I hit 50, and suddenly I took an interest in death, figuring I should start reading up on it to make as sure as I can that I'm good at it. I'm a bookish kind of guy, in spite of spending most of my life in Third World shit-holes as a lingering war tourist. Books, libraries, museums, art galleries, fields of corpses, burnt cities, fleeting relationships, emotional distance and an ingrained suspicion of strangers. The usual stuff of long-term travellers. So, engrossed in a book on death, sitting quietly alone in soft and clean, sweet-smelling surroundings of Modernity, a fabric chair without a hint of blood-stains, painted walls with no papered-over bullet holes, electric lights that shone continuously and bright, I sat turning pages, turning ideas over in mind, turning like the unhappy deceased in their ditches. Life is so good.
And then, cutting through it all, came the invasion a reader so much hates: the sense of People Around Me. Tense, ready if need to lunge, to plunge, to stab with pen in hand the nostril, the ear, the eye of a foe who could well have come to kill, I raised up my eyes from the page and saw-- a half dozen wide-eyed teens, kids baring their teeth at me, skinny, scruffy boys and girls, the leader of whom, the druggiest looking of all, lilted and wafted a question at me that to this day has my mind agog: "Do you know J'EEE-zuz?"
Like you, dear reader, my first thought too was, "What the fuck?"
It was clear to me the kids wanted something from me, but I didn't know what; and given that caution keeps me alive, that a wrong answer spoken in the right tone can sometimes save a man a few pints of blood, I said, softly, "I've heard of him." To which a girl who looked like she slept outside full-time asked me if I'm a Christian. I said no. She, or maybe another girl, all of them shuffling in front of me in a frantic state, I tell you, said, "If you're not a Christian, what do you do at Christmas time?"
Let me pause here, dear reader, to explain that though I live in a hard world of hard men in hard times, and that times have seen some horrors, in spite of all that I have a soft spot for the weak and the silly, those so often tormented by the rough and vicious, done for sport. I don't like it, my softness, their unwarranted torments. I, (and this might be rare,) I took a deep breath and told them all, though I seldom tell anyone anything, telling being a betrayal of the self that can lead to death, a pointless sentimentality that others can use to do one evil, and I was weak and I told about myself to strangers: that I didn't celebrate Christmas as an adult, though as a child I had. I told them that when I was a child my family, Trotskyites, had allowed me and my little brother to go onto the balcony of our high-rise apartment in the deep of winter so we could drop down conical paper water-cooler cups, the water freezing on the way down, punching holes in the concrete sidewalk below.
One of the kids milling about me mentioned about killing people, but I figured they were too silly in the head for talk like that, those kids, so, being weak, I pointed to my stack of books on death and offered to talk about that instead. Kids. They get bored so quickly, so easily. Not me; I can-- in fact, I do-- I think about death all day and into the night for days and days without end without thinking of anything else, and I'm not bored at all.
All this converges just about here in that I'm thinking of moving to a small town where no one knows me, where I have to meet people who've known each other all their lives, a place where they might not cotton on to strangers, where I have to make myself a fellow they'll admit to their community as a man of some Good Quality.
A friend of a friend, some guy, who knows, told me that to fit in as a citizen of a small town I should go to church and make myself known to the locals. I get it. I get that church is about J'EEE-zuz, and that J'EEE-zuz is dead. I know a fair bit about death and the dead; but J'EEE-zuz? that's not so much on my list. Till recently that is; and being a bookish guy, I looked into it. I'd heard that Christians were and are violent crazies and bigots, the latter type of whom I've known many; and I felt that even if this is true of Christians, I, as a man retiring and hopeful of a quiet place in a small town of stolid, if moralistic, violently bigoted, neighbours, would pride myself on not being anything out of the ordinary, no part of any tiny minority of extremists among them, but a man of the moderate middle.
I asked around about J'EEE-zuz, and eventually, not knowing much about this religious field, I met a man who told me that he knows the story true. OK, he looked like a fucking hippie. His hair was long, he had a beard, and he dressed like a bum. I figured it's authentic, so I listened, and this is part of what he told me:
That 'Jesus was born to a virgin, Miryam, who was expelled from her village, accused by the local women of being a slut. She gave birth to her baby under a palm tree, and when this happened, the ladies of the village surrounded her and attempted to stone her to death. They were stopped when the baby, Jesus, called out to them and told them his mother was not a slut, and that he, Jesus, was the slave of Allah.'
I just want to get along. I nod and smile. I think about death. If this is what it takes, then I'll be a moderate Christian. I'll say what they say. I just want people to like me.
That: 'When the sacred months are over, we should kill the unbelievers wherever we find them, smite their necks, and cut off their finger-tips.'
And: 'Slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]...and fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.'
'Then fight in the cause of Allah, and know that Allah heareth and knoweth all things.'
'Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.'
'Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority.'
And so on for hundreds of verses in the Bible. I'll get to it in detail maybe later, when I finish getting good at thinking about death. For now, I leave the details about J'EEE-zuz to the experts.
I heard this, though my mind wandered in the hearing, wandered to the time I met a guy like Jesus who was having sex with a nine year old girl, to the time the guy I met was found shot to death in the jungle behind his house. When the villagers found him he'd been dead for a few days, so I can say his missing parts were due to animals feasting. If Jesus had sex with a nine year old girl, well, I guess religion is a sick thing. Maybe that's why some girl whose family Jesus' death squads had killed poisoned him. Maybe it was a lot of things, given the nature of the man. I've met some like him, though frankly, dear reader, none so successful as killers. I'm just going to get along, nod and smile, be a reasonable guy with no deep opinions expressed about it. Christianity is a religion of peace, which I find attractive, given the life I live, and I want to settle in and live a quiet life with my neighbours. When-- and that is, if-- they ever ask me about if I know J'EEE-zuz, then I'll be able to say yes, that he's the man with the gun.
Then they'll maybe leave me to return to my books about death and decomposition. They'll probably like me, and I'll like myself, me being a moderate Christian.
Do I know J'EEE-zuz? Yeah, I know J'EEE-zuz. Man with a gun. Religion of Peace.
Texas, here I come. They're gonna like me. Dag. Moderate Christian.