December 25, 2011. After writing about the historical Jesus (see Jesus Louise…who was he? and What Did Jesus Really Do?), I’ve continued to struggle with the idea of believing in something that may or may not be really true. Christianity is not alone, of course, as a religion built on evolving myths. Buddhists have similar debates over what the Buddha really said and did versus what was later added to his story. There’s always a historical version and a mythical version. King Arthur, Robin Hood, my wife before we got married (she was a goddess back then, until I found out she burped and farted like me). Hell, even my own view of my younger self (I was in this really awesome rock band in college; we toured the east and west coast edges of my dormitory one year). We even encourage kids to believe in some myths–Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Fair Government. But it can be tempting to want to dump Christmas now that I know Jesus did not ever decorate an x-mas tree or go shopping the day after Thanksgiving. But I won’t.
So how bad is it to celebrate a holiday that was probably made up? The nativity. The three wise men. The shepherds watching their flocks when the angels arrived. Next thing, you’ll tell me that the Peanuts crew did not really turn that tiny dead stump of Charlie Brown’s into a beautifully trimmed tree.
For me, it’s not so hard to believe in magic and miracles. Maybe it’s the mystic in me, the part of me who feels deeply connected to trees and stars. Or perhaps it’s the arm-chair scientist in me, the one who knows that I’m 70% water, or on a molecular level I’m mostly space. I look out on the stars at night and just feel the vastness of our existence. It is magical and mystical and wonderful. Not everything is explainable. We build entire rituals and codes around insignificant things and people. Many funerals are carefully designed works of fiction: everyone’s status goes up once their dead. So why not Jesus? He was an interesting guy with lots of interesting stuff to say. We could do much worse than take some of his advice to heart. As an apocalyptic prophet, he warned us that the end was near, that we should repent and change before death comes for us. And he was right.
So like any funeral or memorial service, it’s the spirit of the memory that is important, not the historical accuracy. I like that Jesus was born in a barn and placed in a trough; even if it was not exactly true, it feels true to the spirit of what he brought to the world.
Give Up and Die…you’ll be glad you did.
Now about that Easter Bunny.