Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And in the end...

I took a creative writing class, about a million years ago, when I was in college. One of the first things you learn in creative writing is to avoid hinging everything on a twist ending. It may or may not be exciting the first read through, has a tendency to backfire completely, and no one will ever pick up your story a second time. A good story can and should stand alone on its own merits with the beginning, middle, and end providing the same amount of enjoyment.

The point of a good story is the journey on which it takes you, not the destination at which you arrive. That's why I don't really mind spoilers, in most cases. If a story (movie, book, television series, whathaveyou) is worth being bothered with then knowing what happens ahead of time rarely diminishes that experience.

Bizarro Christians, however, love twist endings.

They're utterly obsessed with only two parts of the New Testament: the death and resurrection of Jesus, and their extremely distorted "interpretation" of the book of revelations. Honestly, how much more twisty-ending can you get? Their version of the gospels goes:

"This guy Jesus died. The devil won. Everybody was pretty upset about it. BUT! It turns out he was totally god and he comes back to life! We win! The end!"

Revelation goes similarly. Rather than reading it as a piece of literary, historical, or allegorical writing they latched onto the 19th century rise of dispensationalism and view it as some sort of outline for the apocalypse*.

To them, the book of Revelation goes: "Jesus shows up, fights off the devil and his sidekick the anti-christ, tortures everybody we don't like, boots them all into hell, and WE WIN! Again!"

It's honestly the doctrinal equivalent of "My dad can beat up your dad. Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah" except instead of their dad beating up our dad, their dad beats up us which doesn't seem altogether fair. It's a weird thing to wish on other people, but there it is.

So those are the two topsy-turny-twisty endings that make up about 90% of the evangelical doctrine, in the U.S.

I suppose those endings are very comforting, for some people. The message of both is "We win! You lose! Ha!" which would obviously be attractive to a lot of folks. It disappears thousands of years of christianity, and more appallingly the entirety of Jesus' three year ministry. Jesus had a lot to say, and the folks who wrote the gospels had a lot to say about the things he said, and the folks who've been writing about the gospels ever since have yet more lots to say about the things those other people said.

But those stories don't have compelling enough endings, I guess. Most holy books, religious writings, or philosophical texts are designed to indicate how we should interact with the people we come in contact with, navigate the experience of being human, or commune with the divine in some way. They're intended to enrich, teach, or enlighten. At their most basic, they're designed to form a structure to live by, with stories, histories, rules, explanations and mythologies to illustrate a richness of experience for us to draw from as we grapple with who we are and where we're going - individually and together.

Whether you find inspiration and guidance from the Bhagavad Gītā, Tanakh, Qur'an, New Testament, Buddhavacana or from Dandelion Wine, the point is what it teaches you and how it touches you. The point is not to race to the end to justify the rightness of your position over all others.

In summary, I defer to Messrs Lennon/McCartney:

*This reading of the book of Revelation is, of course, not at all biblical. How and why it's such a perverse view of biblical teaching, and christianity in general, has and is being explained over at Slacktivist with an eloquence I could never hope to achieve.

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