If given all this you return to the Gospels as perhaps the plinth of the civilization, even if you don’t like the whole god-from-a-young-maiden trope, what do you find they are about, and what did the main character say or do? He is at minimum the most important person who has ever lived. Here are eyewitness records. It would be as if someone had been around to chronicle the Big Bang, and all its echoes. If you like origins and authenticity, well here you go.
As you read, even from the first few chapters of the first gospel, what starts to build is a sort of backward-assembling mental apparatus that reaches into the books and muses, well – yes – if a god, if God, came to earth, it probably would be like this. He doesn’t hover massively over the Roman Forum, telling Caesar what to do, although that might have been useful. Anyway why not Alexandria, why not Luoyang? Rather, he comes to an impoverished speck of earth on this speck of a planet whose smallness and greatness we do and do not grasp. He does the most important thing he possibly could, which is be human, like wonderful us. He knows family and friendship and death. He lives all except marriage, which also makes sense, since one God even in his full humanity cannot have a spouse. (But then why a mother?) A wife would imply children, and the one God cannot … oh wait.
Still the Gospel record rings true. Heedless people would flock to him for healing and then walk away in joy, often not bothering a whit about his teachings. Crowds would frantically rush, unled, to block his escape across the lake because they wanted their chance to be cured. Normal people would sit around and expect to be fed. His friends would deny him at the crisis. Of all reasons to die, well yes, what is worse or more typical than the human way of execution by “authority,” which is mortal itself. And what gift would humanity like to be given, if not absolution from wrongdoing, from guilt, and then bodily life after death? “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
I say blandly it would be like this because I have two more ideas in mind as background. One is the Christmas carol O Holy Night: “He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” I wonder if that line alone does not sum up Christianity and its good news. Does Islam teach the soul its worth, or the authoritarian tatters of Western liberalism either?
The other idea I have in mind comes from a beautiful coffee table book I used to own about astronomy. It was full of gorgeous pictures, color tinted, from the Hubble telescope. Galaxies, clouds, clusters of clouds of galaxies incomprehensibly huge, incomprehensibly far away. Half way through the book, I thought, “It only has meaning because we know. It’s just information – pictures on a page.”
The great universe is focused only on us and it has no meaning except that we are here to live and think about it. Have you any indication that the pictures in the coffee table book amount to anything else? In Renoir My Father Jean Renoir quotes his father the painter as scoffing, “that fool Galileo. Tells us we’re not the center of the universe, and no one behaves as if it were true.” Our backward-assembling mental apparatus returns to the Gospels to find out, after healing and feeding heedless clamoring people, what the Son of Man said about behavior.