We’ve had many contests over the years, dear readers, varying in their difficulty and intellectual challenge.
This time I have the true test, the consummate conundrum, the summit of stumpers. I’m launching a new contest in the belief that nobody will win. Frankly, I think the task is impossible. But I have very clever readers who are always astonishing me. So there’s a chance.
Here’s what you have to do. Produce a better parody of Christianity than that given to us by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times in his interview with the president of Union Theological Seminary Serene Jones.
First and only prize is eternal bragging rights. You can also use your entry as an application to the Union Theological Seminary (or Harvard) for the position of full professorship.
Here are snippets from the Kristof-Jones parody. Do read it all.
KRISTOF Happy Easter, Reverend Jones! To start, do you think of Easter as a literal flesh-and-blood resurrection? I have problems with that.
JONES When you look in the Gospels, the stories are all over the place. There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves. But that empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.
For me it’s impossible to tell the story of Easter without also telling the story of the cross. The crucifixion is a first-century lynching. It couldn’t be more pertinent to our world today.
If you have any hope, dear reader, it is here. If Jesus had been black, Jones’s take would have reached the status of mathematical proof, which would guaranteed the parody’s eternal top slot.
But without a physical resurrection, isn’t there a risk that we are left with just the crucifixion?
Crucifixion is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs. The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts. For me, the cross is an enactment of our human hatred. But what happens on Easter is the triumph of love in the midst of suffering. Isn’t that reason for hope?
The tacit of calling fundamental truths “nuts” is hackneyed, yes. But it’s hackneyed because it works. Don’t be afraid of simplicity.
What about other miracles of the New Testament? Say, the virgin birth?
I find the virgin birth a bizarre claim. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ message. The virgin birth only becomes important if you have a theology in which sexuality is considered sinful. It also promotes this notion that the pure, untouched female body is the best body, and that idea has led to centuries of oppressing women.
See how she brought sodomy into it without even having to use the word? Clever. She didn’t even say Jesus was all about free love, but she still managed to convey it! Spread dem legs, baby. Brilliant.
Prayer is efficacious in the sense of making us feel better, but do you believe it is efficacious in curing cancer?
I don’t believe in a God who, because of prayer, would decide to cure your mother’s cancer but not cure the mother of your nonpraying neighbor. We can’t manipulate God like that.
Okay, yes, saying that appealing to God is useless is not inventive. Yet wait. The true creativity of her remark has only begun to reveal itself. Belief in God is not a requirement for Christianity, she continues. Standard stuff for a Christianity parody. But Jones is better than that, far more subtle and patient. She wraps the noose around the neck with this last bit.
I’ve asked this of other interviewees in this religion series: For someone like myself who is drawn to Jesus’ teaching but doesn’t believe in the virgin birth or the physical resurrection, what am I? Am I a Christian?
Well, you sound an awful lot like me, and I’m a Christian minister…
Christianity is at something of a turning point, but I think that this questioning and this reaching is even bigger than Christianity. It reaches into many religious traditions. This wrestling with climate change, and wrestling with the levels of violence in our world, wrestling with authoritarianism and the intractable character of gender oppression — it’s forcing communities within all religions to say, “Something is horribly wrong here.” It’s a spiritual crisis. Many nonreligious people feel it, too. We need a new way entirely to think about what it means to be a human being and what the purpose of our lives is. For me, this moment feels apocalyptic, as if something new is struggling to be born.
She wasn’t recalling Yeats, of course. “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” That would bring her remarks to the level of Reality. Jones does not do Reality.
Add these remarks to her earlier statements about the absurdity of the resurrection, and therefore the deduction that Jesus was only human, and what we have instead of Christianity is the religion of Serene Jones.
I mean Serene Jones as deity. Each and every one of us as deity. God is gone, and we are gods. We just haven’t all realized it yet. This is pure genius.
For those taking the challenge seriously, it’s well to study the previous title holder, Katharine Jefferts Schori, ex-Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of the United States.
On May 12, Bishop Jefferts Schori preached in All Saints Church in the town of Steenrijk. Curaçao is part of the Episcopal Church’s small Diocese of Venezuela, and Bishop Jefferts Schori was making a pastoral call to a distant congregation. Her text was Acts 16:16-34, which includes the story of a slave woman and fortuneteller whom Paul encounters in Philippi, Macedonia.
As Luke, who Christians believe is the narrator, tells the story, the woman “had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortunetelling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.'” After many days, “Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.”
This story has historically been read as a tale of exorcism, in which Paul delivers the woman from some sort of indwelling spirit — or, alternatively, strikes a blow for monotheism against local beliefs in plural gods. But as Bishop Jefferts Schori interpreted the passage, Paul was guilty of failing to value diversity, to see the slave girl’s beautiful “difference.”
This was in 2009, and after it happened bookies the world over stopped taking bets on new parody entries, so strong was the conviction that Jefferts Schori’s effort would never be bested.
The episode proves even experts can be wrong. So have a try!