The view from down here

God: Stories

September 08, 2008

In Star Wars, the soldiers of the Empire are called stormtroopers. Stormtroopers were German special forces from world war one, trained to attack trench positions. Using this term for an American film tells you everything you need to know about the soldiers in the movie.

There are countless cultural icons that fall into our daily speech. If you tell someone, "That was awesome. You should have a cape," anyone knows what you mean.

To this day whenever someone is passing out cake, I can't help but say in Milton's voice from Office Space, "Last time I did not receive a piece," or, "The ratio of people to cake is too big."

"I love the smell of (fill in item of current relevance) in the morning!" In Apocalypse Now, the quote is about napalm, and there are times when nothing captures the sentiment better than drawing someone's attention to that moment in that movie.

Spend a night in the box. You boys are as dumb as a bag of hammers. I'll have what she's having. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. He's dead, Jim. How you doin'. Jane, you ignorant slut. And don't call me Shirley.

I'm sure you have your own movie quote list that you draw from the make a point or say, hey this is like that, without just coming out and saying it.

Movies are quotable, because they are a shared experience. People used to use Shakespeare, but we're post literate now.

Which brings me to tonight's word: Allusion.

This is the mechanism by which we can best understand the New Testament and the early church.

What happened two thousand years ago is actually pretty simple. There was a story to tell about self-discovery, which was told through allegory, parable, and allusions to draw people to the ideas. Once initiated they would be taught the symbolism and relevance of those stories.

When the Roman Empire transitioned from withering dictatorships to the Holy Roman Church, the initiate gospels were canonized, declared literal, and the original, deeper levels of the myth were forgotten.

The gospels that everyone knows so well are only four from a large group of other gospels, which when taken as a whole give a much richer picture of what was going on back in the day, particularly because of the jumbled mishmash of mythical retreads.

Just about everything that Jesus did, as told in the gospels, had already been done by pagan, Egyptian, and Greek gods. In fact, if you take away from the Jesus stories all the events and allusions to other myths, there's practically nothing left. (This is the so-called Jesus Mysteries theses by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, from their book The Jesus Mysteries)

The gospels seem to be an attempt by mystics to teach their brand of spiritual growth and transformation to the Jewish people, and to relate meaning and symbolism they used traditional Jewish motifs. Moses wandered forty years in the wilderness. Jesus mirrored this by wandering in his contemporary wilderness for forty days (Numbers 14:33 and Luke 4:2 for those keeping score at home.)

Bible scholars often look to common passages in the bible, or between the Old and New Testaments, as some kind of proof that the old stories were prophesies that later came true. Take a look at Psalm 22:16, and that part about having his hands and feet pierced. When in John 19 we are told of the details of the crucifixion, is this the witness telling us of facts foretold long ago, or is the story teller making a literary allusion to an earlier Jewish writing?

If you get caught up in trying to understand all this symbolism, metaphor, and allusion as some kind of factual history, you just end up chasing your tail.

Why else would Jesus have his lineage traced to David, if not as an allusion to an old prophesy? Because it's actually true? But Jesus isn't actually the son of Joseph, unless Mary wasn't really a virgin, and even if she were, the lineages in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 are completely different.

Why? Because they're stories, people. Stories for another time and another people. Stories meant to teach something to people long ago.

The literalists took over and then persecuted the very people who came up with it all in the first place, and then stomped them practically out of history until all were left with is the empty husk, images stripped of their intended spiritual meaning and presented as some strange history that we're supposed to believe in.

It has led people to embrace crazy and bizarre ideas that in any other arena would be delusional ravings of the criminally insane. To believe without evidence or reason is a testament of their faith, and most people don't even have a clue that most of those stories have been told and retold, packaged and adopted to new cultures since it was Dionysus performing miracles with wine.

Everyone's worshiping a discarded snake skin. And they call me crazy.

Copyright 2008 Daniel LaFavers