Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Judas Iscariot (from the movie about his friend the Superstar)

[second and now third thoughts below.]

Robert Graves wrote about this: Christianity as scapegoat religion: Jesus as goat, sacrificed to expiate our sins and mollify the angry God.

Graves didn't say: Emotionally we scapegoat Judas.

Presumably Jesus, being God, could have effected his capture by the Romans some other way, without his friend being implicated. But the story is so much more dramatic this way!

Poor Judas. When he knew what he had done, his heart was sore with remorse, and he came to a bad end, hanging himself from the tree.

The religion takes in both meanings of "scapegoat": the anthropological meaning of the sacrificial animal (a goat, in this instance), and the emotional meaning of the One Who Takes the Blame. Jesus says he Takes the Blame of our Sin, but his believers don't blame him, they worship him. With Judas, Christianity builds in an extra scapegoat, one that believers can feel comfortable blaming. A Dual Scapegoat religion: Jesus, the Exalted Scapegoat; and Judas, the Despised Scapegoat. Theologically, Christianity does not absolve us of Jesus' Crucifixion -- the Church teaches that Jesus died for our sins, not from Judas' betrayal. That's the official line, but the storyline is stronger in people's hearts: Jesus was betrayed.

The dual-scapegoat scheme troubles my conscience -- why should someone take the blame for my sins, and why would such a god need a second scapegoat, one to really take the blame? I want to say, Damn me to Hell if that's what this is about: I'll take responsibility for my crimes. Huck Finn comes to mind as an exemplar. Jane Smiley was right to say that it IS nuts and makes NO sense for Huck and Jim to escape by floating South, but Huck has guts, and Greil Marcus's insight in Mystery Train was brilliant, that Huck and Ahab share a willingness to go to Hell as a consequence of their decisions. Huck says it outright twice; the second time makes me cry: when he reasons that by helping Jim escape from his owner he is committing a crime against property, he is aiding in a theft (the theft of Jim by Jim), and therefore violating the Commandment against Stealing; but, he decides, Jim is his friend, and he'll go to Hell rather than betray his friend.

Huck's first declaration of a willingness to go to Hell is closer to the circumstances of my life, and light-hearted. He asks the Widow Douglas, Is Tom Sawyer going to Hell? Then why would I want to go to Heaven anyway?

Second thoughts, the next morning: I changed the caption of the photo. I originally wrote "Judas Iscariot Superstar (from the movie about his friend)," but changed it because that was too sardonic and I didn't want to offend more than I already probably would be. I didn't come up with the "Judas Iscariot Superstar" line. A childhood friend of mine did, who, at the time at least (we've dropped out of touch), was a believing Christian, as was I. The phrase was a complaint against the Lloyd-Webber Superstar show. My friend believed that the show portrayed Jesus as whiny throughout and Judas more sympathetically. My favorite character in the show was always Pilate, because I liked his songs best.

Further second Sunday morning thought: Why is God so angry that he demands a scapegoat to die for our sins? Why must forgiveness only come after great suffering? That's my hang-up in the story. But it still appeals to me too. Sin is suffering; bad habits (such as this, right now, typing away when I should be doing Something Else) are bad because they cause suffering, and knowingly continuing in them is Sin. The "scapegoat" idea is an always-renewable "start afresh" template that says, "don't worry about the past, go and sin no more." And even though I know I will sin again and again and again, and cause suffering for myself and others, I need that push, "OK, don't worry about the past, just do what you need to do and do it the right way starting now," whether I get that push from Jesus or another source. Ultimately, I personally get it from the Jesus story, because that's my culture.

Third thoughts, Sunday evening.

My old friend Ross calls from his L.A. home. "Did you get my email?"

"I haven't checked my email in several hours."

"I sent you something about the recent release of the translation of the Gospel of Judas after I read your post."

"Oh, this is embarrassing! I had seen something about that but had completely forgotten that I had when I went to post! That happens to me a lot. I read something, forget I've read it, and then think that I've thought of it on my own later!"

And get embarrassed when I re-read what I read in the first place.

Do you remember the episode of The Partridge Family where Danny falls asleep listening to Keith write songs, then gets up in the morning and writes the same song himself?

Danny Partridge -- c'est moi.

(And yes, I am aware that "c'est moi" is a quote.)

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