In keeping with the festive spirit, on Christmas day I read Phillip Pullman's alternative take on the story of Jesus.
Pullman is a master story teller but he is also an atheist, so it was going to be interesting to see how he interpreted and shaped a story that is inherently riddled with ideas that can be difficult for rational minds to buy in to. How he does it is a work of genius: In Pullman's version, two babies are born, Jesus and Christ, and while Jesus wants to preach a simple message, Christ sees the potential to develop the Jesus' preaching to create an organised religion that stands the test of time, but this involves great sacrifice, treachery and a great twisting of truths, recording every day occurrences as miracles to better sell the story and create true-faith believers in all years to come. This is the crux of the story and the execution is spot on.
It's a quick read and I'd recommend it to believers and non-believers alike.
Here are some memorable quotes:
Jesus: "Stop whinging about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Today has enough trouble of its own"
Jesus: On making a spectacle of giving to charity: "Don't even let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.'
Jesus: “And remember this: take the hard road, not the easy one. The road that leads to life is a hard one, and it passes through a narrow gate, but the road to destruction is easy, and the gate is broad. Plenty take the easy road; few take the hard one. Your job is to find the hard one, and go by that.
'If you hear these words of mine, and act on them, you'll be like a wise man who builds his house upon a rock. The rain falls, the foods come, the winds howl and beat on the house, but it doesn't fall because it's been founded on a rock.'
Jesus: "Lord, if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should be not like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow, 'Get out, you don't belong here?' Does the tree say to the hungry man, 'This fruit is not for you?' Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?"
Christ: "There are some who live by every rule and cling tightly to their rectitude because they fear being swept away by a tempest of passion, and there are others who cling to the rules because they fear that there is no passion there at all, and that if they let go they would simply remain where they are, foolish and unmoved; and they could bear that least of all. Living a life of iron control lets them pretend to themselves that only by the mightiest effort of will can they hold great passions at bay. I am one of those. I know it, and I can do nothing about it”
"It's something to know it, at least."
"If my brother wanted to talk about it, he would make it into a story that was unforgettable. All I can do is describe it."
The angel advising Christ to embellish events for posterity: "There is time, and there is beyond time. History belongs to time, but truth belongs to what is beyond time. In writing of things as they should have been, you are letting truth into history. You are the word of God."