(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Why The Bible Ranks On Rebel Lit’s Greatest Hits (This One Goes Out To James Dean)
By Ben Courson
When you think of a person who reads the Bible, you generally don’t picture James Dean.
I’m sure the phrase “student of Scripture” does not call to mind the image of a leather jacket in your mind’s eye, or a skateboard, or an antiestablishment rebel who subverts the patriarchal paradigm and breaks rules. I don’t blame postmodernists who dismiss the Bible as fundamentalist propaganda. They’d rather NOT deny science and oppress women. Touché.
But this is a colossal exercise in misunderstanding. Contrary to popular consensus, the Bible was not written with the purpose of being a science book, seeing as its mostly story and poetry, and Jesus was most certainly not fundamentalist seeing as fundamentalists killed him.
He was the archetypal rebel. He ran counter to all the stereotypes of a goodie-two-shoes, and, in fact, lived in the diametrically opposed direction of systemic oppression. He broke rules. All. The. Time. He didn’t mess around.
After all, you don’t get crucified for behaving.
As for equal opportunity, well, some Jewish men actually thought a Samaritan woman had less value than a man’s donkey, and the religious orthodox said that to prolong conversation with a woman in the streets was to inherit Gehenna…so what does Jesus do? The longest conversation He ever has in public is with a woman! Oh, and she is Samaritan!
When it came to subverting the patriarchal paradigm, Jesus selected for his admin women like Joanna and Mary and Susanna to bankroll his ministry! The writers of the Bible noted that WOMEN were the first to witness the empty tomb. And women were the last to stand by Jesus at the cross. The system oppressed women. Jesus thought it all good form to-well-throat punch the establishment.
You don’t tell your boys to put on their birthday suits and arm up unless you’re a lawbreaker of some kind (and yes, Jesus did tell his disciples to sell their cloaks and buy weapons).
This would be a good verse to memorize in Sunday School: “Get naked and buy swords!”
It is little wonder that the religious right made an arch nemesis out of Jesus. When the priests became merchants and sold doves for as much as FIFTEEN times the amount for which you could buy them in the marketplace (doves were the poor man’s sacrifice) and religion disenfranchised the marginalized, Jesus went into the commercialized temple, which had gone corporate, and, um, shall we say, did a little spring cleaning.
An yes (hem hem) bullwhips were involved.
When Judaism decreed a man wasn’t allowed to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus went into a synagogue to cure a guy with a withered hand, because, of course, the best place to break rules is in church.
In addition, the Pharisees said it was illegal to harvest on the sabbath – on that very day Jesus rubbed grain under their noses!
Jesus was literally killed for being anti-establishment.
He was tried by a kangaroo court for treason and executed by the state. The Pharisees and Pilate – church and state – colluded to sentence the young insurgent from Galilee to capital punishment.
The Bible is not a systematic theology textbook as much as an unsystematic adventure as wild and untamable as its male lead!
The very way the Bible was composed was quite anarchically done. Its writers penned stories as rebellious as e.e. cummings (I love how he didn’t even capitalize his own name because in the words of Margo Roth Spiegleman: the rules of capitalization are so unfair to words in the middle)! The Bible broke rules of writing like Kerouac broke rules. of grAmmar.
Case in point:
The Bible writers actually speak ill of their most cherished characters and patriots. Usually history is written by whomever wins the war. The conqueror is deified, his faults reduced to euphemism. Subjective historians grandstand and parade their heroes. But the ancient Hebrews feature protagonists with flaws displayed in all their unbridled embarrassment. David, Israel’s most beloved king, slaughtered his trusty friend by isolating him on the battlefield. Manasseh, the great reformer, flooded the streets of Jerusalem with innocent blood and practiced witchcraft (Expecto Patronum!) The Hebrew kings were called out on the carpet by HEBREW prophets. Gideon – a “mighty man of valor” – hid from the enemy in a wine press! The Israelites did not gloss over the hamartias of their main characters, but instead, in the words of Cromwell, painted them with warts and all.
To read the Bible as a paint-by-number manual on how best to toe the party line is an etymological butchering of the text, and is, in fact, missing the point of the culture, writing style, and time in which it was written. The Bible was about a group of oppressed people living under the heel of Babylon, Caesar, Assyria, and Egypt: down-and-out subjects hoping for political rescue. We have no category or frame of reference for that. As Americans, we ARE the Romans. The Jews were the oppressed – like modern day Mexican immigrants. Scripture is a history of the DEFEATED…not the winners. It’s a book written by oppressed slaves who were horizon gazers in search of a brighter tomorrow.
They looked for a champion to overthrow empire. Is it any surprise that the protagonist of the Bible is a rebel? Jesus challenged authority. He didn’t kiss the tushes of the powers that be. He knew how corrupt things get when church gets in bed with empire.
He waged war on the establishment.
Only Jesus’s methods were more MLK than Malcom X. He ousted the rule of the Caesars not through a bow and arrow, but through a message so piercing the apocalyptic literature of Revelation depicts Jesus as One with a sword coming out of his mouth!
Jesus was a rebel. Stick it to the man! The difference was that He wasn’t a guerrilla taking down tyrants because he hated them, only to accidentally set up a new dictatorship in its stead because he had no BETTER ideas. He had clear direction.
His teaching was a Herculean effort to muscle humanity forward to LOVE! He was willing to die for his message. He was willing to get killed if it meant pulling collective consciousness up to loftier plains than discussions like “Should we stone her?” He sought greater enlightenment than teachings like “an eye for an eye,” which effectively made the whole world blind. He championed the cause of the great unwashed masses of coach class. His revolutionary symbol was downward mobility: a cross. This was the emblem of a peasant killed by empire, and an archetype of iconography – which inspired a permanent revolution in which the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church. A resistance movement of grassroots insurgents who were card carrying members of the Jesus fan-club became a groundswell that shook the foundations of the power structure that was Rome.
No wonder Jesus called Herod a fox and Rome’s symbol was the eagle. “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The lion and the lamb apparently wasn’t about the fox or the bird (or the donkey and elephant for that matter).
Like Luke Skywalker fighting the galactic empire, Jesus went to war with the Roman empire. No wonder Caesar’s boys massacred so many of Jesus’s boys. Both Skywalker and Christ were part and parcel of the rebel alliance. Luke used a lightsaber, but Jesus used the word (a double-edged sword) as his saber and WAS the light of the world. I would apologize for all my Star Wars similes, but to do so would be disingenuous.
The Bible is rebellious.
And THAT’S why I find it fascinating.
Rebel literature has a special place in my heart, as it’s given me the courage to free myself from being an orthodox cog in a system and instead fight for FREEDOM! The narrative arch of Scripture gives ME a story line in which I’m not made for rules but can instead take on the behemoth of corporate America and legalistic “Churchianity.”
I make a motion that we join the Bible to the genre of rebel literature!
I go fangirling over nonconformist books. Let’s add the Bible to the genre of postapocalyptic anarchy literature! Here are some of rebel lit’s greatest hits:
First and foremost you have Orwell’s depiction of the North Korean-like autocracy in “1984” when the government brainwashes Winston Smith. And let’s not forget the parable that is “Animal Farm,” in which the pigs have all the power and coin the classic motif: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” There’s Lenina in “Brave New World,” unable to conjure up a non-dual awareness between the savages and the civilized because she’s too addicted to pharmaceuticals and conditioning until her mind becomes ever subservient to the government. And Collins painted with brilliant strokes a female firebrand in Katniss Everdeen who hangs the dummy Seneca in front of President Snow, just as in real life the Stoic philosopher Seneca hung himself when he displeased the emperor Nero. Then there’s McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” who learns that the high officer of the establishment running the insane asylum was crazier than her patients, so he kept whipping the system till the nurse did lobotomy on his brain and made a vegetable out of him. There was Camus’s “Stranger” who was cruelly sentenced to capital punishment as he wandered amongst the sands in an absurdist’s delirium. And Holden Caulfield in the “Catcher in the Rye” was special BECAUSE he was maladjusted and fit in neither with the social construct attached to the educational system nor polite society. Esther Greenwood in “The Bell Jar” found skiing and haute couture dinners with fellow writing prodigies to be a fugue state of despair that inspired her suicide attempt. And Dostoyevsky‘s “Double” went so insane working in a cubicle behind the iron curtain of Soviet socialism that the story ends with our hero getting carted off to a loony bin.
I, too, am in the business of writing in the genre of the antiestablishment I so love. But here is where my work takes a hard turn away from Kerouac and his cronies: I don’t burn the system to leave smoking ruins behind. The point of my work is that life has none. My end is not nihilism and despair and LSD. I don’t stop at deconstruction. In place of empire I work to create a world of sendy funhavers destroying anything that’s not heaven on earth and building outposts and pockets of heaven down HERE.
I write toward hope and not into the abyss.
So too, the Bible doesn’t ONLY tear down the system, but it also ends with a garden metropolis in which every tear is wiped from our eyes.
Some people focus so much on the Bible as a work of literal fundamentalism they they miss it being a literate work of art.
The problem with conformity and fundamentalism is that it’s all about taking the world backward and being judgmental of the artists who wish to co-create the world with God and bring things forward to a bolder morrow.
Fundamentalism is, at its core, defeatist. It is spawned on ground zero: the ruins of military and political loss. Hebrew fundamentalism emerged during the Babylonian captivity. Christian fundamentalism popped up in the American South during Reconstruction (the period of reconstruction after the civil war). The idea of the Master Race evolved in Germany after World War One.
But notice how all these examples of fundamentalism represent people so passionate about what they were against:
The Hebrews so hated their oppressors that their rage gave rise to Sicarii dagger bearers who would lynch Romans and even Hebrews who sympathized with Rome. These assassins would furtively hide in plain sight during public gatherings, pull daggers from their cloaks, stab their enemy, and disappear in the crowd.
The fundamentalists in the South hated blacks, they opted for segregation, and repped the KKK.
The Germans burned Jews in ovens.
Fundamentalism leads to judgmentalism. Hating people is not the answer. Rejecting a non-dual awareness in favor of an Us-and-Them mentality is what starts wars.
This is why it’s essential we don’t rebel AGAINST something as much as TOWARD something. In a generation racked by despair, we “Optimisfits” rebel TOWARD hope, friendventures, dreamality, and FUN!
So pull on your leather jacket.
Grab your skateboard.
And buck the system.
You’re a rebel with a cause.
For more on Ben Courson visit www.bencourson.com/optimisfits/ where you can find out more on his book and also purchase a pre-sale copy of “Optimisfits.”