If I had a nickel for everyone who's asked me if I have a Christmas playlist, I'd have two nickels, which isn't a lot, but it's weird that it's happened twice. I hadn't actually bothered to make one because I feel like I hear enough Christmas music without making a concerted effort to do so, and I had some Christmas music on some of my other playlists and that satisfied me. But I made one just to make these two people happy. The title is a placeholder for something clever that will probably never come to me. The picture is from "The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives" (1933), a really great cartoon if you can look past the racist bits, which I admit is easier for me because I'm not the subject of them.
After last week's post it should come as no surprise that I'm agnostic about Jesus. Not about whether he lived - scholars are almost unanimous in the affirmative on that point - but about whether he said and did the things the Bible says he said and did. I don't want to be agnostic about Jesus. I want to love and follow Jesus. But if I'm honest, I have to hold everything to the same standard of scrutiny right now. The Christmas story itself has some issues that I once regarded as little more than interesting bits of trivia but now must take into real consideration. Apparently nobody had ever heard it until it was written down decades after Jesus' death, the timing of the Roman census doesn't line up with his birth, and the word translated as "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 really just means young woman. None of these disprove his divinity, of course, but they raise questions. How important is it for the details that have been passed down about Jesus to be accurate? Can we really know him if they aren't?
These last couple days, I'm unexpectedly believing in him more after I read Return from Tomorrow, George G. Ritchie's account of a near-death experience. I've heard that near-death experiences can be explained by hallucinogenic chemicals flooding the brain. He explains why he doesn't believe his was a hallucination but acknowledges that one can never know for certain, that there's still an element of faith involved. In any case, it was powerful to read and the world would be a better place if all of us hallucinated such things. I'm not going to make it the foundation for my spiritual views but I do take it quite seriously. I love his initial description of Jesus: "He would be too bright to look at. For now I saw that it was not light but a Man who had entered the room, or rather, a Man made out of light, though this seemed no more possible to my mind than the incredible intensity of the brightness that made up His form.
"The instant I perceived Him, a command formed itself in my mind. 'Stand up!' The words came from inside me, yet they had an authority my mere thoughts had never had. I got to my feet, and as I did came the stupendous certainty: 'You are in the presence of the Son of God.'
"Again, the concept seemed to form itself inside me, but not as thought or speculation. It was a kind of knowing, immediate and complete. I knew other facts about Him too. One, that this was the most totally male Being I had ever met. If this was the Son of God, then His name was Jesus. But... this was not the Jesus of my Sunday School books. That Jesus was gentle, kind, understanding - and probably a little bit of a weakling. This Person was power itself, older than time and yet more modern than anyone I had ever met.
"Above all, with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this Man loved me. Far more even than power, what emanated from this Presence was unconditional love. An astonishing love. A love beyond my wildest imagining. This love knew every unlovable thing about me - the quarrels with my stepmother, my explosive temper, the sex thoughts I could never control, every mean, selfish thought and action since the day I was born - and accepted and loved me just the same."
At a minimum, Jesus is real in the same way that Santa Claus is real, and I don't mean that derisively. I mean that he represents something good and beautiful and inspiring. And I frankly feel that the idea of Jesus surpasses what's actually in the Bible. We have no record of Jesus advocating social change. Some scholars argue that as an apocalyptic preacher, he saw social change as a waste of time because the world was about to end anyway. Yet now many of us take for granted that because he loves everyone infinitely and equally, he would support sweeping measures - not just individualized acts of kindness - to make life better for marginalized people. We believe we're following him when we do so. The nineteenth-century abolitionists believed they were following him even though, so far as is known, he never once spoke against slavery. I, for one, see social justice and true religion as inseparable. I think it's pretty useless if not straight-up dishonest to preach that all people are equal before God without being actively concerned about police murders of Black people, sexual harassment and assault, or anti-LGBT hate crimes. I hope Jesus is, after all, more than a symbol for the best impulses of humanity, but I can't say he is with the certainty I once could, so I have to take as much as I can get.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.