Monday, June 30, 2008

On Judas and the like

Somebody has decided, based on the set of answers I gave in an online quiz, that I have character affiliations with Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. I took this quiz on Facebook that purportedly reveals which biblical character you most closely resemble. The conclusion: apart from being left-brained I am also depraved. It told me I am like Judas, and the caption runs: traitor to Jesus. I never gave it a second thought; until I saw a note on my Facebook home page that such-and-such friend of mine is like Solomon. Wow, so in my case too the breaking news must have been flashed on the home page of all my contacts. Well, this might have caused many to gloat, "we always knew, it was coming to that" but some others must be just scandalized. Some kind friends may have avoided talking to me about it to allow me to save face. I went to my profile page and this is the picture I find there . Not very pretty, huh? Even if you consider it a joke. Anyway, this character analysis was based on a set of about six questions, one of them being, what kind of music do you like? Now does, say, being a rock and roll fan make me Judas? Did rock and roll music make Judas Judas? I am reminded of a Cliff Richards song. (The excerpts from the lyrics are given at the end.) The questionnaire never questioned my use of money or concern for the poor. Neither does it judge how easy it is for me to fall for few pieces of silver. It asked me my hobbies instead! I wonder how easy it is for people to be judgemental. How easy it is to apply formulas to complex human personalities. And how easy it is for people to fall for these.

Moving away from this inane quiz designed by some fanatic daft let me turn to Judas Iscariot. For every serious and thoughtful student of Bible Judas is a mystery. Recently, in the light of ongoing revisionist project in biblical scholarship (or what passed as scholarship), some experts offered a completely new picture of Judas. The story was run on National Geographic and the viewership was second to the 9/11 coverage. It was about Judas, the dedicated disciple, the most loyal disciple. The disciple who had too carry out the most arduous task. And this Judas was Jesus' closest companion. The story, however, was almost discredited. Read this article for more details.

The possibility of a different Judas has always fascinated human mind. Nikos Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ (1951) has a very interesting viewpoint regarding Judas. Here Judas resembles the Judas of Gospel of Judas, though it is not based on it. In the film version Judas is a nationalist, a zealot who wants to free his country from the clutches of the imperial Rome. He is the one who is sensitive to some special vocation of the carpenter Jesus. He expects Jesus to carry out his messianic duty and deliver Israel. He is upright, and violent, and also caring towards. He persuades Jesus to start a revolution and also warns him that he will kill him if he betrays the revolution. Harvey Keitel has portrayed a wonderful Judas in the film version. In the picture above he is on the right.

The classic question is what could Judas do? It was prophesied that Christ would be betrayed by one of his own. After this clear divine fiat how could a mere mortal challenge it? And by challenging wouldn't he be obstructing the way of salvation for mankind? Let me not step on the territory of theologians and carry on with my impressions of Judas.

Judas and Judas-like characters are fascinating. Japanese writer Shusaku Endo relentlessly pursues the question of silence of God in his modern classic Silence (1967). The story is as much about the search of Sebastian Rodrigues for his former teacher who has now apostatized as it is about the many failings of Japanese convert Kichijiro. Kichijiro is modeled on Judas. Like Judas he rats on the priest for 300 silver coins. In the novel he has lost his family because they refused to apostatize; he alone agrees to do that by stepping on the image of Christ, the fumie. But he keeps coming back to the priest even in his confinement and keeps asking for forgiveness. And then keeps on betraying. The dilemma of Kichijiro is why should God make weak people and then expect heroic things from them. But even as an apostate he remains most constant companion to the priest, who later abandons the faith himself. Endo's writes to examine whether the betraryers and the traitors, the apostates and the "backsliders" are able to capture and experience some attribute of God that never becomes real for those "holier-than-thous" who never had to make difficult choices in their lives. Sebastian Rodrigues had to give up that triumphant, and hence lopsided, version of Christianity. Godliness is not an imperial creed. Devotion is not a all about singing victory songs. Believing in God is not about knocking the opposition off but sometimes laying down the most prized-possession you have, even your creeds.

Now here is that Cliff Richards song I mentioned above. Great lyrics and some neat ideas to think about.

I want the people to know
That He saved my soul
But I still like to listen to the radio
They say that rock and roll is wrong, we'll give you more chance
I say I feel so good I gotta get up and dance
I feel good every day
'Cause Jesus is the Rock and He rolled my blues away
Well now they say to cut my hair
They're driving me insane
I grew it out long to make room for my brain
But sometimes people don't understand
What's a good boy doing in a rock and roll band
And I feel good every day I refuse to lose it
All I wanna I know from all of you is
Why should the devil have all the good music


mohit mittal said...

its nice to read u after a long time.

mayuri said...

Hi Ashish,

I cannot agree more on how every 'formula' is an utter failure to 'define' a person. As a student of Psychology, I have studied many theories on counselling but as a professional, I have learnt that there is no "standard" principle that 'works on everyone'. Love and Compassion are the languages that speak the loudest.

Ashish said...

You said it, Mayuri! Love and compassion ...