Jesus Christ — rejected saviour

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Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter….

 

Jesus, in Luke 12:51-53

By far the dreariest portion of my childhood was spent in Saint Peter's Church, where Dad insisted we attend mass every Sunday. All that made the hours bearable were the readings from the bible. The stories kept my interest, for I loved to imagine olden times when there was still magic and miracles. Even though the Old (Jewish) testament recounted tales of unspeakable cruelty and injustice – some of it visited on humanity by God himself – I listened carefully. However, I was never able to reconcile that jealous and vengeful old God with the loving, Christian God the Father.

Nevertheless, Jesus fascinated me. Yes, he was supposed to be God, but he was more demonstrably and far more interestingly a man – a very appealing one. Like me, he irritated the hell out of those in authority. Unlike me, he upturned the tables of the money lenders in the temple. I searched Gloucester high and low for a temple with money lenders but never found one, so my parents were spared that one embarrassment. Apart from enjoying Jesus’ bad-boy image though, I also quietly tried to emulate his other side. The sermon on the mount was something to live by, Luke 12 to ponder.

In the East aisle of Saint Peter’s Church was a glass case containing a life-size negative image of the Shroud of Turin (right), a linen cloth bearing the unmistakable image of Jesus Christ himself – well, a bearded man anyway. The Son of God was said to have been wrapped in it after his death and, sure enough, the image appeared to be that of a corpse. It fulfilled its function perfectly by making my skin crawl just the way that invariably fascinates children.

I wasn’t completely unsuited to Catholicism; If only the nuns, priests and fellow parishoners had left me alone, I might still be in the arms of holy mother church today. Nothing, however, was further from their minds. Instead, determined to save me, they interfered constantly and succeeded only in turning me off. They told me I was bad (which I believed) and should be good (which I knew), but offered no road map from bad to good. They hadn’t the foggiest idea.

My faith trickled away as I left home and made my way through a confused and difficult young adulthood. My parents never doubted that the confusion was a product of my apostasy, but missed the crucial fact: I wanted to believe; I just couldn’t.

I came to see God as humankind’s creation, a vanity cast in our own likeness in a desperate attempt to quell the fear of death and raise us to an imaginary elect. All children tend to make-believe; those who continue it in adulthood justify it by recalling that millions of others believe too, and have done for millennia. They scrupulously avoid the question, ‘Is it enough to merely want to believe?’ They find strength in numbers, and cling with all their might to their imagined certainty.

All this irrationality encompasses great existential truths. Life is no gift. It’s not fair. Nothing satisfies for long, or truly works out – even when we get what we want. Death is terrifying. The poor and weak, sick and dispossessed grossly outnumber the safe and comfortable, who nonetheless take their lot for granted.

When frightening medical diagnoses, terrible personal loss and existential anguish expose the fragility of those who believe simply because they’re afraid not to, they find themselves ill-equipped to face reality. Is this what Jesus wanted? It seems impossible. For this he let himself be nailed down and strung up?

 

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