As You Like It: Religion For the Modern Man

Today I fist-pumped Agnus Dei.

Or rather, I fist-pumped a man in a lamb suit pretending to be the Lamb of God who must have been sweltering in the Florida sun.

Yes, having paid my $40 I was partaking in the joys of the Holy Land Experience, a bizarre mix of theme park and Church.  A beautiful land of fibre-glass re-creations of Biblical scenes, hymns piped from speakers hidden behind tropical shrubbery and 20-foot high tablets of the Ten Commandments, with stores everywhere selling stuffed Noah’s Arks and Florida pins.  Whatever Anglican lessons I learnt at school, the dollar was the denomination de jour.

As tour buses arrived throughout the day, disgorging tourist pilgrims wearing matching tee shirts proclaiming the greatness of both God’s Love and their local Church, I was a little shocked that this seemed to be a genuine pilgrimage for them.  Whilst waiting to take a photo of the Garden of Gethsemane behind two women wearing John 3:16, I heard one ask the other, “What is Gethsemane?” to which the other replied, “I think it’s the one after Eden.  Or maybe it’s the one the Mormons found?” As much as I hope that the second woman was making an elaborate joke about how the Mormons are Christians what Judas was to Christ, I somehow doubt it.

More jarring though, were the “shows” offered throughout the day.  The shows were a mix of pantomime, the Wiggles, proselytisation and prayer.  They involved extensive audience participation, lots of cheering and lots of Life Lessons for all.  My ears perked when one of the presenters (all of whom were authentically dressed in internet-bought gypsy costumes) noted that she had not always pleased God.  But my hopes of titillating or disturbing tales (see Genesis 19:32) were dashed when she asked the audience if she was right when she took a cookie from the jar when her mother had forbidden it.  Rapturously, they all started chanting “No”.  She said, they were right; eating a cookie is “not pleasing to God” and left it at that.  As happy as I was that she didn’t then start spruicking “Dieting with Jesus”, I feel that she neglected the whole “Honour thy Father and thy Mother” thing.

I should not judge.  No doubt that the pilgrims were far more directly involved in their faith than most people I’ve met in Australia.  Indeed, it was clear that this was religion of the people, in a way that I have not seen back home and that is I suppose laudable. Nonetheless, in some ways, I suppose this is the ultimate emblem of the victory of the “Right” in America.  Sure you can have the Separation of Church and State, but once you’ve winnowed down the State as far as possible, you conflate Church and Market.

Religion has always fascinated me.  I see it as a force for good and have always adored how it attempts to determine the ineffable wonder in our world despite our own limited comprehension.  Yet it seemed that grasping the almighty God was far less the target than was grasp the almighty dollar.  It seemed that what was key here was not the message or the betterment of man, but merely how best to evangelise, using all the gimmicks of society to our advantage.  To use that other great source of English phases, it appeared that the entire place, in prostituting out the meanings of Christianity to the market, reduced it to a story, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

This is not to say that it was a joyous environment.  It seems that everyone there genuinely loved it.  Indeed, even with atheistic superiority got some sustenance in some of the more unnecessary signage around the place.  My personal favourite being a sign underneath some wax sculptures which noted that the clothing worn by the sculptures was not indicative of the clothing that would actually have been worn during Jesus’ life.  I devoutly hope that the sign was put there only for the youngest children and not in some fear that adults may not realise that Jesus was not in fact covered in tinsel when he ascended to Heaven.  Although this feeling quickly dissipated when a group of tourists glowered at me for taking a selfie with a silly face in front of the life-sized Diorama of the Last Supper.   As they started muttering about “the wrong sort of person” I wanted to respond, noting that the all-white, mostly blond collection of men behind me were probably far enough away from the Truth that it didn’t matter much.  I turned the other cheek.

After this, as I went to leave, slightly bewildered by the whole environment, I saw the authentic fake Wailing Wall.  A sign invited the patrons to write down a prayer, which would then be taken to Jerusalem and the real Wailing Wall – two prayers for the price of one.  Inspired by the evident dedication shown to Biblical truth, I could think of nothing better to write than this:

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves”.

Amen.