Nicole Helget is a writer and teacher from the Mankato area. Here, she offers her witty perspective on Jesus, religion, and belief. -ed.
I like Jesus. I imagine he was the kind of guy I would enjoy hanging out with. And I think he’d probably be happy to chill with me. Honestly, if Jesus descended on a cloud today (or, more likely, emerged out of a spacetime shortcut) was hungry, and needed a place to crash for an evening, I believe he’d choose hanging at my house over hanging with some of the priests or preachers we've got around here. I don’t think Jesus would be down with the peacocked nature of their holiness, their sanctimonious robes, the showboating collars, the cries for more and more money and whatnot. Some of these guys should just walk around with floating neon signs above their heads that flash "I'm Here!" and be able to swipe credit cards between their thumb and pointer finger. What would Jesus do if he walked into a church where a bedazzled bishop was holding court? Laugh? Get pissed? Look around and hope he’s in the wrong place? Ask, “Seriously? Looks like I'm going to have to do that crucifixion number all over again.”
Jesus was humble and was a thinker and socially active in a way that was meant to benefit the lowly. Jesus surrounded himself with like-minded people who could help him. He hung out with the dregs of society, women, and revolutionaries who were sick and tired of Roman taxes and Roman occupation. He hung out with people who were laborers whose last pennies were putting sandals on Roman feet, wigs on Roman heads, tunics on Roman bodies, quills and ink in Roman hands, which wrote the laws that kept Jesus’ people low-class and poor. Jesus’ people built Roman palaces and Roman roads and Roman sewer systems. Jesus’ people suckled Roman infants and nannied Roman children while Roman moms and dads ate grapes and drank wine and thought about how to keep the good times rolling for a couple more centuries.
And, then, when Jesus’ people got a little time off, they went to temple, where their own religious leaders were supposed to help them, advocate for them, raise them up, relieve their suffering, support their cause. Instead, Jesus’ people found a lot of these guys limping under the weight of all the money they collected, some of it from the very Romans mentioned above to keep the people in line, unquestioning, unresisting, and working. Do you know what I’m saying? The religious leaders helped the Romans keep the low class low. They were on the wrong side. Wouldn’t that suck? If your own religious leaders were actually working with the elite class to keep you down? Wouldn’t that be terrible? Wouldn’t you be furious if that were happening now?
Today Jesus’ teachings have been manipulated and, somehow, in what will surely go down as one of the craziest displays of insincerity in history, his teachings have been hijacked by a political party that outwardly reflects nearly zero of his teachings but again and again uses his name to raise money and secure votes from well-meaning people, from hard-working people.
I know most people who practice or participate in a religion are good people. I happen to know a lot of believers. In fact, nearly everyone I know is a believer and practices some type of religion, mostly Christian. And these are people who open their arms to foster kids, who organize care packages for soldiers, who rebuild in disaster zones, who care for the elderly, who volunteer, who donate money to worthy causes, who are good parents, who are dedicated teachers, pillars of their communities, intelligent, hard-working, artistic, musical, poetic, and helpful. And I believe that if their personal religion helps them better do the good things they do, then they should practice it, so long as do so with open eyes. Like, just because your preacher or priest is a horse-toothed grinner (Joel Osteen) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call him out when he says gay couples are a threat to heterosexual marriage or Muslims are terrorists or conditions you on how to vote. Don’t be afraid to ask, “How do you know that?” Ask him, “How many gays or Muslims do you personally know?” Ask him, “Would Jesus really vote for a candidate against public health care? I mean, wasn’t Jesus, above all, a healer?” Or, say to him, “I don’t see why I should vote for the anti-abortion guy who has no problem waging unjust wars that kill children or votes against access to lifesaving medical procedures that save the lives of children? If I vote for that guy, wouldn’t it just be a wash?” It’s okay to say to your preacher, “I like your fire. I like your sermony-style, but I find your suggestions deeply incongruous.” Your priest. Your preacher. He’s just a guy. Just a regular guy. Even if he is wearing a funny hat or cardboard collar.
(Nicole’s complete essay “Oh God!” can be found at her blog -ed.)