Holy Orlando—Jesus In America Is A Modern Invention

by Glenn R. Geist

Do we create our own reality? I hear it said all the time. But although recreational fantasy may be common and benign and fun, I don’t see it as anything more than recreation itself. Reality doesn’t pay much attention to what you think it is after all.

You can buy a Yankees cap and pretend you’re Mickey Mantle or you can go to Disneyland to pretend you’re Mickey Mouse but everyone knows you’re not. Of course when it comes to religious belief, it’s certainly true.

We create and defend our own reality based on the past we created to support it. It’s called mythology when it’s not your religion, holy scripture when it is.

The things a “belief system” concerns itself with can’t be seen although many claim to have visions. We have to take the seers word for it as faith leapers will do, but the power of confirmation bias dominates here, as most of us are unlikely to see Marduk in a rust stain or a piece of burnt toast and you’re not going to listen to my dream about Amun Ra with credulity. The beard in the bedsheet?  He can only be Jesus.

What did Jesus look like? We seem to have a cultural consensus as to his appearance that is largely informed by medieval European artists who in some cases used their own faces or at least a face from Europe. A lot of holy images we see today look an awful lot like Albrecht Dürer for instance, and the claim has been made that the Shroud of Turin’s face is actually Leonardo’s.

Be that as it may, we’re culturally imprinted with belief like a duckling to its mother and the Jesus we imagine is a cultural artifact of Europe rather than of Roman Judea. So when I looked at the National Geographic photo essay about a man named Job who works at an Orlando theme park called the Holy Land Experience, I made the same inward groan I always make when seeing the blond man with shoulder length hair and trimmed beard and a wireless headset.

There is nothing I know of to indicate that Jesus dressed like an Arabian nomad or had long hair – or a beard for that matter. Is it likely that he had slightly wavy dishwater blonde hair? We have no descriptions from anyone who might have seen him. Yet here he is in Orlando; dressed as the Prince of Denmark in a white sheet and cheap Talit. It’s described, by the way, as the embroidered shawl of the high priest: again unlikely given Jesus’ antipathy to the Roman office but of course it’s a simple Talit like those that many Jews like me own. I’m not the high priest of anything.

Jesus in America is as much a modern invention as the theme park itself; a place where people in shorts and T-shirts go to imagine themselves in what they want to imagine first century Judea looked like. The Holy Land Experience: can I call it a styrofoam and chicken wire apotheosis or would it be kinder to call it just another passion play?

It’s not a Church or place where one goes to contemplate the meaning of life; where one goes to Commune with a deity, meditate about the meaning of existence or the meaning of texts and traditions, but rather to make a melange, a farrago, a patchwork quilt of fantasy seem to have been real. It’s not a place to study 1st century history. It’s not much different than the other Theme Parks where you defend false history; where you ride plaster dinosaurs or visit a neolithic boat of medieval design and pretend the Hebrew version of the Assyrian version of the Sumerian version of the flood myth is real. It’s not. It’s fabricated evidence of a fabricated past.

Is there a Jesus, human or divine who might look at what we have built and not weep?

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Posted by on January 7, 2019. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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2 Responses to Holy Orlando—Jesus In America Is A Modern Invention

  1. Michael John Scott Reply

    January 7, 2019 at 10:23 am

    I cannot abide Bill Maher, but I did see his 2008 special, Religulous, and it was a riot. It also included the Orlando Jesus. When interviewing him Maher could hardly contain his laughter.

  2. Glenn R. Geist Reply

    January 7, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    I think it was Madalyn Murray O’Hair who said “one man’s religion is another man’s belly laugh.” Sometime’s it’s true, I guess.

    But I’m not poking fun at Christianity or people who find hope in it – at least not here. Only at the way we openly adjust the alleged historical basis to conform to our modern wishes. I’ve seen Jesus depicted as looking like a Rastafarian too. It’s not just a habit of Europeans Either. It’s a habit of human beings to create our gods and our heroes in our own image.

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