Let’s be honest, I don’t believe a man named Jesus ever walked the earth. It’s not that I’m anti-Jesus in any sense, I’m not. Like most atheists I’d say I in fact live a life far closer to the ideals touted by the character than most loud-mouthed, gay hating, science denying, apocalypse yearning evangelical fundamentalist “Christians.” Now granted, the character is a little wishy-washy, frustratingly wimpy, a melancholic defeatist who quite frankly is not very convincing but he’s a fine enough invention for late 1st Century Judea. I don’t believe the man ever drew an earthly breath for the simple reason that I’ve looked at the evidence with an honest eye and haven’t found a single waypoint that indicates a historical person. What can be found are lies and subterfuges enacted by the early church fathers to create an illusion of life where there was, quite evidently, none to speak of. That effort, to me, solidifies the notion that the character was instead a metafictional devise invented by Judean crisis cultists to impart doctrinal messages. That makes perfect sense. Spiderman, Winnie the Pooh and Dora the Explora were invented for the same reasons. Coronel Kurtz and Marlow were also conjured to service the same purpose, and I must say their father, Joseph Conrad, delved far deeper into the nature of man than these Judean crisis cultists could ever have dreamed of achieving with their character.
Now to be fair, it wasn’t the Judeans actually pushing the notion of a historical Jesus. That trick was performed by people far removed from the origins of the tales; namely those in the northern Jewish diaspora who were at the time holed up in modern day Syria and Turkey. The question is, how did they get it so wrong? How did this fictional character come to be misinterpreted so grossly? How did these people come to believe Dora the Explora was actually real?
Fortunately, there’s a contemporary working example for precisely how this all happened, and it all took place in 1997 in Massachusetts when a not-so minor sensation blew up around the wonderful MIT commencement speech delivered by the American writer, Kurt Vonnegut. It was a 668 word speech that began with these few simple, eloquent, and entirely useful cautionary words of advice: “Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now…”
Within a day the speech – a free roaming smorgasbord of useful tips, sound prescriptions, honest cautions, and unfaultable guidance – had been transcribed and was sitting in a million email inboxes. The transcript was opened, read, marvelled at then forwarded from friends to friends, sons to mothers, and grandparents to grandchildren. At light speed Vonnegut’s remarkable words went around the world and the monologue was even quickly turned into a Number 1 music hit, “Everyone’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen),” produced by Baz Luhrmann and narrated by Lee Perry.
It was a brilliant piece that touched on such intimate human fears and longings and offered such sound advice that it cut across all cultural divides and moved people from around the planet. It made people smile, feel good, and be motivated enough by the heartfelt lessons contained within to pass it on. And pass it on they most definitely did. Without question, “Sunscreen” was the most popular string of words Kurt Vonnegut ever penned, a global spectacular, except Kurt Vonnegut never had a hand in a single word of it. It was a hoax, a prank pulled off by who no one really knows. What is known is the words originally appeared as a whimsical article written by the little known Chicago Tribune columnist, Mary Schmich, a month earlier; a sort of, “If I were to ever give a commencement speech it would go something like this…” story.
Sunscreen was a hoax, certainly, but borne of a real article that in all honesty wouldn’t have travelled outside Chicago had the prankster not repackaged the product and got it out to people who could not possibly know the true origin of the prose. Like Schmich’s original text the Jesus story was also not a hoax, not in the beginning. It was instead a serious effort to impart a metaphysical/philosophical message through a series of easily transportable stories centered on a metafictional teacher. What Sunscreen demonstrates is just how fast and how far something wonderful, albeit erroneous, can travel… And 55 generations ago it seems the very same mistake was made by some highly susceptible refugees wanting to believe something astonishing had happened back in their homeland.