When I was a teenager in Arizona, for years I routinely drove on a road studded along either side with large, stately boulders and rock outcroppings.
One day I noticed that someone had spray-painted “Jesus Saves” in giant white letters on one of the larger boulders right next to the roadway.
Raised Catholic but never particularly devout (or well-versed in scripture), I knew the phrase, although I understood it was more linked to Christian Protestantism than Catholicism. But I didn’t really fully understand what it meant: Saved from what exactly?
I imagined it meant saved from sin, which Catholics and Protestants alike presumably try valiantly to avoid (less so if they also believe they are unlikely to get caught). Yet, in fact, Jesus supposedly can save us from eternal suffering in the fires of hell for sinning.
Nonetheless, good Christians portray the saying as a hopefully positive thing, conveniently downplaying the reality that human beings are, as the Bible ironically tells us, “born sinners,” and doomed to perdition without redemption. How that’s possible before one is able to tell right from wrong and willfully transgress the divide, I don’t know. But they say it is.
Today, however, as an unrepentant “nontheist” (which sounds less harsh and judgmental than “atheist”), I’m still waiting for some compelling proof that a guy named Jesus, who was both God and man, I’m told, even existed at all much less embodied such miraculously conjoined traits simultaneously — much less, further, that a God or various divine gods ever existed whatsoever in reality.
So, for all intents and purposes, God seems to be nothing but a perpetually unverified human invention. Jesus himself is an assumed being, as well, only very thinly hinted at in the historical record, but for whom people over long millennia have ascribed supernatural — even absolute — power over the cosmos and everything in it.
An interesting, captivating idea, to be sure, but nowhere near as materially substantiable as, say, gravity, or the cause of the Black Death.
If you’re a nonbeliever then, it’s an occupational hazard to occasionally find some perverse amusement in satirizing religious symbols, like Jesus. I do myself from time to time — if it’s not mean-spirited and gratuitously disrespectful of believers. Some of my best friends are believers, after all, and generously forgive my transgressions (I believe).
In that spirit (so to speak), I offer this embedded cartoon, which I’ll admit made me chuckle. It partly speaks to the reality that Christianity in America has long evolved and adjusted to cultural shifts in the populace, and to technological innovations (check out the eye-popping and ear-pleasing technological offerings of so-called “mega churches.”).
This embedded spoof here is a play on the evolving meanings of “save” in American culture — from “preclude from hell” to “permanently copy in a computer’s memory” (PDF and JPG are two common computer file formats that can be virtually copied — i.e., “saved,” in computer talk).
In a sense, I suppose, “save” in the Christian sense could be viewed as reproducing (copying) your living, breathing body after death to be bodily reunited with Jesus in proverbial Heaven (as the Bible promises).
On the other hand, what about people who are doomed to go, uh, “south” when they die? Presumably they will need to be “saved” bodily if not soulfully, and preserved in some indestructible form, for their journeys to the nether regions. How else would they suffer eternal hellfire after they arrived. I mean, I can’t imagine that disembodied ideas suffer.
So many questions.
A postscript: Sometime after “Jesus Saves” appeared on that boulder in my Arizona town, someone added a subhead: Green Stamps.