Saturday, May 19, 2007


One peice of news that I did hear this week was about the death of Jerry Falwell. I have to say I did fantasize a little about the conversation he must have had with his maker...I'm sure many of us thought about what God had to say to this man who preached so much hate in the name of God. I also came across this blog post by the author of The Messiah of Morris Avenue, Tony Hendra. I read the book a few months ago (thanks to Dean for the recommendation). While it's not all that well-written (like Hendra's blog post), it is an interesting story (and a quick read) about what would likely happen today if Christ did return to Earth. Here's some of the blog post (which you can read here):

I resisted editing his post - the typos are Hendra's!

Its' central character, the man in whose hands the immense power of 'knowing' the hour and nature of God's Judgment is concentrated, is the Rev. James Zebediah Sabbath. Sabbath is based to some degree on Jerry Falwell: from the Rugged-Old-Cross roots from which Falwell sprang, to the sleek, corporate theocrats whom Falwell helped spawn...

Into Sabbath's Dominionist heaven (or hell) on earth, comes a young man who might well be the true Christ returned. He's far from the buffed superhero packing overwhelming firepower Sabbath hopes for. Just like the first time around he's poor, from a forgotten corner of the empire (the Bronx) and not of the dominant race (he's Latino). And just like the first time around, the most subversive concept he preaches - and lives - is that fundamental Christian act, to which fundamentalists pay only the scantiest lip-service, forgiveness.

...But while the world believes forgiveness to be weakness, in truth it takes great courage. Just as killing those you feel threatened by is far easier than learning to live with them, payback is the weak and spineless option, the way out no-one will give you a hard time for. Forgiveness on the other hand takes true grit...

Subversive forgiveness may be, but, unfortunately, it's the core message of the guy from Nazareth. What's not to understand in the preachment: love your enemies? And even if the Aramaic (via the Greek and Renaissance English) is open to a slightly different translation, his choice not to defend himself against his enemies -- or even allow himself to be defended -- when they came to arrest him, is unambiguous. It's what defines Christianity against the other two Abrahamic faiths. You don't have to believe that the story's historically true; the example of its protagonist in the defining narrative of Christianity is unmistakable. Violence even in your own defense, is not acceptable. You cannot be a follower of Christ and kill your enemy; you cannot be a Christian and not forgive him. The history of Christianity is largely the history of grappling with this highly inconvenient truth and its manifold implications.

So it goes in my retelling. As Mark Twain famously said: if Christ did return, the Christians would crucify him. The Messiah of Morris Avenue preaches precisely the same core message as before: in the Dominion of Christ this is both blasphemy and - Church and State being one - treason. The Reverend condemns him as the Anti-Christ, hunts him down, tortures him and has him crucified (on the cruciform gurney of a lethal injection chamber). Then, just to make sure there's no hanky-panky about resurrection, he orders the mortal remains cremated.

But -- just like the first time around -- the Messiah does rise from the dead and appears not just to his followers but to his arch-enemy the Reverend. What finally cracks open that hardest of hearts, is not the miracle of resurrection, but that the man he condemned, tortured and murdered and whose body he burned to ashes, embraces him as a brother, forgives him for every one of his hate-filled acts. 'I was the Anti-Christ', the Reverend realizes in that moment 'and still you forgave me'

...And while Falwell's lies and distortions should have been combated by every non-violent means necessary, and the evil and hurt he caused, documented and remembered, that doesn't mean that the retribution Falwell sought to exact on others or threatened to, must be taken on him now, in any form. Which includes crowing that death has somehow found him out, or hoping that he went in pain or that he's up to his eyes in hot sewage in the Ninth Circle of hell or -- as was my intention -- dancing a triumphant two-step on his grave.

No, this is the moment for forgiveness. I hope that Jerry has met again and been reconciled with, the force of love and forgiveness that at some point in his life, he must have encountered. And while I never imagined I would ever write these words: may his turbulent and misguided soul -- however far it may have gone astray -- now find its way home and rest in peace.

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