For Me

Atrios pointed this, by Amanda out and he’s right, she’s near something, but let us never say in 25 words what can be said in a thousand, so bear with me as I ramble on about this.

Driving home one night I noticed the Fundie Who Lives Near Me had added another sticker to the dozens that already adorn his van. This one said, in rainbow-colored letters that connoted a child’s birthday balloon, “JESUS DIED FOR MY SINS!” Joyous exclamation point included.

And the whole thing turned my stomach because, as Amanda points out, it turns Christianity into a celebration of self, that I am so worthy of Jesus’ love that he died for me. That Jesus’ life and its meaning are mine, that they belong to me. And instead of feeling awe at such a sacrifice, or guilt at my unworthiness (I’m Catholic, remember) it turned me to thinking of how much ass I kick, how special I am, how great it is that some innocent guy got himself nailed to a tree so that I could drive around telling everybody about it.

Pair that self-aggrandizing version of the New Testament with its natural consequence: if what makes me great is that Jesus died for me, then who am I if Jesus did not die for me? From whence does my sense of self come, then? How do I define myself? How do I live my life, if not by the rules I’ve been taught that Jesus set down (whether or not he actually did set down the rules of Fundamentalist Christianity, of course, being one of those subjects on which YMMV)?

And something about it goes beyond the ordinary fear that you’ve invested yourself in something false. We all feel that to a certain extent. The other night, after what had been a particularly bitching 18-hour day trying to raise money for a cause in which no one was apparently interested that day, Mr. Athenae and I had our periodic “what if we lived like normal people? What if we didn’t spend all our free time doing THIS?” conversation. Every once in a while I wonder if the way I’m living is the right way to live, or if the whole world is right and I’m wrong.

These people, the ones who go around believing that Christianity is “under attack,” seem perpetually on the verge of a profound crisis of faith. They announce to the world how put-upon they are, how deep and abiding is their suffering, how strong and cruel their enemies. If you truly believe, what difference does it make to you what I believe, other than as an exercise in discussion? I was raised a Catholic. That there were Jews and atheists and Muslims in the world didn’t particularly bother me, because I was a Catholic and some people weren’t and that’s just the way it was. I didn’t need the assent of every stranger I met to reinforce my own beliefs.

Perhaps it’s my agnosticism speaking now. Perhaps it’s my profound indifference to the idea of one God, many gods, goddesses, faeries, earth spirits, whatever else, that makes me comfortable about the beliefs of others. I have friends who are devoutly Christian, and on the few occasions we’ve talked Jesus I’ve never really been surprised by the depths of their faith, because I could see it in the way they lived their lives. And they didn’t seem to care about converting me, and if I felt a yearning for the faith of my childhood it was only because their beliefs seemed to give them so much joy and I wanted to know, what it was like to know something that profoundly and be made happy by it.

But I rebel, bone-deep, at the idea of needing God. Of needing God to scare me into behaving like a decent person. Of needing God and thus being afraid of losing God, of encountering anyone who might question my beliefs because I don’t have the answers. Of owning God, because if I own God, God can be taken away from me. Of meeting others with hostility until they mirror me in my faith. Because that’s not about God, that’s about me. And I think if God exists, then God has enough to do without worrying about whether I am fulfilled and happy, and going around painting on my car that I am so terrific that he felt the need to crucify himself on my behalf.

Whatever Jesus may or may not have done for me, that’s something for contemplation, of what I might do to make myself worthy of such a sacrifice. And I don’t think tops on my list is going to be using it to boost my self-esteem.