Wednesday, March 16, 2016

No Credence in the Creed

“It’s hardly my fault,” I told Lady, “since you’re never around any more. So I have to fabricate dialogue, and all of a sudden something or somebody put Janet on the page, and then she got out of hand. Or rather, the crotchety old invalid did. And can I help it if all your friends write you emails starting, JANET!? Anyway, we had been watching Becoming Jane on Netflix, and I think I was channeling Jane Austen.”

Well, she was clearly still grumpy, but really, anybody who doesn’t want to be written about should avoid friendships with writers, right?

“Of course I want to written about,” she says or does not say, because—once again!—she’s brillancing by her absence. “You can say things like, ‘the profound and internationally famed poet, Lady Lee Andrews…’ But you can’t call me Janet.”

Right—she’s not Janet, and I won’t call her that again. Now what I have to do is figure out what in the world to write about, since I can’t confess the truth: I spent the entire morning watching a BBC documentary concerning whether Jesus Christ was a Buddhist monk.

There are little hitches, you see, in the story line of the resurrection—coming soon to your neighborhood. First of all, Christ died either six or perhaps nine hours after being on the cross, and that’s seriously weird, since it usually takes much longer.

But wait, Robert flies in through Facebook and drops the word: Christ never died at all! “Read the gospels carefully,” he adjures, and I think: Will I? Because, unless I want to be modern and do it online, the only Bible I own (taken, of course, from a hotel room) is between two large mahogany windows and the tranae—or cross bar—that is keeping them shut. Why? Because during the last hurricane, the windows were banging frightfully, and I needed something to shut them up. Completely-absolutely-and-thoroughly coincidentally, the one book at hand to do the job was the King Jame’s Bible.

All right, I hear you sniggering out there.

But wait, I really don’t need to read the Bible, because one of the most seriously spiritual, if not religious though maybe she is…anyway, my friend Susan says I can skip the Bible. Nor is she alone—I well remember the Amazon review I once read that went something like, “I would never allow this book in a good Christian home….”

So Christ died or didn’t die, and the Bible is out—though admittedly useful during hurricanes—but now the question is if he ever lived at all. After all, there was one Biblical scholar—ok, in the 19th century, but still—who argued that Christ didn’t exist. And if you read the gospels, as I occasionally do, when confronted with a Bach cantata I want to listen to…well, you get plenty of miracles.

The God Niggah, as I might call him, in Montalvo’s honor, certainly got around, and really might have benefited from Miracles Anonymous, so constantly was he switching the natural into the supernatural. And did he do it alone? Nay, nay, say the gospels, since Jesus (or the GN for you-know-what) never travelled without a multitude or two. And he must have chosen his multitudes well, since they always were standing about, mouths open in amazement, and then what did they do? As we’d say today, they got the news viral.

OK—so then I remembered; a Yale University professor on YouTube had dismissed the idea of the nonhistoricity of Christ as the preoccupation of—gasp—bloggers! But suppose Christ hadn’t existed? No problem, since Christ was, for the professor, quite unnecessary, since the whole business of Christianity was all about the teaching and the doctrines and the history of thought and belief—and none of that needed Christ.

Of course, maybe Christ did exist, and maybe he pulled a fast one—or another miracle—and didn’t die on the cross, but just appeared to have died. Think zombies. And so, he was entombed, and then extombed, and then what did he do? Well, he wasn’t going west—straight into Roman territory, and the GN had learned that lesson well—so where else but east? And there was both the silk trade and the spice trade—with their corresponding routes—so it was easy to get to Srinagar, India, where he spent the last 50 years or so of his life.

So says Robert, via Facebook, and so utterly, utterly devoted am I to my readership that I of course have to take the morning off to watch a YouTube documentary by the BBC—and if that’s not respectable, what is—about Jesus being a Buddhist monk.

So the GN ends up in India, but then something weird happens. Because he had never been particularly shy about publicity—remember all those multitudes?—but now he lives the rest of his life quietly. Or at least quietly enough that I, 2000 year later, had never heard any of this.

So that a puzzle, but then Susan reappears and tells me that—well, here she is:

Despite claims to the contrary, no one knows what the resurrection is, or was.   What I hear in the Episcopal Church (heavily overlaid with outdated but beloved Book of Common Prayer language) is that all we can say for certain is that after the crucifixion, the disciples continued to sense the presence of Jesus with them.  I sensed it once myself, and I hadn't been drinking, have never used illegal drugs, it was 9 AM and I was in a room full of quilters.  

Having said that, I don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth, if indeed God incarnate, is the only incarnation of the Great Generative Spirit, whatever one calls it.  A lot of Christians I know feel the same.

No, no, I thought, because I know the Nicene Creed—in Latin, because after compulsively listening to the B Minor Mass at one period of my life, I had memorized the thing. But was my Latin faulty? By no means, since I went onto something like, and there it was. “I believe in one God,” and then it goes on. So that takes care of that, and I write Susan to—gently—remind her of the Nicene Creed, so she can get on board, theologically, and she writes back a day later and says…well, why not quote her?

Many Episcopal churches do a little exercise with the Nicene creed.  Everyone stands to recite it, and when we get to something someone can't accept, they sit down; when we get to the next thing they can accept, they stand up.  It's like watching a flock of penguins ducking and popping up!  I did this once in a group I was mentoring, and the person who sat down the most went to seminary the next year and is now a priest.

Well, I think to myself, by the time we got to the end of that little exercise, I’d have a bedsore. And it did sound suspiciously—following Robert Frost—like playing tennis without the net. Actually, without the net, but also with a dead opponent, and your best friend keeping score.

But wait—is that fair? Because the alternative to the spiritual practice of Susan and her co-religious is the kind of religious fanaticism I just abhor, and speaking of which, what is ISIS up to? Because according to The New York Times, those merry men are giving birth control to their female sex slaves, because the Koran forbids sex with pregnant women. Oh, but having a female sex slave is just fine….

Now let me see, where’s the nearest Anglican Church?

So I’m with Susan, generally, and I can get on board with her statement that the one condition to being Anglican is the willingness to pray together. But mine is the particular paradox of the atheist: I crave certainty…

…but fear it even more!