I’ve been reading some interesting books recently (Reza Aslan’s Zealot and Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God), on the historicity of Jesus. Strange reading material for an atheist perhaps, but I can’t help but be a ‘cultural Christian’ and the historical origins of these mythologies fascinate me endlessly.
What struck me most in my reading is how much more exciting and awe-inspiring the world of ancient belief was. The ancients hadn’t the modern conception of Heaven and Earth that we have. In many cases, the divine realm overlapped with and shared the world of men. Gods, angels and demons were all to be found in everyday life and their propitiation was as natural as baking bread and making babies.
It occurred to me how boring the God of my childhood seemed. Served by dour priests, desiccated nuns and bumbling but earnest religious education teachers, there was always something dull about the whole affair. Why were the intermediaries of the almighty so grim and austere?
Hadn’t they heard the ‘Good News’?
It seemed to me that if I did get run over while crossing the road – and if I had atoned enough for original sin already at that tender age – that hanging out with the Lord might have been about as exciting as an eternity in a dentist’s waiting room. But this after all was the God that supposedly enjoyed all those soporific hymns and wanted the same litanies to be repeated to him in a million churches, by billions of people every week.
His likeness too was always rendered as horrible, almost abstract, line drawings. I don’t know if there is a ‘Modern Catholic’ style (my artistic vocabulary fails me here), but as a child it was everywhere – from the Priests garments to the covers of hymnals and mass books. Jesus in my mind was always more ‘Badly Drawn Boy’ than Robert Powell or Ted Neeley.
Further, he was never a dynamic fighter against evil in my eyes. The cross that for many was such a symbol of redemption, to me seemed a depiction of utter failure; a dead man nailed to two planks of wood. This is born out by my reading, the Romans seemed to liberally decorate ancient Palestine and Judean countryside with the crucified at the slightest whiff of sedition.
Pre-Christian gods and monsters were fun though – give me Perseus over Paul and Tiamat over Thomas any day of the week. They’re so much more fun to play with in the childhood (and adult) imagination than anything that arrived anno domini.