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Not Really the Greatest Story Ever Told: Easter Edition

Hey Jesus, I'm pretty sure being that forlorn is a sin.

Hey Jesus, I’m pretty sure being that forlorn is a sin.

The story of Easter is a fan-fiction that’s been crowd-sourced for over two thousand years.  Granted, its fanatical authorship is of a bit higher caliber than, say, the latest provocateur of paranormal teen angst and sex. In truth, they represent some of the greatest minds our planet has ever coincidentally regurgitated throughout human history as male.  Men such as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Karl Barth.   But, despite this accumulated brilliance, and maybe because of it, the story just can’t quite seem to coherently come together as a whole.

Today, our literary critique of the story starts at the end.  Does Easter’s conclusion with Jesus‘ resurrection make this the greatest story ever written?   Unfortunately, its fan-fiction continually undercuts the gravitas of this singular occasion.  First of all, it wasn’t singular. Lazarus is resurrected quite a few chapters prior to Jesus.   Interestingly, only one gospel mentions the zombie whom Jesus loved.  Probably because even David Blaine could tell you that your big finale shouldn’t be the same trick you did earlier in the act.  Seriously though, the synoptic gospels don’t mention this story, and it is only found in the much later written gospel of John.  In some ways, John is the first attempt at the fan-fiction of Jesus.  Here is Boston University professor Paula Fredriksen’s take on the person of Jesus in the gospel of John:

“Jesus in the Gospel of John is difficult to reconstruct as an historical person, because his character in the gospel is in full voice giving very developed theological soliloquies about himself. It’s not the sort of thing that if you try to put in a social context would appeal to a large number of followers. Because it’s so much Christian proclamation and Christian imagery, and it’s very developed. It’s a very developed Christology.”

When Jesus calls himself “the resurrection” in John and then goes about doing some resurrecting, the author is obviously making a statement about the nature of Jesus.  And while it could be a good theological point –and maybe it even really happened– it does not make for a compelling story. I mean, there is foreshadowing, and then there’s blowing up the Death Star again.

Another problem for the narrative structure of Easter occurs in the next century or so.  This fault rest firmly on Tertullian when he coins the term “Trinity”, and exacerbated later when it is codified in the Nicene Creed of 325.  The concept of a monotheistic religion have several gods is a tricky philosophical problem to work out, and many smart folks have tried to tackle it with varying levels of success.  My personal favorite quote on this topic is from Thomas Jefferson:

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

Despite the obvious logical difficulties the trinity presents, most churches consider this doctrine central to their belief system. The logic puzzle here is not the concern.   The problem is that if Jesus was God, then the resurrection is simply boring.  Writing a story about how someone immortal doesn’t die is like telling the story of a puppy being cute, a fish swimming, or  I don’t know, Tom Cruise being gay.  It’s just who they are. (Also, they would all make for great Pixar movies.)  If Jesus was fully God, dying is not a big deal.  It’s not a sacrifice in any way.  He dies for like a day and a half tops, and is worshipped for an eternity in everlasting bliss.  I’m pretty sure most people would sign up for that gig.

I’ll mention one argument I can think of which could be used to introduce a bit more pathos into the story.  Jesus was sinless but died anyway.  That’s gotta tug at the old heartstrings.  Okay, yeah, but isn’t that basically the plot of Old Yeller? Jesus took on the rabies of our sin and we were forced to put him down. That’s why this is a special story!  Maybe this sacrificial lamb/scapegoat concept held more narrative power back in its day when people actually sacrificed animals to feel better about themselves and make it rain, but now it just doesn’t hold up.  (And it’s just as manipulative as that freaking Disney version…)  Also, sinless people die all the time, that’s nothing new.  Because most people don’t hold to the concept of “original sin”, all children would qualify for that distinction. Even if they did have “original sin”, what just god would hold infants and babies accountable for the actions of their ancestors.  Also, because of the trinity, his very sinless nature is called into question, because, once again, he’s playing with a rigged deck. He is all powerful.  He has access to god that other humans will never be granted.  No need for faith, or hope, because he knows for a certainty how this all plays out.  He’s the original Superman. A guy who started merely leaping a few tall buildings, and then later became so popular and powerful that he could reverse time by flying real fast.  Narratively, Jesus’ enhanced god powers kill the Easter story.

Very much like the sixth season of ABC’s Lost, the introduction of rules, theology, and mythology obfuscate whatever interesting story used to exist.  If God is the author of this great narrative thing we call life, then we got the James Patterson of gods.  The stories he wrote in the beginning weren’t even that good to begin with, and now he’s farming most of the work out to other authors.  Don’t worry though, he’ll still take all the credit.

About jesuschristpooperstar

Just a couple of bros.

4 responses »

  1. And still rake in a ton of cash. At least James Patterson’s movie has an African-American lead. My first question when talking to Jon about this idea was “If it isn’t a good story… wouldn’t that potentially provide evidence that it’s NOT a story, and that it seems more true?” Which makes sense, except, as Jon was quick to point out, God is supposed to be the author. This is supposed to be his best story. If it’s not very good… that’s weird.

    The biggest thing here is the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice. It’s a bad story that hinges on a sacrifice that’s quickly rectified by a Deus ex machina after a holiday weekend of being dead. Even in the crappy love story in the Lord of the Rings movies, at least Arwen legitimately loses immortality. It would be like if Old Yeller ended with the veterinarian coming out to the house and saying this was a rare, curable case of rabies, and good Old Yeller was gonna be just fine. It certainly makes you feel better, but it weakens the story because we can’t relate to it. Our dog died. Our sacrifices are sacrifices. They stay sad. Our lives stay unwhole when someone is lost. We can’t relate to a situation that gets magically fixed.

    And that’s big as well. Jesus is our protagonist… and yet we can’t relate to him. We’re told that we can. We’re told that he can relate back. When someone in the church is suffering we’re quick to be told that Jesus suffered more than anyone. He gets it. But does he? When someone loses a child, a pastor is quick to say, God lost his only son… Okay, yeah, but unlike God, I didn’t plan it out for my son to die, and also unlike God, I don’t get my son back in a relative instant.

    “You will in time!” the believer says.

    “Then why do it anyway?” I say.

    Why do ANY of it. What is all this? “Life and our pain and tragedies is such a small part of the big picture. The child who dies of cancer… you don’t know how God is making that right because you can only see in part.. but in the next world… he’s making it all better!”

    Okay… then why do this at all? Why send all his beloved billions of souls (already weird.) to a trial run that’s a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the length and significance of existence, where they will see but a hazy mirror-image of what’s true? Why then make them take an educated guess about your sovereignty or lack thereof? Why have that educated guess decide whether their story is resolved with an eternal reward or a lake of eternal fire. In either case they will neither use any of the lessons they learned in this life (now we see but in part, then we will see fully… Whether or not we really learned anything here or not, it’s an automatic provision of insight.) nor care to remember anything that happened here.
    ————————————

    When you die, the earthly life is instantly irrelevent. And everything in regards to your eternal fate depends on the educated guess you made during it.

    This is love. This is the story. The greatest story ever told. Think about it. Be objective.

    ————————————

    The only real mystery is why it’s so popular. Most of the time when I ask people why they enjoy fluffy fiction like James Patterson or a romance novel, or even a shoot-em-up movie, the response is some version of “It helps me escape.” or “It’s nice to relax and not think about life.”

    I think life is tough. That’s why people enjoy a bad story with a happy ending for them and a bad death for their tormentors. Like you said, the story has been farmed out to other writers over the course of time. Even now, the story is evolving, as liberal theologians write out the homophobia, the misogyny, and even hell. Give the people what they want! I guess it’s encouraging that what the people want is slowly becoming less and less awful… But there are much better authors out there writing much better stories. And many great potential authors choosing not to write… and it all can be happening all around us.

    I wish it wasn’t getting ignored in favor of some fluffy, feel-good fiction.

    -JWAH.

    Reply
  2. Great post! But, JC as Ol’ Yeller? That degrades the sacrifice of Ol’ Yeller.

    Reply

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