Sunday :: Apr 16, 2006

Once More From The Top

by pessimist
"Many people instinctively choose the bad
when it is most profitable to themselves."

- Thomas Common
1907 preface to Freidrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil

One of the biggest problems I have with too many Christians is that they insist on glorifying the messenger while not heeding for a moment the message he delivered. It's like they 'practice' their religion as a form of hero-worship as opposed to a philosophy of living intended to earn one a place in the Afterlife. America's Teleban are a perfect example, with the likes of Robertson advocating the assassination og Hugo Chavez while he stumps the Red State airwaves for donations to do 'God's Work'.

If I were Jesus (be very glad I'm not!), I just might wonder if I had wasted my time. But then, feeling so would mean that I wasn't following My own words, now wouldn't it?

Instead, if one looks at this logically, and in the spirit of Jesus as we know Him, His love for humanity might well compel Him to try again.

That is the basic scenario of Tony Henrda's The Messiah of Morris Avenue. While not strictly a Resurrection in the traditional religious sense, Henrda brings Jesus back to life in his book to 'correct misimpressions' humans have of the Message. The following section comes from an email I received from the publisher:

In the age of White House and Justice Department prayer circles, it might seem like fundamentalist Christians already have a set of keys to the Oval Office. There are plenty of reasons to get depressed or angry about the current political climate, but sometimes it's fun to mix in a few laughs with all the politics. Since you write on political topics on your blog, I hope you'll be interested in this book and will help spread the word to others who could use a laugh in their day. In his satirical new novel, THE MESSIAH OF MORRIS AVENUE, humorist Tony Hendra imagines what the U.S. will look like in twenty years when the religious right really does run the country.

Richard Rhorer
Marketing Director, Henry Holt And Company Publishers

Fiction can be a wonderful way of revealing truths unwelcome to a power elite - even a religious one.

"If a man is proud of his wealth,
he should not be praised
until it is known how he employs it."

-- Socrates

This is the society that faces protagonist Jose Kennedy in The Messiah of Morris Avenue by Tony Hendra, published by Henry Holt & Co.:

* President Sparrow, a religious lackey, sits in the White House.
* Golf balls are emblazoned with religious logos.
* The news is little more than prepackaged propaganda, and reduced to little more than localized versions of reality TV.
* Blasphemy is a crime.
* Hollywood was renamed 'Holywood' by religious mega-corporations who 'do God's work', passing out 'faith based' Academy Awards to the newly-converted pious of the industry who now make violent moralistic movies instead of the violent immoralistic movies they once made.
* The faith-hope-and-no-charity brigade has "reformed" health care into Superb (for the ruling class) Basic (the ruled still-working class) and None (everyone else) and do battle with each other in the courts over the ownership of exclusive Superb Christian communities.

Our society discourages self-awareness with a weekly cycle of working and consuming that keeps us too busy to slow down for self-reflection. Consumer capitalism's game plan prefers an unaware and vaguely dissatisfied populace that tries to fill the emptiness inside with shiny new products.

- Robert Gerzon

The following section was written about Socrates, but it could have served as the model for Tony Hedra's protagonist:

He chose death rather than silence. He chose death because he considered participation in that type of conversation whose goal it is to find the truth, to search for wisdom, essential for the nurturing and growth of the soul as well as for the health and welfare of the state. The love and pursuit of wisdom was both religious and patriotic. He believed his death would be a witness to this belief. It was out of piety and patriotism that he accepted to be a martyr in defense of the right and the responsibility of the citizen to participate in independent critical thinking.

It is important that we examine the process to determine if we have acquired the correct set of beliefs because they influence our thinking and motivate our action. So, instead of merely possessing an unorganised mass (and mess) of opinions and assumptions, we take time out to scrutinise, re-formulate and organise them into a coherent, meaningful and practical system of right views. In the process, we discard those that are patently false, immoral and dangerous. From such a deliberate process we frame our world view, set our goals, and conduct our lives.

- Francis Chin

Henrda has his hero explain why He returned - The Wisdom of Jose Francisco Lorcan Kennedy:

"When I was here before, I was a Galilean named Jesus. Yeshua, actually. I've come back as an American man named Jose. But I have the same nature and the same mission... to reveal the God in humanity and the humanity in God..."

When asked why he's come back, he responds:

"Two reasons. One: to clear up the confusion about what I said before - refresh the message. Two - to fulfill the the old law - Christianity. ... It means to take the very best of the last two thousand years - the most fetile ideas and beliefs, the most exemplary lives women and men have lived and the lessons they teach - and then plant a new faith in that soil."

"[I] couldn't stand the look on an opponent's face when he got beat. [I]'d felt bad for the kid, whose whole life revolved around this chance to be somebody, to be a winner. [I]'d realized that [I myself] wasn't into winning. [My] heart was always with those who lost.

"The Day of Judgement is at hand. For Christianity. Christianity is unrecognizable to me. Christians have removed me from my own religion. They teach that my teachings don't apply until I return in glory and kill all their enemies. Until then, they are free to to take revenge on whom they please; wage wars; steal from the poor and blame them for their own poverty; allow disease, misery, famine, and environmental devastation, even nuclear war, to sweep the planet, because ... all these man-made horrors are signs sent by me that I'm just around the corner... That's not Christianity, that's insanity.

"The devil isn't a person. The devil is a collective beast that lives deep inside humanity, that speaks and acts sometimes through one person, sometimes through many.

"Selfishness is behind every kind of inhumanity. Evil is caused by selfishness, by people acting out of the belief that they and their needs are paramount.

"Almighty is a human invention, a reflection of human frustration at human limitiations. That is the beginning of evil... It's from worshiping God as apart and beyond, sacred, far away, all powerful - instead of ordinary, present, and everyday - that human beings get their great contempt for life.

"If it makes you have contempt for others: for an enemy, for the poor, for the rich, for the helpless, for the different. It's not God you are worshiping, it's your own pathetic projection of omnipotence. But God is: the enemy, the poor, the rich, the helpless, the different. God is the other. All evil begins with this belief that another's existence is less precious than 'mine'."

It's my opinion that Hendra has put the message of Jesus into contemporary terms familiar enough to Red Staters that they just might understand this time - assuming they haven't been so conditioned to think that God in any of the manifestations only speaks in Elizebethan English and Gothic script and thus don't hear the message.

But even if one is not Christian in religion, the message of how we should treat one another on this planet doesn't lose any of its power or validity. It is a universal message, or Hendra's presentation would fall flat on its face. It doesn't, even if the story isn't quite as satyrical as the publisher promotes.

There is satire - I can still see the neon Cross above the Christian-run prison, blazing "Jesus died for your sins" on one side, rotating around to reveal "And so will you" on the other! - but it isn't the main thrust of the story. The satire is a device to keep the story light enough that you would continue to read it, to get to the deeper message that Hendra - clearly devout in his religious beliefs - wants you to know. He put much more effort into his interpretation of Jesus' message (as excerpted above) than he did the satire.

But that doesn't lessen the value of Hendra's interpretation of Jesus' message. One gem of this effort is the retelling of the Shepherd and the Lost Sheep as a modern sports allegory. It even got to me, and I don't claim to be religious.

The Messiah of Morris Avenue [Recommended] isn't great literature, but it does contain great phhilosohpical ideas that deserve thought. Who am I to say that maybe Hendra wasn't Divinely inspired to write his work? Based on current world events, we certainly could use a refresher course! You won't regret reading it. Maybe it will touch you as it did me.

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought:
it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.
If a man speaks or acts from a pure thought,
joy follows him as his own shadow that never leaves him
- Dhammapada 2


Tony Hendra has had a celebrated career in comedy. His turn as the band's manager in This is Spinal Tap made sure no one will ever think of Stonehenge without imagining a 3 foot tall man circling an 18 inch replica of the site. More recently, his hilarious and scathing editorials on the The Huffington Post have shown his satirical edge is as sharp as ever.

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This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.

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