Everyone needs a dose of healthy irreverence now and again. Two such doses are found below. My advice: Avoid like a biblical plague, should you feel disinclined to laugh at religion. Including your own.
Part 1: In which I make fun of relatives and an excessively large statue of Jesus
I am not certain why, but I grew up with Jewish people who frequently called on Jesus. As in: “Jesus! I can’t believe that guy just ran that light. What in God’s name was he thinking?”
You could have all sorts of fun with this. Who would Jesus be in this formulation? Who is God?
Certain relatives of mine invoked Jesus’ name with middle initials included. Or they described his actual location. You can imagine.
For many decades, I have worked to purge myself of the remotest tendency to follow examples set by my relatives. Seriously, how would I feel if I overheard someone saying: “Adonai on Mt. Sinai, what the hell just happened here?”
I will admit it. I regressed last Sunday.
My husband, Ralf, and I were watching the World Cup finals between Germany and Argentina. It would take time to explain, but it happens that I am a die-hard fan of the German team.
The broadcast kept getting interrupted by shots of the second-largest statue of Jesus in the world (the other one is in Poland, as you might expect). The 98-foot tall soapstone and concrete statue in question is located at the top of the 2,300-foot Corcovado mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Jesus looks down at the city below, arms outstretched. A huge sun was burning over Jesus’ head. Very dramatic.
We have seen a good deal of this impressive statue during the tournament.
Naturally, the first time the statue appeared on the screen, I was annoyed. After all, pictures of this statue are everywhere. Just google “Jesus overlooking Rio de Janeiro” and you will get twenty-four million hits. (And now, for full effect in actual numerals: 24,000,000 hits.)
So why did we need to see it just then, I ask, when the Lionel Messi was very likely to make another crazy-beautiful run for the German goal?
The second time the image interrupted the game, I felt the ire rising.
“Crikey!” I said.
I used to think this was a harmless, meaningless expression. But I just discovered, whilst looking it up, that it is a 19th century euphemism for “Christ.” Um, sorry.
On Jesus’ third coming, I leapt up from my chair and shouted, “Jesus! Can we please watch the game?”
Yup, my bad.
Part 2: In which I make fun of my own people
Jews across the world, when citing the only creedal statement Judaism possesses, generally do not know that what they are saying actually contradicts what they are saying.
I shall explain. Jews possess one essential dogma: the Shema. The whole phrase goes like this: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad.” Most translations say something to the effect of “Listen, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Jews think they are making a steadfast declaration of God’s oneness when they chant the Shema. No loose and irregular ideas about any family relationships or separate components. God is a unity.
Just say “one.”
I should first mention that the word “Lord” is not actually to be found in this text. Jews apply the vowels for the Hebrew word “lord” (adonai) over the letters that represent the personal, private name of the deity so they won’t try to pronounce said name. This was once the prerogative of the High Priest. Now, no one gets to try.
Some people add other vowels in to come up with the transliterated name “Yahweh,” but this is mere speculation. The letters in the scroll don’t have vowels. This is what you get, and that’s all (transliterated, of course): YHVH.
The second salient word for our purposes is “Eloheinu” which means “our God.” I will not get into the complex fact that the source for this word is “Elohim,” which can also mean “gods” and does sometimes mean exactly that in our scriptures (as in “other gods” – see Exodus 20:3 where you will find exactly this expression).
Once upon an ancient time, there was a Canaanite deity who went by the name of El, sometimes referred to as El Elyon. And if you look about in ancient texts and archeological evidence you will find that our forefathers of long ago knew quite a lot about the Canaanite pantheon in which El had subsidiary deities. One of these went by the name of YHVH.
I can go into all the detail in another blog post and when I do, we will hang out in Deuteronomy for an excellent illustration of what happened to biblical texts when their editors tried to cover up our messy theological history. The important facts in this particular blog are these: Long, long ago, in some parts of the Ancient Near East, El and YHVH were two different deities, one subordinate to the other. Eventually, our ancestors did the work of conflating names for those deities into varying appellations for the one god we worship.
We mean it when we say that God is one. But we use the names for two different ancient deities when we say so.
Religion is funny.
Given the many terrors in the world that religion produces, I like to take it tongue-in-cheek now and again. Only now and again, though.
Today is the 17th of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached in the 6th century BCE. The destruction of Jerusalem was just weeks away.
Here’s why I make sure my irreverence is a sometime thing. Because I am, in fact, certain that divinity is both in all of us and ever around us, eternal and beautiful. I like to look for it, hope for it, and be thankful for it.
Given the world we are living in, that’s one thing I am never irreverent about.