Ladies and Gentlemen and adolescents of all ages everywhere, good wishes for the coming year and for carefully filtered memories of past years. My sermon today is not a reflexive spurt resulting from Neil deGrasse Tyson's recent surgical witty-twits. I wrote this a while back and planned to print it at the end of the year. In a way, Tyson pre-empted me with some keen and nifty remarks, especially elevating Newton above the golden halo of a possibly fictional ex-carpenter. Nevertheless and without any remorse and begging your peace-laden indulgence, I'll print my mercifully brief homily here and now.
Jesus of Nazareth was not a Christian, he was a Jew, a Hebrew. He was raised as a Hebrew, practiced the Hebrew religion (Judaism didn't coalesce until many centuries after Jesus), and he was a rabbi, a teacher. His mother was Jewish (so was his father) which means he has the right of return (which so many Christians anxiously wait for) to Israel, where, if he can prove his lineage from a Jewish mother he will automatically be issued a permanent visa, an id card and a mitzvah guide-book.
Jesus, as described a 100 years after his alleged death and not during his alleged life, was a Hebrew when he promoted rebellion, when he was crucified, and when he reappeared after burial in a cave. He became a Jew when Isabella of Spain ousted the Hebrews on the day Columbus sailed off to discover Florida and the ousted ones dispersed up into Europe, invented the latke, and merged their Hebrew language with Middle High-German, Russian and Polish to produce Yiddish, which produced "Juden" which popped out the label "Jews." I say unto you: alleged, because there is no empirical evidence that he ever existed, which matters not... it's the effect, not the cause that shapes our understanding in the future. Christianity is a product of post-Jesus history.
Muhammed was not a Muslim. He was a Saudi Arabian merchant who had visions and became self-described as the last prophet of "god" in the line of Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Which means he was a Hebrew and a Christian.
There seems to be empirical evidence that he existed though the first biographical accounts of his life and leanings didn't appear for 100 years or so after his death. Like Jesus, his faith-building journey generated much struggle and strife but he lived long enough to see the population of the Arabian Peninsula turned toward his "teachings." He died at 62 and is buried in Saudi Arabia, not Jerusalem. Islam is a product of post-Muhammed history.
Siddhārtha Gautama was not a Buddhist. Allegedly, he was a prince who was born around 2500 years ago long before Jesus, Muhammed, priests and popes, mullahs and
imams, abbots and monks, mohels and grand rabbis. Apparently he was an atheist, not even pagan gods for him. There is no empirical evidence that he existed since the first historical descriptions didn't appear until a few 100 years after his alleged death. Again it matters not... effect, not cause.
As described, before he crossed that psyche-shaking age barrier of 30, Gautama became severely disturbed. He could not reconcile his lush, hedonistic life in the palace with the suffering he saw outside its walls. So he left the palace on a journey of asceticism, meditation, and personal bondage. He traveled to a way of life completely opposite from his la dolce vita. He discovered that this extreme was as self-destructive as the extreme he had left. So he quested on until his enhancing self-awareness led him to the middle, the "Way of the Center"... the way of Gautama Buddha. As described, he attracted followers; he described his journey, recounted what he had learned. He was not a Buddhist. He was a teacher. Buddhism is a product of post-Gautama.
Ah me... and ah you... Gautama, Jesus and Muhammed never experienced the comfort of the religions that were founded in their names, that grew into huge, tribal, power- wealth collecting, people-oppressing, people depressing, people suppressing self-justifying institutions. And pray tell, what is that comfort that all religion factories manufacture and sell to their customers? It is comfort for the fear of the unknown, the unseen, the presence in the dark. It is the comfort that there is an answer to the perceived futility of living and then dying. It is the comfort that there is life in death, life after death, life without death. That there is a "heaven."
And there is.
Not the boob-in-a-box, thoughtless faith, 40 virgins and a pair of wings heaven of religious corporate marketing. No, no. It is simply this:
Eventually, eventually, eventually you will come back. There will be people, beings, entities who will be able to restore your life just as it was and you will be aware that this has happened. You will be aware that you have been non-existent for all of the time until you were restored. You will be alive again.
What lives once lives forever.
Another fairytale? No, a simple mathematical fact. Bless you Stephen Hawking. All praise to Isaac Newton. Amen.
Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen and adolescents of all ages.
Now sing a hymn.
Better, make a hymn to yourself and sing it silently.