Jose Saramago, in his novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, is purposely misrepresenting the story of Jesus Christ, to teach us about the violence and danger inherent in religion. His message that religion is inherently a force for evil, is discerned through careful analysis in one of the last scenes of the novel. ?The scene begins when Jesus meets God face to face for the first time in the novel. He finds God to be “a big man, elderly, a great flowing beard over His chest, head uncovered, hair hanging loose, with a broad and powerful face”.(Saramago, 609 iBooks) The astonishing part about this scene is that God and Satan look identical apart from the beard. This suggests that the distinction between God (religion) as a force for good and the Devil ( a force for evil) is negligible.
Then, Jesus receives prophecy about the coming of Christianity. With that prophecy comes the history of death and destruction that accompanied it. He saw the coming of the crusades, the “necessary evil’ of the inquisition, and the endless bloodshed.
(Saramago, 656) In vivid imagery God describes to him the bloodshed that is to come in particular “corpses will blot out the sun, human flesh will sizzle over live coals, the stench will be nauseating.” (Saramago, 658) Jesus astonished and somber responds, “And all this is my fault.” God replies “You are not to blame, your cause demands it”.
(Saramago, 658)Jesus upon hearing this prophecy, comes to the understanding that inherent in religion is violence. In an effort to thwart God’s plan for the creation of a religion, centered around him that will cause violence, he does all that is in his power to stop it. To further this end goal he performs many of the stories told about him in the gospel. He even engineers his own death only to realize that all of his actions were precisely what God had intended. As blood is dripping out of him, his last words from the cross, in referring to God, are “Men, forgive Him, for He knows not what He has done.” (Saramago, 751) From his reinterpretation of the Gospel, we see Santiago’s interpretation of the direct correlation inherent between religion and the violence it will inevitably lead to. I agree with his assessment because of the myriad of wars and atrocities perpetrated by man in the name of God. Namely, the myriad of persecutions in Christianity, the martyrdom in Islam, and the attachment to land in Judaism with little concern over the people who are already living there.
As it says in the Bible “When the LORD your God brings you into the land, an inheritance, you shall leave alive nothing that breathes”. (Deuteronomy 20:16) All three of the main religions of the world believe that their respective truth is not only absolutely true, but is absolutely true for everyone. God himself has come down from his place in heaven in order to tell us that what he’s saying is truth, and that it is his desire for everyone to accept it. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them… teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you”. (Matthew 28:19) Abraham, Muhammad, and Jesus were all missionaries, spreading the word of the lord to the ignorant and amassing a contingency of believers. The question that inevitably arises is what to do with the people who refuse to accept it. To that end, the answer seems to be violence. “Fight against those who do not obey Allah .
.. until they pay the Jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.”( Koran 9:29 ) All three of the main religions, have resorted in mass violence against one another, and within the diverging sects that developed in each religion. This trend continues to this day. This is not purely coincidence, but rather is a flaw in the design of religion that Santiago brilliantly points out through a parody of the gospel.
In religion, the truth that God revealed to man is of the utmost importance. It is in fact the most important truth of all. (Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides) Therefore denying that truth or asserting other truths, both for believers and nonbelievers, is an extraordinary dangerous endeavor. It is thus easy to conclude that violence or other extreme undertakings are the logical progression to ensure that neither you nor your children are steered away from the Lord and his most important truths. Violence in the name of religion continues to persist.
The message of Santiago is to recognize the contradiction inherent in all our beliefs. Once we recognize this contradiction, we can work to see the goodness in others beliefs. I pray that “He who makes peace in high places” will help us recognize the contradiction inherent in religious intolerance and then “he shall make peace upon us…” And then we may all recite Amen.
(Siddur Kol Ya’kov, 78)