Saturday, October 4, 2014

Black Jesus, White Atheist

Hi. I'm a white atheist and I'm here to talk about Black Jesus.

Let's clear up a few things first though. There's a lot of misconceptions about atheists, some of which are warranted by the behavior of some very vocal, very annoying atheists. I try not to be that way. I will give my opinion on the existence of God (or lack thereof) but I won't judge you for your own opinion on the subject. I don't think all religion is stupid. I don't think life is meaningless. As an atheist, I still see beauty in life even though I don't think there is any benevolent creator and we don't have an overall purpose. Some people look at me strangely when I tell them, and a lot of kids I have worked with see "atheist" as a bad word, but I don't feel persecuted for being an atheist. The only people in this country persecuted for their religious beliefs are Muslims (and possibly Sikhs, because Americans think they're Muslims).

I was raised Catholic and went through Confirmation, but I started doubting my faith a few years before that. I would mostly fall asleep in church, or pray to God to finally touch a girl's breasts, piously. When I got my driver's license and my mom let me go to church by myself, I would sleep in my car in the church's parking lot. Soon after that I stopped going, and believing, altogether.

If you're a very traditional, conservative Christian type, the show Black Jesus on Adult Swim (and probably this post) is not for you. If you're more open-minded about your religion, which requires having a sense of humor, the show is worth checking out. I won't get into criticism of whether or not its racist or disparaging; I don't think it's my place to call a piece of entertainment created by black people disparaging towards black people. Unless it's Lottery Ticket. I'm still convinced everyone that had anything to do with that film despises black people.

I'll skip that debate and jump right into another extremely sensitive subject: religion! After watching the first 7 episodes of Black Jesus, I can''t see how it's blasphemous or disrespectful in any way to Christianity. Then again, I'm an atheist, so maybe I'm not the one who should be deciding that.

Yet here we are.

The show starts off in Compton following a crew of guys including a tall man in a robe and sandals named Jesus. Nobody questions his authenticity as Christ, except Charlie Murphy, and there's no real explanation of what the heaven is going on. The show simply demands us to accept the reality that Jesus has returned as a black man in South Central LA in 2014. He has all the memories of Jesus from the Bible, he calls God "pops," and says things like "what the heaven."

There are many running jokes like that littered throughout the show. Many of the gags are just throwaway jokes, like calling the one girl in his crew Maggie and his best friend Fish, but many of the gags serve as major plot points. It really tries to be true to the character of the lord and savior Jesus Christ from the Bible, while placing him in an inner city in modern day America. So he rides around in his friends' hooptie and swears occasionally, but it's all interspersed within Christ-like maxims. When a cop is messing with his friend, he tells his friend to relax because the cop, "know not what the fuck he do, man."

He is a modern day, American messiah. He preaches constantly to everyone he interacts with, tells them how much he loves them, and, like a true religious leader, has no real job. The show is at its best when it illustrates what it would really be like to have a messiah for a friend. He is horrible with money because there is no inherent value and he thinks everything will always work out if they just believe strongly enough. The constant reminders to have faith in him and "pops" annoy his crew after a while and  they desert him. It's what real friends would probably do after a while, but it's also a reference to Peter turning his back on Jesus in the bible.

Things end up working out, though,of course, because Jesus remains pure and good. It helps that he really can perform miracles. He is the son of God. And he is God himself right? That's how the Holy Trinity thing works? 10 years of catechism and that shit never made sense.

Black Jesus can perform miracles, he just doesn't overdo it because, "pops will get mad." Wait, so Jesus is not God? Whatever.

He only uses his power when completely necessary, he doesn't simply grant wishes. When the neighborhood drunk Lloyd (the always awesome John Witherspoon) asks him for a winning lottery ticket, Jesus asks why he doesn't ask for peace on Earth or the end of world hunger instead of being so selfish.

This is the type of God I wish there was, and this is the type of savior that the bible actually describes. He accepts everybody for who they are but tells them they can always do better for themselves. He heals people trying to hurt him ("I love you by default!"). He loves everybody, and as a way to bond with others, he enjoys, "smokin, drinkin and chillin."  It makes sense; Jesus was all about drinking wine and eating with his homies. He may be omnipotent and have eternal life, but he's still human.

And his human feelings are hurt at one point when it becomes apparent that his friends are only hanging out for the drinking and smoking. The problem is they can't bear to be around his constant preaching because they don't see the point if he can't help them pay rent.

If Jesus was real and did come back, this is exactly how he would be treated.

"I know you're the son of God and all, but what can you do for me now Jesus?"

Overall, the show has a positive view of Jesus and faith. Everything works out for those who believe in him. He can perform miracles. He spreads love. However, the show is not afraid to question faith, either. Jesus's friend Boonie is always getting the shit end of every situation, and he lets everyone know how much it sucks to be Jesus's friend. Jesus gets all the praise and love but does no actual work. Everybody gives Jesus all the credit but Boonie and Fish and the rest of the crew are the ones doing all the work for him, like pushing his raggedy old van to the other side of the street to avoid parking tickets.

The show isn't always great, many of the plots fall into typical sitcom tropes, but the potential greatness of the show is apparent in the subtle condemnations of religious faith in its best scenes. The show illustrates a notion I came to terms with long ago, when I still had some faith: praying to God is cool and all, but when it comes down to it, you have to act in order to get what you want out of life. You can't expect Jesus to do the work for you. He's always got your back and he'll pick you up when you're feeling down, but he's not going to pick up that shovel and help you plant the vegetables for the community garden. You have to do that yourself. And Jesus will be there with a 40 and a blunt cheering you on and explaining how this is all for the betterment of mankind.

It's a heartwarming thought, and it makes for a great show.

I Love You All (I'm Like Jesus in a Sense)...Class Dismissed.

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