Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bigger than Jesus

At the height of their popularity, John Lennon was said to comment that The Beatles were "bigger than Jesus." A lot of people got upset about that, but he was right. When he later got to clarify what he meant, he elaborated and said that he wasn't trying to say that they were "better" than Jesus, but they were simply more important to a lot of people than Jesus was. And again, he was right. Still, even with his clarification, few people want to hear that sort of a thing. There were all sorts of boycotts and destruction of various Beatles albums and memorabilia, and that is why nobody has heard of The Beatles to this day. At least, the people who live on caves on Mars have not heard of them (some of those folks, anyway).

Looking back on my childhood, I wasn't really raised with any kind of traditional religious background. My mother taught me to believe in God (you know, the real one - not those phonies like Poseidon, Heimdall, and Vishnu). My father pretty much went along with what my mom believed - at least that's how I remember it anyway. I also had a book called My Book of Bible Stories. I remember going through that book a lot, and I really enjoyed most of the stories, as after all, it's better than actually reading the Bible. In fact, I liked it so much that I picked up a copy from the Jehovah's Witnesses (the book is published by the Watchtower Society) so I can share it with my child some day. They were giving out their books for free, and they said that there was no obligation if you took one. I felt that it was polite to at least talk to the guy, and we had a nice conversation where I told him that I had fond memories of that book.

Beyond that, my Mom would tell me things like how Jesus was there with me during difficult times. I remember this specifically when I was in the hospital getting my appendix taken out. It had burst, and it was a pretty major surgery. That was a nice feeling - knowing that Jesus was hanging out in the hospital room with me. In a way, I will honestly say that I kinda miss that sort of feeling, but of course, just because something makes you feel good, that doesn't make it real. Other things now help me get through the difficult times, but Jesus sure did a nice job.

In all honesty though, if I really look back on my childhood, Jesus wasn't the most important thing to me. For me, I was much more interested in the two things that I'm still just as interested in now: Star Wars and superheroes. The stories of Luke Skywalker, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc. had just as much resonance with me as the stories of Jesus, Moses, and Noah. In some cases, they had even more.

I think the thing is why they appealed to me so much, especially Star Wars, was that I didn't have to try and convince myself that it made sense. I could get the spiritual message from the story without having to reconcile things that were completely irrational and unreasonable. I specifically remember having a hard time with the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his own son. (Yeah, yeah, I know how it ends - still, seemed like a messed up thing to even ask in the first place.) I also had some serious issues about why God would flood the entire Earth because humankind was wicked. I mean, why did he have to kill bunny rabbits, giraffes, kangaroos, etcetera too? What did they ever do wrong? Of course, there's also the whole issue of dinosaurs, because as a kid I loved them (still do, really) and I always had a hard time making sense of just where the hell they fit in.

Now that I've been teaching a lot of mythology over the years, I understand the connections between ancient myths, religious stories, and even our modern myths. I see the similarities between the stories of Jesus, Zeus, and Superman. (All three were threatened as a child and were sent to be raised elsewhere until they could claim their birthright.) It's not so surprising that things like Star Wars have such a huge appeal to little kids - they have all the basic parts of those old myths without all of the dogmatic baggage that comes with religion. You just get to enjoy it and get your own meaning from it without somebody telling you what to think about it.

I vaguely remember that when I was little I started to make some of these connections. I remember talking with some Jehovah's Witness friends of my mother (she never converted to the religion, but she did follow some of their traditions and practices without going full-bore Kookdom Hall on us). I was probably not any older than ten or so, and I was trying to explain the lesson of Yoda regarding the force and how he told Luke Skywalker that he should only use it "for knowledge or defense, never for attack." I tried to relate it to the lessons of Jesus, and while I didn't have the proper vocabulary for that sort of a thing (and I was a bit too impressed with such Jimcrack philosophy) I was really getting somewhere with it. What was their response? Well, I don't remember their exact words, but they were definitely less than encouraging with my particular train of thought. After all, if I kept thinking like that, then I might have started to think that the story of Jesus was fiction much in the same way that Luke Skywalker's was, and...oh, crap. Okay, they had good reason to worry about that.


CAT said...

I love that book, too.

ForHisSake said...

Greetings Lance,

Just wanted you to know that I still popover to see how you are doing...and yes, I keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers (not everyday-but often).

You have a keen mind and a kind heart.

As I was reading your post, three'things came to mind. 1) How limited we all are in our wisdom and understanding (such an exclusively temporal persepective) 2) how incrediably self focused we are (it;s all about us and what things do for us) and 3) the reason these myths resonate with us and have for thousands of years, is because we have souls that defy the limitations of our flesh and intellect and desire to be reconciled with the truth. 4) If we have souls--then there is more to all of this than nature...there is the "super-natural" reality that our souls are aware of inspite of the limitations of our pretty pathetic human minds.

Take care and know that I understand much of your point of few.

tom sheepandgoats said...

I remember that remark of John Lennon. And that it was intended as you said it was. And all the destruction of Beatles records. After a few years, though, I’ll bet most who had destroyed their records bought new ones. Were it a marketing ploy, it would be a pretty clever one.