In Which Ursula Speculates On Religion and The Noble Tomato

This post is about religion. Everybody tired of it, or easily offended, may wish to bail now. If you’ve already decided that I’m going to be bashing Christians, DEFINITELY bail now, because you’re probably not going to get my point, which is somewhat subtle, but I think worth making–or at least worth bringing up. It’s okay. You’re not missing much. There’s no cool art hiding at the bottom of the post. I’ll post about defective squirrels later, I promise.

This will offend some people. I will not apologize for that, so if you’re easily offended, and wish to stay cordial, I’d wait for the squirrels.

Still with me? Excellent!

A lot of times, when people start grumbling about Christianity,* a point is made by–generally Christians, or their apologists, or well-meaning people who want us all to get along. The point boils down to something along the lines of “Your quarrel’s not with Christianity, it’s with some bad Christians.” And the conversation goes around for a bit, then the first party apologizes for having been mad and generalized, or somebody does it for them, and everybody pats each other on the back, if they’re that type, or else the wound festers and people glare at each other grumpily from across the vast internet divide.

I say, to hell with this. I reject the premise.

See, I have very little quarrel with Christians. Oh, sure, there’s a few in government I detest, but for the most part, I don’t even mind the ones who come to my door and try to save me–they mean well, they’re generally friendly, and on at least one occasion, I have brought out a glass of water for some poor bastard who was trying to proselytize in summer in Arizona, which requires dedication and leads to heat stroke. I know there’s some Christians reading this–probably with gritted teeth right now, sorry, guys–and they are generally lovely people. Allow me to repeat, I have no quarrel with Christians.

But I really dislike Christianity. In and of itself. Not because of what some annoying Christians do, but because I dislike the religion. On aesthetic grounds. Yes, that’s right. Aesthetic. I don’t care if Christians went on Crusades and killed the infidel or were fed to lions for being infidels–that’s lovely, whatever, don’t care. Ancient history these days. I dislike Christianity, not for its history, or its affect on the world or for the people showing up with pamphlets or the modern politics, because none of that particularly reflect on Christianity itself. I dislike the religion.

I also dislike tomatoes. Hated ’em since I was a small child.

I’ll tell you why. It’s like NASCAR. It’s unrelenting tedium broken by the occasional hideous bloodbath and giving rise to uncounted boxes of tacky merchandising. It swiped the good bits of imagery–angels and devils, war in heaven, etc–from Zoroastrianism, lock, stock and barrel. Ahura Mazda did it better. And the Bible! Uf, da! The Old Testament is boring where it isn’t vile. There are moments, sure but a good chapter does not redeem a lousy book, and this is a long, tedious, torturous geneaological saga. If I want that, I’ll read James Michener.**

Raw tomatoes, meanwhile, have this vile squishy-particulate texture, like a mouthful of dripping, rotted sandpaper. Can’t abide ’em. It’s like eating a half-decayed pear. That tastes like tomatoes.

And then there’s the New Testament.

Look, I couldn’t sit through Piers Anthony telling the same story four times in a row, and he was at least internally consistent. Why God has such a weird hate on for pigs and fig trees is anybody’s guess. Resurrection is unremarkable in the annals of mythology–Adonis, Atys, Osiris, Balder, Odin, Dionysus, and a coupla Mayan heroes all did it, and Odin, Osiris, and the Mayans did it with way more style. Golgotha’s nicely gothic, but give me the House of Stone Jaguars and Great Hollow With Fish In The Ashes. Letters, meh. Revelations? Tour de force. Kudos on that bit. All those critters covered in eyes, well done. Re-enact THAT at the Christmas pageant, and I’ll be in the front row.

Cherry tomatoes are just disgusting. It’s like a tiny, bursting mouthful of squish-seeded ickiness. I would sooner pull a bug off the vine and eat it than a cherry tomato. The bug would be a lot smaller, and I’m told they taste mostly like squishy peanuts.

I find the general Christian mythos sterile and tedious. Hell is the most entertaining bit, and again, that wasn’t an original invention, and most of its charm is to the credit of Dante rather than Christianity (and we already established that it wasn’t about the Christians.) Satan’s the most interesting one of the bunch, he gets pride and pathos and angst, but since he was an invention of the Persians, we can’t even assign full credit there, and he doesn’t even get to be more than a one-dimensional bad guy until Paradise Lost, which is a point for Milton, not the religion. Notion of sin largely irks me, humdrum morality full of anachronisms and lacking nuance, deathbed conversions, puhleaze. Jesus is pretty boring. At least Hunahapu got to play ball, and Odin had pet ravens–and Dionysus got crazy drunken maenads tearing leopards apart with their bare hands. A bunch of unemployed fishermen does not even begin to compare in terms of imagery, so far as I’m concerned.

And stewed tomatoes. God. It’s like a small skinned boneless animal. In juice. HATE stewed tomatoes.

Partial credit is given for being responsible for almost all our good non-biological obscenities. “Oh, hell,” “damnit,” and “JESUS CHRIST!” are definitely worthy editions to the lexicon, and we grant Christianity a small aesthetic victory in having supplied some of the most generally useful terms in the vocabulary of people who have just stubbed a toe. Stained glass, BIG aesthetic victory, but we’re getting into the inventions of Christians rather than of Christianity as a whole, and Tiffany refined the art much farther with florals. Deeply impressed by illuminated manuscripts, but I would be just as impressed if they were illuminating the Bhagavad Gita, and they would have lots more arms to illuminate. And granted two varieties of infinite compassion, the one with the elephant head and the riding rat wins for me every time.

Likewise, pizza sauce in some small way redeems the tomato, and ketchup is an unmitigated virtue of which I shall speak no ill.

Now, then. Despite that outpouring of vitriol, you may note that I had nothing bad to say about Christians. Christians aren’t good people, they aren’t bad people, they’re PEOPLE, and thus they run the full gamut from reprehensible to enlightened. Same goes for people who like tomatoes. I have no quarrel with the tomato eater. I will not knock the tomato from their hands, nor will I cruise the websites of tomato growers, telling them how vile I find their fruit. It’s not my problem. People can enjoy something I detest.

(In case anyone was wondering, there are several other mythologies that also do very little for me. The Romans are a cheap imitation of the Greeks, the Mayans had it all over the Aztecs, and most of the Russian and Eastern European deities do nothing for me at all. And ancestor worship is the mythological equivalent of family photo albums–fun if you know the people, unbearable if you don’t. Also, marinara sauce is fine on spaghetti, but not as a dip.)

Nevertheless, I challenge the notion that one can’t dislike Christianity, that it’s all bad Christians. Not at all. I dislike Christianity and tomatoes purely for themselves. Christians are generally fine. If the two can be seperated enough to say “It’s not Christianity, it’s the people who practice it!” whenever people complain, then there’s no reason I can think of why one must remain absolutely neutral on the religion. I have judged it, and for myself, on the only grounds that I find a religion worthy–aesthetics–it has come in low on the charts. Many other religions are more beautiful, and if you don’t happen to believe any of ’em, then that’s the important bit.

That being said, you can eat your tomatoes and practice your religion all you want, and it’s no skin off my teeth. You can find Christianity beautiful. You can eat cherry tomatoes right off the vine. Wonderful! I’m glad someone appreciates ’em, since I don’t, and just because I dislike them is no reason they should die out. Tomatoes and gods need adherents, and should not vanish from the earth. And no one should be discriminated against because they like tomatoes. Tomato-lovers should be allowed to vote and hold jobs. I would be appalled to learn otherwise. I would act to prevent it. I still wouldn’t like tomatoes, but I’m all for a level playing field there.

Just don’t tell me that I can’t dislike tomatoes, I have to dislike a few specific people who EAT tomatoes. Because that’s a load of crap. It’s the tomatoes I don’t like, and over the course of this entirely too lengthy post, I told you why.

*We’re going to assume that in another time and place, we would be having this exact argument about Shinto and Buddhism or Hinduism or whatever, so anybody who was drawing breath to defend Christianity already, you may exhale–this is the price you pay for being a dominant religion in this time and place.

**Although in all fairness, if Michener ever wrote a book where someone ran off with a sack of severed foreskins, I have not yet read it.

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