February 26, 2007

What would Jesus's DNA do?

Over the weekend, there was some exciting news in biblical archaeology. A site of ossuaries, possibly containing the family of Jesus, possibly including his son and wife, has been publicly revealed by the filmmakers of a new documentary. DNA test results are forthcoming. There are lots of fascinating details in the article I read today, and my VCR has a date with the doc that will air in March. Among other things, they will raise questions about the biological veracity of the virgin birth, the celibacy of Jesus, Mary Magdalene's supposed inferiority to the male apostles, and the notion of the resurrection.

But for all the attendant speculation, what difference will conclusive test results really make? Some will ignore or refute the evidence indefinitely. For every question answered, the faithful who are willing to entertain the possibility of meaning outside of literal biblical interpretations will find themselves new questions, new narratives, to keep the myth alive. I know these religious narratives are simply stories, but I still experience a profound emotional resonance in them because they wrestle with the big, timeless themes of existence. (No, I don't fall asleep easily. And I haven't even started reading my Nietzsche collection yet. He'd not sympathize with the Christians as much as me, no doubt.)

It's in our nature to create new stories when the old ones lose their punch, but our collective imagination is limited so we pretty much just build on old ideas and narrative structures. (Inspired individuals may have less restricted creativity but their ideas don't always broadcast to the rest of us or they take time to trickle into the mainstream feed.) That's okay, because when stories are living, instead of entrenched, and we don't get too attached to the details that flesh out the story in a temporal context, the flash of inspiration stays alive too. (Hey Friedrich! Freddy? I bet if 'God' really does exist, it's in that flash right there — that vivid encounter between an active mind and a good story.) That's why it's important imaginations are encouraged; at the very least, allowed to fully develop. That's why it's so tragic when so many minds are coerced into slavish adherence to the same interpretations of the same stories handed down to them by, let's call them 'publishers,' who have vested interest in submissive audiences. Since most of us have had our imaginations hobbled — if not by churches that decide what we should think about the really old stories, told in a way that empowers the professional shepherds instead of the flock, then by the constant stream of passively consumed entertainment from competing publishers — we must rely on new storytellers to update the essential narratives in terms that refresh our suspension of disbelief and allow us to get excited about the story and characters again. Sometimes that can be achieved through satire; it definitely shakes up our lazy imaginations. So this letter to the editor in today's Globe&Mail from Ken DeLuca seems like a pretty neat little adaptation for our times, which is to say imagined in a time slightly ahead of our own with an updated political/ social/ scientific context.

I see a Tom Robbins/Dan Brown collaboration here with a twist of John Le Carré. The plot: Raelians steal a sample of the DNA of Jesus and successfully clone cells for in vitro fertilization into the womb of a virgin. Her child, J2-C2, is raised by a secret "End of Days" cult dedicated to fulfilling the prophecies of the Book of Revelations. In time, the Miracle Child discovers the secret of cold fusion and saves the world from global warming. But the multinational oil companies conspire to assassinate him because he is a threat to their power.

I can already see the movie. Sadly, the only part that seems entirely plausible, in this or any version of the Christ story, is that some body or group with too much power to lose or too little to believe in gaining any for themselves would arrange for our hero's murder. Happily, as long as our collective imaginations are fired up about stories of heroes who consider us worth saving, there's a chance one day we might collectively consider saving ourselves with the same passion. In the meantime, if Jesus's DNA proves that he was entirely human, maybe we'd start believing in humanity more. I know... what's possible isn't necessarily plausible.

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