I have this memory, from a few years ago, of sitting around in a friend’s apartment and listening to random music and eating great food. (Said friend was Danish, you see, and dang but do Scandinavians know how to cook.) At some point the soundtrack for Jesus Christ Superstar came on. Specifically, ‘Everything’s Alright’, the scene where Mary Magdalene goes to bathe Jesus’ feet and was his hair with her expensive oils. The song is quite moving, I suppose, but I suddenly realised I loathed it.
In the song, Judas Iscariot rises and condemns Magdalene and Jesus for using the ‘fine ointment / brand new and expensive’ instead. Instead he advocates selling the stuff and using the ‘three hundred… or more’ pieces of silver they could have acquired to assistant the poor and starving in Roman-occupied Judea. Jesus’ condescending response is that there will always be poor folk, ‘pathetically struggling’ and that it’s better to appreciate the ‘fine things’ that one already has. Meanwhile in the background, Magdalene and the chorus (the wives of the apostles) chant:
Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s alright, yes.
Close your eyes, close your eyes, and relax
What a hideous piece of music. Of course Jesus advocates that one should appreciate what one has. He is the one getting his feet massaged with oils! He is the leader of the motley crew, with all the power and authority. And, of course, he is the all-powerful Son of God, one third of the Trinity, with the power to overturn all the earth and make it into a paradise. His sneering contempt for the helpless poverty of the people he was sent to save sends paroxysms of anger and hatred down my spine.
Helpless only because he refuses to help them! There will always be poor of the world because the Almighty refuses to do anything to stop it. When one of his closest companions offers to help relieve some of the poor of their cruel lot, he refuses- why help anyone at all, when there are others? Why indeed, especially when one can spent such exorbitant wealth on oneself. Gah.
This is without even addressing the myopic bleating of the chorus lines. Close your eyes and relax! Pay no heed to those who are desperately trying to wake you up from your heartless selfishness. Everything’s all right. Just relax.
It perfectly encapsulates my issues with religious thinking.
Of course, Superstar isn’t exactly an accurate depiction of the New Testament. Yet even a straightforward reading of the texts of Jesus reveals him to be anything other than a powerful figure for social change. Rather than advocating the freedom of his people from Roman rule, he said to render unto Caesar what was his. Rather than compelling his followers to improve their lives and those of their neighbours in the here and now, he declared that he was a sword to set brother against brother.
What a lovely chap. I much prefer Judas.