[Previously on The Sad State Of The Greek Orthodox Church: A threat had been made. My friend had been serious. He was trying to make a joke out of the entire incident, grinning through a face contorted with suppressed anger. This was not funny, not to him. Part of him really wanted to crack me across the cheek. Part of me wanted to do the same.]
Let’s go over the confrontation once more, beat for beat, the reason being this is not a piece about the dysfunctional parts of a friendship that has endured all kinds of abuse. It’s about the dysfunctional and atavistic nature of the Greek Orthodox Church and the poor way in which it conducts itself, causing its supporters to say things that go against not only common sense and decency, but also the very nature of Christ’s canon.
It’s the ultimate hypocrisy.
Here’s how it went down, with some previously omitted details:
We were sitting at a bar on a lazy Saturday afternoon, a gathering of old buddies, having a drink, when my friend turned to me and said shame on me, shame on me because he’d read the first five lines of an article I’d written about religion and got so mad at what he was reading that he threw away his phone — ‘I threw it away, tossed it, that’s how mad it made me!’ — and couldn’t read the rest, didn’t want to lay eyes on it.
When I asked why, he said he would never read any of my stuff on religion ever again because I was out of line, so out of control I ought to be taken out and beaten to a pulp because that way I would learn a valuable lesson.
When I asked him what had angered him most, he said it was none of my business.
When I asked him what he disagreed with, he told me to fuck off.
When I urged him to read all nine pieces before raising hell, he flipped me the finger. He did! I thought we were back in ninth grade, or third form, as we’d called it. Flipped me the finger! But I insisted, urging him to think things through. What I was saying was making sense. Conducting service in Koine, a form of Greek hardly anyone understands, is the same as what the Pharisees did. No one gets the content, don’t you see, and very few people are able to participate. Young people have no real incentive to go to church. Why would anyone go sit in a room full of strangers and listen to gibberish for hours?
My friend gave me the side-eye, then repeated that I was out of control and that he wasn’t going to be wasting his time with my bullshit anymore, and then doubled down on his opinion that I needed a good thrashing.
He also called me a coward.
‘If you really want to be a player,’ he said, ‘write up this bullshit in Greek — see how fast they drag your sorry ass through the streets and hang you from the lamppost.’
‘Hang me from the lamppost?’
‘Write it in Greek, if you have the balls!’
‘You mean in Modern Greek, or in Koine?‘ I asked.
‘Such a smartypants! You’re a jerk! Remember that!’ he said. ‘Know it! You wouldn’t be speaking this way if—’
I’m listening to my friend rage on about how I’m a blasphemer who needs to be taught a lesson, how I need to be put in my place, learn not to insult the divine, God’s Church etc and I’m thinking to myself, Shit, where have I heard this before?
Isn’t this what Easter celebration is all about? How the people of Judea went ballistic with this guy who dared challenge their way of doing things, deeming them misguided and corrupt?
No wonder Jesus Christ got condemned, whipped, dragged through the streets, humiliated, crowned with thorns, poked at, kicked at, and crucified.
I still talk to my friend, and he talks to me, we hang out, but something happened that day, something changed. He’s no longer the person I thought he was, the good friend with a decent head on his shoulders. His piousness brought out something nasty and foul in him that day. He suddenly became the guy who deep down, when provoked, thought it was OK to drag a man out on the street and beat his ass into the pavement to teach him a lesson for having criticized the way the Church conducts its affairs.
Yes, we still hang out, and yes, I love the guy, but I think he doesn’t share the same affection anymore, and that makes all the difference. Should the conversation steer in that direction again, I don’t trust him to keep his cool and not go all Caiafas on me.
In fact, I don’t trust myself not going all Jesus on him either. Not that I’m saintly or divine like Jesus, in command of God’s will. No, I just have a knack for taking the finger pointed at me and the tongue lashing out at me and shoving them down the throat of the person who owns them. My patience runs deep, but it has its limits. Insult me once, shame on you, insult me twice . . .
I clearly ain’t no Jesus or saint, but to tell you the truth, neither was Jesus. He was a magnificent upstart, a persona capable of the greatest kindness as well as the most obscene and in-your-face comments, at least as far as the establishment was concerned. He stuck it to the powers that be without mercy. He let their mindless minions have it, and he gave it to them so hard, it made their heads spin, so much so they nailed him to the cross first chance they got. They could have let him go, pardoned, but they went with Barrabas, a notorious criminal.
‘Jesus or Barrabas,’ Pontius Pilate said.
‘Give us Barrabas,’ they said.
And Barrabas was like, ‘Thank God for Jesus! Saving a sinner’s ass yet again!’
If my friend reads this piece, he’ll probably come looking for me.
That’s part of the problem, the fact that he will see disrespect and blasphemy in these words. The self-righteous rage with which he will most probably react, and the ease with which he will take it upon himself to dispense violence in the name of the Church.
It’s a sad day for me, to experience the prospect of a person I care for going all Pharisee on me and on people like me, people who speak the language of reason. My humor may be caustic, irreverent, but humor is all we have. When we start punishing others for their jokes in the name of devoutness and holiness, we are one step closer to something we can’t afford to be, something we fought hard, for centuries, to escape.
Religious fundamentalism is not a step forward. Faith is fine, it has a positive role in the world when not abused, but dogmatic religion, no thanks! We’ve buried too many people on its account, and it’s about time we stopped that nonsense. We many not be able to control what other people think, but we can sure as hell control the way we see the world. We can become the reasonable people, diluting the camp of the self-righteous pricks.
This is why I got so worked up about what happened. When people you’ve known all your life turn round and tell you that you and others like you should be hung from a lamppost and beaten into submission because you blaspheme — when they’re directing such anger straight at you without ever making a solid counterargument, it’s kind of scary, not because of what they might do, that’s just part of the problem. The immediate issue is, how long have they been thinking this way, and how the fuck did I fail to pick up on it? What other nasty attitudes are they harboring deep inside them? Who else might they be happy to see crushed on the street on account of his or her blasphemy, all without hearing the person out first?
And who agrees with them? Who shares their point of view? Are there more like them? Who are they? How will they react should one of them get in a position of power, gaining access to a public forum, to a large audience, to money, muscle? What then?
Manchurian candidates of the religious kind.
And then we wonder why Trump got elected, why Brexit happened, and why the world is marching to the tunes of resurgent populism.
Jesus Christ. Had the anointed son of God been born today, he would have had a field day with everything that’s going on. He would have had plenty of things to preach about, and, the way things are going, he would have been tossed in the ditch by the very people claiming to worship him.
Part 7 to follow