Guest Commentary

Fundamentalists and born-agains should ask: What WOULD Jesus do?

I found out over the holidays that my little brother, in the face of mounting tribulations, has declared himself a "born-again Christian." Leaving aside the nonsense inherent in that term, this is profoundly distressing to me on many levels.

My brother's not so little any more--just past 40--and I don't see him or talk to him much, since he lives 2,000 miles away and in a different lifestyle universe. But up until a few weeks ago, I could at least cling to the notion that he was still my little brother and not some hollow shell of a broken man.

For that's what his declaration amounts to, in my view. He may as well have said, "I can no longer take responsibility for myself, let alone the world around me, so I'm going to turn it all over to some invisible power that I can use to explain everything away." From now on, every eventuality will be "God's will," every misfortune "God's punishment" for some perceived moral failing, and every life choice will be made only after fevered consultation with the big bearded life coach in the sky.

Horseshit. Brow-deep. And too painfully familiar. Almost 20 years ago, overwhelmed by personal tragedy, my mother, too, chose to don the blinders of fundamentalist religion and abdicate thoughtful awareness and self-determination. She closed her mind to reason and began to spout such mindlessly hurtful things as, "AIDS is God's way of punishing gays." When I tried to discuss the issue with her, with the pretext that sexual orientation was a personal matter for me, she vehemently resisted the mere consideration of my perspective. I'll never forget her infuriating and disheartening response: "I have a right not to talk about this!"

Twenty years later, I realize that yes, of course, she does have that right. But that doesn't make it any less sad that she, or my brother, should suffer such an intellectual death. They are (were?) intelligent, creative people, reduced to cling-wrap-thin suburban Christian automatons. It seems like they want to live in one of those glass-encased, glycerin-drowned dioramas. If the world flips topsy-turvy, the hand of God will right it, and blessed snowflakes will flutter to earth. La-la-la.

In fact, my family's collective life strategy runs something like this: Stay in the same suffocating milieu in which you grew up, and make the same mistakes your parents made. Contribute to destructive sprawl and the breakdown of community by punching holes in the forest far from population centers and building oversized houses you can't really afford. Breed irresponsibly, and then spend two or three hours a day driving back and forth to some soul-crushing job where you spend the vast majority of your energy and time slaving away for money. Claim that you're doing it all "for the kids" and the sanctity of family, even though you scarcely see your kids, and your extended family dynamic is profoundly dysfunctional, fraught with petty competition and backbiting.

Hmm. There are a few things I understand about Jesus, and they don't really jibe with this scenario. The Jesus I know was an individualist who grew his hair long, did not marry or produce children, eschewed material wealth, defied authority, attacked capitalists and spent his life traveling the world as he knew it attempting to foment a social revolution based on peace and justice.

It strikes me that I, the black sheep, am the only one in my family whose life remotely resembles that of Jesus in any way. I've even got the hair. I do a fairly convincing impersonation of him for the All Souls Procession, which creates lots of photo opportunities (especially among Catholics of Mexican and Italian descent, who tend to approach me with a seriousness that borders unsettlingly on reverence). During this year's procession. I hugged nuns, blessed a bishop and cast demons out of the White House. The fact that I am afraid to show these pictures to my mother for fear of offending her speaks volumes to the fundamental disconnect that is at work here.

I love my family, but obviously this latest revelation has me feeling less than Jesus-like. Nevertheless, for the Jesus freaks in the audience, I propose a peaceful compromise: You refrain from standing on street corners and shouting your twisted, bullshit interpretations of Jesus at me while I'm walking down Fourth Avenue, and I will refrain from telling you to fuck off.