by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
“We have no need of a god, each of us is his own.”
Those words were sung in the mid-60s by a 16-year-old folksinger whose debut album shocked the nation with a song (“Society’s Child”) about interracial love. If you guessed Janis Ian, you’re right.
What most people probably don’t remember is her song “New Christ Cardiac Hero,” also on the same Lp, a declaration that her generation and mine were god-free, carefree and, as Sartre had said, “condemned to freedom.”
I am reminded of that song, which I have in my iTunes library on my computer, as I read a review a friend sent me this morning of a collection of queer paintings called The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision by Doug Blanchard, the latest “blasphemy” that has sent fundamentalists into extreme hissy fits. Not that it’s hard to get a rise out of the bible thumping crowd. These are the same folks who don’t want to make wedding cakes for queer couples and who will probably support the California proposition to kill sodomites, if it ever makes it onto the ballot.
It’s not the first time someone has tried to make Jesus hip and relevant. In my late teens, there was the popular “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the light rock musical that sold the man from Galilee to long-haired, pot-smoking hippie dudes and chicks.
Blanchard’s queer re-interpretation of the Jesus story, equipped with homoeroticism and Marine look-alike anti-gay bullies, is the latest attempt to modernize one of Western civilization’s most enduring fictional characters, as Homer Simpson once called him. When it comes down to it, there isn’t irrefutable proof that he ever lived. The bible accounts are unreliable at best (the gospel stories of his birth contradict each other), they were all written long after he was gone with no eye witnesses, and no one’s ever found his bones. Oh, right, they were taken up into heaven along with his toga and his sandals.
His two big holidays, Xmas and Easter, were originally pagan. December 25 was the time of the Roman Saturnalia. Easter was a celebration of Eostre, a Germanic deity. Some say that the word “Easter” comes from the Babylonian goddess “Ishtar,” (same pronunciation), but who knows? A lot of paganism found its way into Christianity. That’s the way of religions, they borrow or outright steal from each other.
I grew up with Jesus the strict disciplinarian. We learned to fear him in Catholic schools, after all he wasn’t exactly gentle with those damn money lenders in the temple. If the nuns were right, I knew I was really in trouble (i.e., eternal hell fire) for jerking off and for fantasizing about sex with the cute boys in class. What saved me from a life of agonizing conflict between my natural desires and an unnatural theology that denied my sexuality was becoming an atheist at 16 after reading Sartre. It wasn’t quite that simple, but the French Existentialist helped me make the final break.
Honestly, I’d rather people rejected gods altogether than try and repackage them for a new age and audience.