Aug 23, 2005

Messing With Jesus

So Brian Flemming, co-author of Bat Boy, the Musical, doesn't just disbelieve in Christianity. According to the LA Times, he questions that Jesus even existed. I haven't seen his new documentary, but my initial reaction is: Dude! You're moving the goalposts! Is the historical existence of the Nazarene some claim as a Messiah and others simply regard as a controversial preacher really what has divided and continues to divide Western culture? Seems to me that Flemming is picking a fight (admittedly, with enemies who are well worth fighting) that's beside the point. In much the same way that the did-Shakespeare-really-write-his-plays debate is a side show that diverts our attention from the substance of the plays themselves, the question did-Jesus-even-exist seems like a way not to discuss the heritage of ideas and practices that derive in his name, which is some pretty meaty, contentious stuff no matter what side you take. This heritage does exist, in both its fruitful and destructive aspects, and it's worth debating on its own terms.

I can only empathize with the purgative impulse of ex-fundamentalists, which Flemming is; like an ex-smoker who must disavow that cigarettes could ever possibly be enjoyed by anyone for any reason, or like the ex-Trotskyites who've become neoconservatives, these ex-fundies bring a feverish totality to their debunking that, to me at least, looks as Manichean and simplistic as the worldview they've left behind.

Full disclosure: As a liberal Lutheran with a Jesuit secondary education, I just don't share in my gut a radical, totalized experience of faith from which I've ever felt the need to deprogram. Weigh it, doubt it, tire of it, embrace it, rediscover it—Christian faith is a part of my life and my thinking as surely as music or theatre or being an American and a Democrat in a conservative but not entirely dark age. I don't feel like I even have a dog in the race between extreme fundamentalists and nonbelievers who see all religion, in all its variety, as dangerous superstition. The Jesus I've known is the one Bruce Bawer writes about in this impassioned polemic, which defends what's worth saving about the Christian mission against those who've distorted and abused it. Flemming's approach would seem to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Would I be wrong to wonder whether Flemming's Bat Boy co-author, Keythe Farley, who's an ordained elder at L.A.'s Wilshire Presbyterian Church, feels more or less the same?

(I've written about this topic, with more direct relevance to things theatrical, here, here, here, and here.)

UPDATE: This survey is fascinating but, to me, unsurprising.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Priests [in a general, not a Roman Catholic sense] provide religious justification for wars of conquest."Jared Diamond. Great book. Calls all politicians and clerics "kleptocrats." Definitely worth a read for every level of apologist.