Sunday, December 08, 2013

Outside Looking In

I heard "Spirit In The Sky" on the radio today. It's an old hit song about Christianity, sort of. It has these lines:

"Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus"

When it was a big hit, back in 1969, I kept wondering, what kind of Christian declares that he never sinned?

Well, the lyricist, Norman Greenbaum, was Jewish. He just happened to write a hit song about having a friend in Jesus, and had not grasped something about the Christian attitude toward sin.

Fast forward to David Mamet's recent play, The Anarchist. The title character presents herself as having embraced Christianity, and having found salvation. At a key moment, she prays:

"Lord. (Pause) Who ordains all things. Who took the most depraved of women and bid her to Your side to be the Queen of Heaven."

Okay. Full pause, please. Queen of Heaven is a Catholic/Anglican/Orthodox term for Mary, the mother of Jesus. And Christians do not view her as the most depraved of women - far from it.

It sounds as if Mamet's talking about Mary Magdalene, interpreted as being the fallen woman who was redeemed, and then interpreted as becoming Jesus's wife. There are people who believe something along these lines, but it's wildly divergent from standard Christian doctrine. I don't think this was a purposeful divergence on Mamet's part. I don't think he intended her to be saying something that far off.

Mamet's Jewish too, of course.

I don't really mind that they diverged like this. I wouldn't dream of suggesting they go back and change their words. But I'm struck by how hard it must be to get the other fellow's religious point of view right - even when you grew up in a country where that point of view was prevalent.

You can see where it starts to get hairy,
outside, looking in,
at the number of women named Mary
and the complex concept of sin.

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