Friday, February 24, 2017

"I reject it." Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus review

Yesterday I mused about objectivism in the comics; today, it's libertarian Christianity! Why am I making these choices?

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is the most recent graphic novel by Christian-Libertarian-Canadian-Cartoonist Chester Brown. In a way, it's a response to his book Paying for It, an autobiographical work where he depicted how he gave up on dating and began seeing prostitutes instead; included in the book were many scenes of him arguing in favour of prostitution to his friends.

Since then he's entered into politics and Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is a sort-of political manifesto for the decriminalization of prostitution. I'm not especially well-informed about the matter politically but Brown framed his argument by invoking the Bible and that's something I possess a smattering of knowledge in.

The book is a series of vignettes which retell particular stories from the Old & New Testaments. Some of them will be very familiar and represented pretty much the way you remember them; other stories have been altered so as to fit Brown's thesis on prostitution. Every chapter is either a story connected to prostitution or a story about a disobedient person being rewarded (the parable of The Prodigal Son is perhaps the best-known of these and Brown does include it).

The connective tissue is Brown's belief that Jesus' mother Mary was a prostitute. He notes that the women Ruth, Tamar, Bathsheba and Rahab all appeared in Jesus' lineage as told in the Gospel of Matthew and each women could be considered like-a-prostitute (Rahab literally was; Tamar posed as one for a deception; Ruth and Bathsheba had extra-marital sex, which is a bit flimsy so far as the argument goes). To Brown, the reason Matthew listed women in his genealogy was to subtly hint to his readers that Mary had been impregnated by some guy prior to her marriage to Joseph. To this end, Brown retells the story of Joseph learning of Mary's condition, revised to include the prostitution.

Brown's argument that people "find favour with God because they oppose His will or challenge Him in some way" first turns up in his revision of Cain & Abel where he posits Abel did wrong by keeping animals, yet when he made an offering of his sheep to God, God was pleased with him, which disturbed Cain (leading to Abel's death). Like so much of his arguments, it seems ad hoc post ergo hoc. Brown is determined to win his argument, so reframes the scriptural accounts to suit his predetermined agenda; there's nothing in Genesis to suggest it was wrong for Abel for keep sheep, but because God tells Adam to toil for "the fruits of the soil," Brown assumes the omission of livestock in that mention indicates there was a law against it. What we find instead is that Cain was hard-hearted, much like the older brother from the Prodigal Son. This is an attitude which comes up again and again in the Bible and is one of the linchpins of Jesus' teaching - that following God's word is insufficient if one is doing so expecting a reward, notoriety or is any other way closed-off in their heart.

Brown also recounts the parable of the Three Talents but instead of the Biblical accounts he turned to an apocryphal source, the Gospel of the Nazarenes. Normally, the story tells of 3 servants given different amounts of money; the first doubles what he's been given, likewise the second and the third hides the money, fearful of losing it; the master is upset with the third and gives his money to the first. In the Nazarean account, the first doubles the money, the second hides the money and third spends it all on pleasure. The master rewards the third by giving him the second' money. Says Brown, "I almost immediately became convinced that this was how Jesus actually told the tale."

If the Nazarean account were valid (we don't actually have a copy of it, only references to it) then I would point to the moral of the story being similar to that of the Prodigal Son - that if the master (God) is indeed merciful to the one who wastes his reward (man) then there is a message of penitence in the story, not to tell us that we can break God's laws and it's okay but that we can break those laws and, if we appeal to his mercy, will be okay.

I can easily recommend Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus if you want a book to fight with. Ultimately, however, it's designed to persuade you over to Brown's perspective by one of the oldest tricks in the book - saying Jesus is on his side.

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