I am an Atheist. I don’t believe in any supernatural deity. I don’t believe in a god, and I don’t believe in Jesus, the son-of-a-god-who-is-really-god-too-by-some-technicality-I’ve-never-quite-grasped. But I really like the Idea of Jesus. In the gloominess of my Catholic upbringing, Jesus was a bright light. Some of my earliest storybooks feature his kind, serene face and deep soulful eyes. I loved the story of his birth in the manger (Oh how many times my poor baby brother had to be the infant Jesus to my Virgin Mary as I staged impromptu Christmas pageants!) The “Sermon on the Mount” with its implied socialism (don’t tell Sarah and Michelle!) struck a serious chord with me early on. Whatever else, religion might have imprinted on me, Jesus was justice and Jesus was love.
I think of him in the same way you might regard other literary characters – Jiminy Cricket, sitting on your shoulder helping you tell right from wrong, or wise Dumbledore, or Glinda, from the Wizard of Oz, explaining that you’ve had the answers all along, but that you needed to find them within yourself. His “real-ness” has never diminished for me, what he’s supposed to stand for. Losing my faith hasn’t robbed me of a belief that “do unto others” and the rest of what’s on his CV are pretty good ideas to live by.
And Jesus was a bit of a rebel too; getting snippy with his mom (the “didn’t you know I’d be in my father’s house?” incident when he went missing as a little boy) and trashing the money lenders at the temple for their greed and poor location choices. He had a whole crew of guys he rolled with, but he wasn’t a snob. He hung out with the lepers and the poor and the prostitutes. Whatever your deal was…he was cool with it. If Jesus lived on Long Island in the 80’s, he would definitely have worn a leather jacket.
I have a theory that adolescent Catholic girls form an early attachment to Jesus as the image of perfect manhood. What could be more attractive to a flat-chested, bookish, twelve-year-old but to know that this gentle, handsome man knows you, and loves you for who you are? For years, the life-sized statue of a crucified Jesus that hung above the altar at our church was the closest thing I’d seen to a naked adult male. Despite the gore and the ashen pallor, those muscled biceps…the washboard abs…the long hair…I blame my years-long penchant for long-haired heavy-metal bad-boys on my early religious indoctrination.
Earlier this week as the vote for Marriage Equality loomed ever closer, and the arguments, on the street, in the media, and on the internet got more heated, I found myself completely swept up. The live feed from the senate was constantly playing on my computer. I manically pressed re-dial as I called Senators over and over. And I actually broke the Facebook app on my iPhone after five days of constant update- checking, and posting of witty and weighty answers to that eternal question, “what’s on your mind?”
And the thing that kept coming into my head, ironically enough, as religion became the defense of choice for intolerance, was “What would Jesus do?” I mean seriously – which side would he be taking here? Jesus was all about love, right? He of the washing of the feet. He who saved the life of an adulteress by insisting that the one who is without sin, cast the first stone (are you listening Archbishop Timothy Dolan?!?). He who stuck the ear back on the Roman centurian who had come to arrest him! I began to feel that a contingent of religious people had stolen Jesus from me and were misrepresenting him!
MY Jesus, the Jesus who occupies my secular heart would have been as ecstatic as I was when the Senate voted in favor of Marriage Equality late Friday night. My Jesus would have voted yes for love, for commitment, for families, for security, for justice. He would have been carrying a rainbow flag and singing in the halls of the capital all last week. He would be at every single gay wedding, making wine from water, just like he did at Cana in the bible – and smiling.
My husband and I drove to Albany late on Friday evening to meet up with an old friend who was in town demonstrating. We arrived just as the senate vote was made official and caught the wave of frantic reporters and jubilant spectators as they exited the capital. Amidst horns honking and people shouting, we three walked up the street, going nowhere in particular, taking in the glorious weight of what had just happened. We were stopped on our trek by a disheveled, middle-aged man staggering, from what was clearly the consumption of a large quantity of alcohol. “Let ‘em do what they want to do.” He slurred emphatically. “I’m TELLING you… I said, this is BULLSHIT. It’s crap. Good Luck. I’m not gay but who gives a shit. That’s YOUR business. What business is it to say you can’t do that? I’m down with it. I’m GLAD you guys won. I’m ALL good with that.”
MY Jesus would have shaken his hand.