was a child was his message of universal love.

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