Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cardboard Jesus


The ladies with Cardboard Jesus
I don't know if you've read Leon's, My Holy Land Experience Redux, or not, but I'd recommend it. For a Christian pastor, he has a certain sardonic flare that makes the heathenish contrarian in me stand up and shout, “Hell yeah, brother, preach on!”

And please forgive the ironic flippancy in my use of the phrase, “Hell yeah!” It's a Southern thang.

His pictorial exposé of the Orlando, Florida amusement park, I dare say, is potentially more enjoyable than an actual visit to the park itself. I haven't personally been, but my wife and daughter visited recently, on a school field trip, and they led me to believe it's not necessarily amusing. I came to that conclusion when my daughter told me, “It was alright, but I was glad when we left.” Not a glowing endorsement.

Leon and his son with a real life Jesus impersonator.

Like Leon, they took pictures, and like Leon, got a picture with Jesus, the only difference being Leon's Jesus was three-dimensional, while the ladies was only two-dimensional.  Egads!  Leon does a great job of pointing out the over commercialization that's rampant in Christianity today, and the obvious hypocrisy of making Jesus a marketable commodity on his blog, but at least he got a full bodied Jesus impersonator while the ladies only got a cardboard cut out!  What gives!

I did see a certain irony in their pictures of Jesus, one I could relate to personally. The contrast of Leon's Jesus to my wife and daughter's cardboard Jesus made me think about my own perception of him, and how it's changed over the years.

Like many Southern children, I attended Sunday School. We were taught Bible stories, like; Jonah and the whale, Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus' resurrection. We sang songs, recited Bible verses, ate cookies and candy. We also got the hell scared out of us, leading us to repent of our plethora of sins and hoping to get our Get out of Hell cards, because Hell seemed really bad to us. I have to admit, I never really got much more out of church beyond that back then. It seemed Christianity was only about avoiding hell in those days.

It wasn't until I was an apostate adult that Jesus started to make more sense to me. When I actually read the Bible – and not just listened to someone else's rendering of it - and read the words ascribed to be Jesus', I became interested. The Jesus of the Gospels was a freakin' revolutionary radical that turned the religious establishment on its ear! He challenged the predominantly Pharisaical Judaism of the day, even going so far as to suggest he was the fulfillment of their religious laws! The idea that one was to love sacrificially appealed to me, as did the concept that that all people were equally loved by God. The more I read, the more I studied, the more I liked this Jesus. He was so different from the Jesus I'd heard about in Sunday School. Back then, I was taught to fear Jesus, but I realized I didn't need to fear him after all. I actually came to love him.

My family and I started to attend church in order to worship and follow Jesus. It seemed the natural thing to do. My wife and I both had conservative Christian backgrounds, so we gravitated towards that type of church. In hindsight, I know that was a mistake. It's amazing what happened to the Jesus I'd come to love once he was put through the grinder of conservative, fundamentalist Christianity. Once again, he became a Jesus to fear, as doctrine and dogma sucked the life right out of him. Unfortunately, I'd fallen into a world where evolution is considered pseudo-science, despite the fact that seven day creationism can't be supported scientifically, that the Bible is inerrant, even though that notion can be dispelled with a cursory reading, and that today's evangelical brand of Christianity is the only way to heaven, regardless of the fact that it's a relatively new religion that ignored history and it's own two thousand year evolution. I'd fallen into a world of myopic ritual and self-inflicted ignorance.

I have to tell you, fear is a great motivator, and it took me several years to completely reject that belief system, but I'm glad I was finally able to. Sadly, my religious life relegated Jesus to resemble the cardboard cutout in my wife and daughter's picture; flat and without depth, and utterly lifeless. Gone was the Jesus I read about in my Bible; he'd become the Pharisee to me. He was condemnation and conviction, not love; he was the establishment, not the revolutionary. I have to tell you, that realization sucked for me. Still does.

I'd like to get back to the Jesus I admired some twenty years ago, the one I read about, the one before religion took him away. He wasn't some supernatural entity that was beyond my ability to comprehend, like the one I'd come to learned about as a child, the one my church espoused. I like the revolutionary Jesus, the Jesus that loved everybody. I don't like Cardboard Jesus.

Well, that seems a lot to get from a couple of pictures, but there you go.  Christopher Hitchens says religion poisons everything, and while I might not necessarily accept that fully, I anecdotally understand it.  Religion certainly poisoned my perception of Jesus.  Still, I have hope I'll see him as I did once, unencumbered by religion.  And maybe I'll even admire him again.

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