Obviously, the press is not trying to offend Christians ...
You know it’s Easter when the snow melts, little coloured eggs appear, some fool kicks the Easter Bunny and the media start running what I think of as their “Was Christ a black lesbian?” features. First off the mark was Maclean’s, whose April 3 cover asked “Did He Really Die on the Cross?” It also claimed that Michael Baigent, author of The Jesus Papers, “inspired The Da Vinci Code,” though a British judge disagreed. Still, he got into newspapers as well, and was interviewed on Fox News (by a guy who thought Jesus would have been “near his 70s” in AD 45), although his principal hypothesis is completely silly. He claims Pontius Pilate was in a bind after Jesus said people should pay taxes to the Romans (render unto Caesar being, apparently, not a parable but accounting advice) because the Zealots really wanted him dead and the Romans really wanted him alive.
So by pretending to kill him, Pilate satisfied the mob while by secretly not killing him he ... um ... didn’t satisfy the Romans because a convincing fake execution has exactly the same public impact as a real one. But never mind. Jesus isn’t God nyah nyah nyah, he went to France and had a daughter with Mary Magdalene, he had sex, we have sex, yay.
I realize the press is not trying to be offensive to Christians. After all, as they assured us while not publishing the Danish cartoons, they would never deliberately offend religious sensibilities. But if they were, this is how they would go about it.
They’d tell us that maybe Jesus walked not on water but on ice that just happened to form, just then, in a land where last time I looked the only ice outside a freezer was a skating rink in the Canada-Israel Friendship Centre. Then they’d breathlessly hype the Gospel of Judas, though if a document of this provenance appeared supporting orthodox Christian doctrine, the Judas Seminar and journalists would vote it off the island without delay. Not least because it was written years after the fact by people with an agenda, precisely as revisionists assert without ground about the canonical Gospels.
There’s a lot you can say about the New Testament, and the Old. But not that either bears the stamp of imposture. It is not clear why someone would want to fake such a thing, nor how. But if they did it wouldn’t look like this. A competent forger would at the very least have harmonized the two very different versions of Judas’s death, one the mortal sin of suicide and the other where he just breaks gruesomely in half. Whereas any traffic cop can tell you that eyewitness accounts differ in bizarre ways.
Like a traffic accident, the story of Jesus of Nazareth continues to fascinate even those it horrifies. Which is a bit weird. Look, if Jesus didn’t really walk on water, the whole story is an invention and there’s no need for ice; ditto the resurrection and fables about corpse skulduggery. As for those who, claiming he was merely a great moral teacher, go through the New Testament ripping out every passage in which he claims divinity before handing you the tattered remnants and saying look he never said it, pace Damon Runyon, if it is not a fraud, it will do until a fraud comes along. But what prompts these bizarrely persistent attempts to reject the substance but cling to the illusion?
This includes all the baroque conspiracy theories that a wealthy powerful cynical Catholic Church concealed that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children who were kings of France or Rosicrucians or space aliens or some such. It is, I suppose, possible that the Church would have both motive and opportunity to do so hundreds of years after the fact. But not in the crucial first three centuries when Christians faced ridicule and torture, which makes such theories useless to explain the central mystery.
That mystery, as C. S. Lewis said, is that Jesus was either what he claimed, or a liar, or mad. Yet the Sermon on the Mount does not reek of madness, nor does the Lord’s Prayer feel like a lie. Tricky. But if you reject the third option, it is better to remain silent than talk nonsense.
If Christianity was all a big inexplicable mistake can’t you just shut up about it after 2,000 years? After all, most people don’t go to church nowadays and many who do might as well not bother. But whatever you do, don’t talk rot -- like the authorities in St. Paul, Minnesota did who removed the Easter Bunny lest it offend non-Christians. It would be splitting hairs in the barber shop of an asylum to note that St. Paul is Christian and the Easter Bunny is not. But honestly, what sort of credulity does it take to think there’s a pink rabbit with decorated eggs in the Bible?
Oh wait. Maybe it’s in the Gospel of Judas. Happy Easter anyway.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]