In Which I Propose A New Messiah, Revised
A serious problem faced by all religions is this: the believers, the faithful, the religious… they get far too caught up in the concept that their myth, their fairy story, their “bible” is REAL. It’s TRUE. As opposed to concentrating on the useful part: the message.
Ultimately, does it matter if the “New Testament” is true? Does it invalidate the message if none of that stuff really happened? Or is the important part the whole “love thy neighbor” thing? I don’t mean to pick on the Christians here. I don’t think it’s terribly important that Prince Siddhartha faced down all those demons, or that Moses’ staff turned into a snake. Metaphors are beautiful, useful, instructive things.
So here’s our first principle: how about a religion that does not insist on the truth of its fairy tale? How about a religion that insists, rather, that its stories are just that? Stories. Metaphors and allegories. Religion without supernatural faith. Faith placed in the individual’s desire to do the right thing, lead by a shining – and completely fictional – example.
Further, I’ve been thinking about the appropriation of the date and rituals of pagan winter solstice holidays for the Christians own shindig. Why not take a page from their book? There’s our second principle: build our new religion on the bones of older, popular faiths.
I have celebrated “Christmas” every year of my life, but I have never once celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. I have celebrated the redemption of Scrooge, certainly. The salvation of George Bailey, by his friends and neighbors. The message of love piercing the heart of the Grinch, enlarging it one size beyond the average. Charlie Brown’s friends learning the appreciation of the small and unloved, the meek if you will, as embodied by an ugly little Christmas tree.
As an aside, I think the residents of Whoville are the perfect post-religious Christmas celebrators. They call it Christmas, they clearly believe it is a time of love and celebration, but I don’t recall any visible Christian iconography in their town. Also, one might mention that the Whos have antennae: they’re not even the same species as Jesus Christ.
And let’s not forget Frank Capra’s Jesus: the false prophet John Doe aka Long John Willoughby… whose message was real, even if he was a fake, a corporate media shill. John Doe was prepared to jump off a roof to prove that the “the idea is still good.” My favorite Xmas movie; a clear-eyed depiction of how hard it is to be a messiah in the real world. “Lighthouses, John. Lighthouses in a foggy world.”
Jesus Christ, as a figurehead, means almost nothing to me. But there is a great American myth, of a secular American savior. His story is every bit as fantastical and unbelievable as the New Testament, but there is no pretense of historical reality. Yet he’s a symbol of good and right and morality, truth and justice, that actually moves me and means something to me, absurd as that might be.
The story of his nativity is one of the most re-told stories in mass media. Like John Doe he’s also a Depression-era messiah. An immigrant, an orphan raised by solid American citizens, a god who chooses to live as a man and make a better world. It doesn’t matter one bit that he isn’t real; the message is real, “the idea is still good”, and the metaphor is beautiful and useful and instructive.
Therefore, I would like to propose December 25th as the date Superman’s rocket crashed in Smallville, Kansas. Why not? It’s as good a date as any.