A week or so ago I finished the heretical genius that is Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. Saramago’s unique style of writing and wonderful narration meant that it instantly stood out from many of the other books I have read. It is unsurprising that the book attracted great controversy, with its alternative portrayal of Jesus’ life it was never going to be a church favourite.
As the book progresses the reader begins to see not the loving, kind and caring God that is so often presented and portrayed, but a God who is arrogant, selfish and egotistical. The word of God, the acts of God, and every human invention that we have attributed to him have in fact been incorrect. The message that Saramago tells us is that if God were to exist, and he doesn’t, but if he were, then he would not be the God that we think of today.
Saramago does not focus on the issue of God himself, whether he exists or whether he does not, but instead looks at the portrayal of God. Fictional or not, Saramago believes that humans have been deceived into seeing God a certain way. The creation of God by humans was an all-knowing, all-powerful, kind and caring being, creator of everything and watcher of all, but through the life of Jesus in his novel, Saramago clearly shows that for thousands of years the God we have invented is a lie. God, in actual fact, is a deceiver, and though he wants us all to follow him and worship him, it is not for our gain or for our saviour, but more for God’s own ego and pride.The sacrifice, the pain and the suffering is not to prove worth to God, it is not to show faith, but it is simply to fulfil the desires of God. Everyone is one of God’s pawns, meaningless and replaceable.
As well as this misinterpretation of God, humans have also misinterpreted the Devil. He is not the opposite of God, he is not the enemy and arch-rival, but is in fact working with God to deliver what God desires. Without the Devil, all the cruelty and evil that humans see in the world, there could be no God, all the light and goodness. The Devil holds the burden of all the events that humans do not wish to attribute to God, God takes responsibility for all the positive aspects of life, and so the two are juxtaposed against one another. The Devil appearing even more evil and malicious, and God appearing even more kind and loving.
Though the meanings of songs tend to be subjective, with fans being able to read into the lyrics what they will, a song by the appropriately named Metal band Lamb of God includes the lyrics “This god that I worship, This demon I blame, Conspire as one, exactly the same, It’s exactly the same”. Whether the band meant these lyrics to be used in this context, I am unsure, but it perfectly reflects the reality of Saramago’s Devil and God.
As God, Jesus and the Devil are talking, Jesus asks what the future entails. How much death and suffering must come about in order for God to be satisfied? In order for his ego to be sufficiently stroked? God replies by saying that in order to achieve the glory which he wants there will have to be tremendous pain and suffering. Humans will not benefit at all from any of it, their sacrifice will almost be completely in vain, were it not for God being able to brag about how many lives he has harnessed and extinguished. To quote from The Gospel According to Jesus Christ “… the assembly I mentioned will be founded, but in order to be truly solid, its foundations will be dug out in flesh, and the bases made from the cement of abnegation, tears, suffering, torment, every conceivable form of death known or as yet un-revealed”.
As God is all knowing, seeing both the past and future, he goes on to tell Jesus just some of the names of those who will be sacrificed in the coming years. Sacrificed simply in order to massage the ego of God. Responding to Jesus, God states, “Let’s start with someone whom you know and love, the fisherman Simon, whom you will call Peter, like you, he will be crucified, but upside down, Andrew, too, will be crucified on a cross in the shape of an X, the son of Zebedee, known as James, will be beheaded, And what about John and Mary Magdalene, They will die of natural causes when their time comes, but you will make other friends, disciples and apostles like the others, who will not escape torture, friend such as Philip who will be tied to a cross and stoned to death, Bartholomew who will be skinned alive, Thomas who will be speared to death, Matthew, the details of whose death I no longer remember, another Simon who will be sawn in half, Judas who will be beaten to death, James stoned, Matthias beheaded with an axe, also Judas Iscariot, but as you will know better than me, spared death but strung from a fig tree by his own hands”. God says that all these people will die for his sake, and following these deaths “there will be an endless tale of iron and blood, of fire and ashes, an infinite sea of sorrow and tears”.
God then listed just a few of those who will suffer;
“Adalbert of Prague, put to death with a pikestaff with seven points, Adrian, hammered to death over an anvil, Afra of Augsburg, burnt at the stake, Agapitus of Praeneste, burnt at the stake hanging by his feet, Agnes of Rome, disembowelled, Agricola of Bologna, crucified and impaled on nails, Agueda of Sicily, stabbed six times, Alphege of Canterbury, beaten to death with the shinbone of an ox, Anastasia of Sirmium, burnt at the stake and her breasts cut off, Anastasius of Salona, strung up on the gallows and decapitated, Ansanus of Siena, his entrails ripped out, Antonius of Pamiers, drawn and quartered, Antony of Rivoli, stoned and burnt alive, Apollinaris of Ravenna, clubbed to death, Apollonia of Alexandria, burnt at the stake after her teeth have been knocked out, Augusta of Treviso, decapitated and burnt at the stake, Aurea of Ostia, drowned with a millstone round her neck, Aurea of Syria, bled to death by being forced on a chair covered with nails, Auta, shot with arrows, Babylas of Antioch, decapitated, Barbara of Nicomedia, likewise, Barnabas of Cyprus, stoned and burnt at the stake, Beatrice of Rome, strangled, Benignus of Dijon, speared to death, Blandina of Lyons, gored by a savage bull, Blaise of Sebasta, thrown on to iron spikes, Callistus, put to death with a millstone round his neck, Cassian of Imola, stabbed with a dagger by his disciples, Castulus, burned alive, Catherine of Alexandria, decapitated, Cecilia of Rome, beheaded, Christina of Bolsena, tortured again and again with millstones, tongs, arrows and snakes, Clarus of Nastes, decapitated, Clarus of Vienne, likewise, Clement, drowned with an anchor fixed round his neck, Crispin and Crispinian of Soissons, both decapitated, Cucuphas of Barcelona, disembowelled, Cyprian of Carthage, beheaded, young Cyricus of Tarsus, killed by a judge who knocked his head against the stairs of the tribunal…”
God stopped here but Jesus insisted that God continue. Who else had to die? Who else would lose their life for no reason other than Gods vanity? So God continued.
“Donatus of Arezzo, decapitated, Eliphius of Rampillon, scalped, Emerita, burnt alive, Emilian of Trevi, decapitated, Emmeramus of Saragossa, decapitated, Erasmus of Gaeta, also called Elmo, stretched on a windlass, Escubiculus, beheaded, Eskil of Sweden, stoned to death, Eulalia of Merida, decapitated, Euphemia of Chalcedon, put to the sword, Eutropius of Saintes, beheaded with an axe, Fabian, stabbed and spiked, Faith of Agen, beheaded, Felicity and her seven sons, beheaded with a sword, Felix and his brother Adauctus, likewise, Ferreolus of Besancon, decapitated, Fidelis of Sigmaringen, beaten to death with a spiked club, Firminus of Pamplona, beheaded, Flavia Domitilla, likewise, Fortunas of Evora, probably met the same fate, Fructoasus of Tarragon, burnt at the stake, Gaudentius of France, decapitated, Gelasius, likewise with more iron spikes, Gengolf of Burgundy, cuckolded and assassinated by his wife’s lover, Gerard Sagreda of Budapest, speared to death, Gerean of Cologne, decapitated, the twins Gervase and Protase, likewise, Godleva and Ghistelles, strangled, Gratus of Aosta, decapitated, Hermenegild, clubbed to death, Hero, stabbed with a sword, Hippolytus, dragged to his death by a horse, Ignatius of Azevedo, murdered by the Calvinists who are not Catholics, Januarius of Naples, decapitated after being thrown to wild beasts and then thrown into a furnace, Joan of Arc, burnt at the stake, John de Britto, beheaded, John Fisher, decapitated, John of Nepomuk, drowned in the river Vltava, John of Prado, stabbed in the head, Julia of Corsica, whose breasts were cut off before she was crucified, Juliana of Nicomedia, decapitated, Justa and Ruffina of Seville, the former killed on the wheel, the latter strangled, Justina of Antioch, thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar and then beheaded, Justus and Pastor… decapitated, Kilian of Wurzburg, decapitated, Lawrence, burnt on a grid, Leger of Autun, also decapitated after his eyes and tongue had been torn out, Leocadia of Toledo, thrown to her death from a high cliff, Livinus of Ghent, decapitated after his tongue had been torn out, Longinus, decapitated, Ludmilla of Prague, strangled, Lucy of Syracuse, beheaded after having her eyes plucked out, Maginus of Tarragon, decapitated with a serrated scythe, Mamas of Cappodocia, disembowelled, Manuel, Sabel and Ismael, Manuel put to death with an iron nail embedded in each nipple and iron rod driven through his head from ear to ear, all three of them beheaded, Margaret of Antioch, killed with a firebrand and an iron comb, Maria Goretti, strangled, Marius of Persia, put to the sword and his hands amputated, Martina of Rome, decapitated, the martyrs of Morocco, Berard of Carbio, Peter of Gimigano, Otto, Adjuto and Accursio, beheaded, those of Japan, all twenty-six crucified, speared and burnt alive, Maurice of Agaune, put to the sword, Meinrad of Einsieldeln, clubbed to death, Menas of Alexandria, also put to the sword, Mercurius of Cappadocia, decapitated, Nicasius of Rheims, likewise, Odilia of Huy, shot with arrows, Paneras, beheaded, Pantaleon of Nicomedia, likewise, Paphnutius, crucified, Patroclus of your first church, likewise, Pelagius, drawn and quartered, Peter of Rates, killed with a sword, Peter of Verona, his head slashed with a cutlass and a dagger driven into his chest, Perpetua and her slave Felicity of Carthage, both gored by a raging bull, Philomena, shot with arros and anchored, Piaton of Tournali, scalped, Polycarp, stabbed and burnt alive, Prisca of Rome, devoured by lions, Processus and Martinian probably met the same fate, Quintinus, nails driven into his head and other parts of his body, Quirinus of Rouen, scalped, Quiteria of Coimbra, decapitated by her own father, Reine of Alise, put to the sword, Renaud of Dortmund, bludgeoned to death with a mason’s mallet, Restituta of Naples, burnt at the stake, Roland, put to the sword, Romanus of Antioch, strangled to death after his tongue had been torn out…”
And still God’s thirst for blood was not quenched. He still demanded more.
“Sabinian of Sens, beheaded, Sabinus of Assisi, stoned to death, Saturninus of Toulouse, dragged to death by a bull, Sebastian, pierced by arrows, Secundus of Asti, decapitated, Servatius of Tongres and Maatricht, killed by a blow to the head with a wooden clog, Severus of Barcelona, killed by having nails embedded in his head, Sidwell of Exeter, decapitated, Sigismund, King of Burgundy, thrown into a well, Stephen, stoned to death, Sixtus, decapitated, Symphorian of Autun, likewise, Taresius, stoned to death, Thecla of Iconium, mutilated and burnt alive, Theodore, burnt at the stake, Thomas Becket of Canterbury, a sword driven into his skull, Thomas More, beheaded, Thyrsus, sawn in half, Tiburtius, beheaded, Tomothy of Ephesus, stoned to death, Torquatus and the Twenty-Seven, killed by General Muca at the gates of Guimaraes, Tropez of Pisa, decapitated, Urbanus, Valeria, of Limoges, and Valerian and Vanantius of Camerino met the same fate, Victor, decapitated, Victor of Marseilles, beheaded, Victoria of Rome, put to death after having her tongue pulled out, Vincent of Saragossa, tortured to death with millstone, grid and spikes, Virgilius of Trent, beaten to death with a wooden clog, Vitalis of Ravenna, put to the sword, Wilgefortis, or Livrade, or Eutropia, the bearded virgin, crucified”
As well as this extensive list God reminds Jesus that there are others who’s lives must be taken and who’s blood must be spilled. Those who died of natural causes but faced all the torments of the world, those who tortured themselves by fasting or by flagellation, those who supress desires, those who withdraw from life and lead a solitary existence. The Devil reminds Jesus that there are two ways to lose your life, “either through martyrdom or by renunciation”. As well as this God spoke of the massacres, and the wars, the bloodshed, slaughters and the Crusades, all set to take place in Gods name. More sacrifice and more bloodshed because it is Gods will.
Upon realising what the true nature of God was, Jesus uttered “I am the shepherd who with the same crook leads to sacrifice both the innocent and the guilty”. The realisation for Jesus was that he was a pawn in Gods game, just as all humans were.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus, who I have spoken about briefly before, wrote these thoughts about religion;
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
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