Last night, I read Chapter 43 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. In this chapter, Nick Andros meets Tom Cullen, a developmentally-delayed man.
On page 404, we read the following: “…and [Nick] had heard about how Tom had found his mother at Mrs. Blakely’s house and they were both dead in the living room and so Tom had stolen away. Jesus wouldn’t come and take dead people up to heaven if anyone was watching, Tom said (Nick reflected that Tom’s Jesus was a kind of Santa Claus in reverse, taking dead people up the chimney instead of bringing presents down).”
I had two reactions to this passage. First, I had somewhat of a cozy feeling when I read about Tom’s superstitious religious beliefs, and I thought for a few minutes that superstition was not a bad thing, if it gave people comfort. But there are plenty of cases in which superstition can be a bad thing and can cause harm to others (i.e., the Salem Witch Trials, parents killing their children in an attempt to exorcise them, or, in Tom’s case, believing someone is in hell because that person’s corpse was seen), and so that’s why there are people who are opposed to all superstition, or even belief in the supernatural.
Second, I liked how Nick used the phrase “Tom’s Jesus”. Nick is an atheist, at least at this point of the book. When he thinks on page 405, “Everybody left on the poor sad planet picked up by the Hand of God and either rocked in the everlasting harms of the Same or set down again in Kansas City”, he’s not saying that he believes in God. He’s just saying that some people died, and some people went to Kansas City. Because Nick is an atheist, he views religion as a subjective thing—it’s not about “Jesus”, for example, but Tom’s version of Jesus.
Of course, even Christians can have this sort of insight. But, in my opinion, it’s compromised within them because they dogmatically claim that they know Jesus. They make bold claims that the Holy Spirit believes such-and-such, and some of them don’t even recognize that their own picture of Jesus is subjective. But much of it is subjective. It’s based on cherry-picking certain things about Jesus in Scripture. Many focus on his healings and his inclusion of people, portraying him as gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Others portray Jesus as a man’s man, or as a tough guy, pointing to his cleansing of the Temple and his excoriating remarks about the Pharisees.
I’ve had a couple of online experiences that relate to this issue. One time, I was criticizing a town for protesting the construction of a mosque, and a conservative Christian woman asked me if I knew and loved Jesus. That lady could probably find plenty of material that would inspire her to ask such a question (i.e., my dislike for Christian fundamentalism), but I think it’s sad that her basis for asking it is that I’m against marginalizing a whole group of people. And, of course, she appealed to Jesus cleansing the Temple, while ignoring Jesus’ inclusion of the marginalized.
Then there is another lady who is posting anti-Jesus comments. I think that she’s putting important issues on the table, for many of her friends emphasize that theology should be about Jesus, while not recognizing that they themselves have a picture of Jesus that emphasizes some things, while ignoring others. Many of them casually dismiss the Conquest stories in the Old Testament, for instance, affirming that we should base our picture of God on Jesus, but they don’t realize that there are things about Jesus that can strike some people as quite problematic. As the anti-Jesus lady points out, Jesus says that he will deny us before his Father in Heaven if we deny him before others. How’s that for unconditional love? Jesus also tells a parable in which those who reject the ruler are slaughtered in the ruler’s presence. I’m open to alternative ways of interpreting such passages—ways that are more consistent with love—but I wish people would at least acknowledge the subjectivity of their own images of Jesus, rather than judging others for not seeing things their way.
Yet, I’m not exactly a relativist, for I believe that some views are better than others. There are views that are conducive to personal and communal health, and there are views that are not conducive to it. Then there’s the importance of freedom.
Where I am with Jesus, I don’t know. I want to focus on Jesus as loving. At the same time, I’m open to Jesus being tough but fair.