Warning: This posting contains material that some may find offensive, blasphemous, sacrilegious, or irreverent. I do not apologize for that. God has a sense of humor; how else do you explain Ted Haggard? I recommend you get one too.
I've been seeing a lot of ads on TV for Scientology lately. This is strangely alarming, though not at all unpredictable. These are difficult times, frightening times, and people are looking for something, anything, to help them through troubling times. And in an era of 10,000+ member evangelical megachurches led by hypocrites (see Haggard, Ted), one more way to fool the people isn't going to make much difference in the long run.
All this has got me to thinking (never a good idea): When you really think about it, is Scientology as a religious concept any more far-fetched than Christianity? Well, let's take a look.
I'll be honest: I understand Scientology way less than I understand Christianity, and I don't understand Christianity very well at all. To further complicate matters, I keep getting Scientology mixed up with the backstory for Superman. But to the best that I can explain it, here it is:
A long time ago, a race of aliens boarded a spaceship, led by Jor-El, leaving the planet Krypton on their way to colonize Earth. Upon arrival, for some reason Jor-El dumps them all into a giant volcano, killing all the aliens. Their souls, however, escape the inferno and inhabit early hominids, causing evolution (good) and, eventually, the career of Tom Cruise (bad). Our job is to recognize that our souls are made of Kryptonite, and all become roadies for Three Doors Down.
Roman-occupied Palestine, ca. 3 B.C.E.:
God knocks up a virgin, then skips out on child support. No reliable paternity test exists at the time, so a bachelor carpenter named Joseph (read: old, gay, ugly, or any combination thereof) decides to marry the girl (Mary) to save her from the disgrace of bearing a fatherless child, and so they can call the kid Jesus instead of Little Bastard. (In another Bible verse, the child is to be named Emmanuel, but since that's already the name of a soft-core porn star, they go with Jesus, which is really just a Hellenized form of Joshua.) Joseph fades into the background of the story after this, because really, the girl's first boyfriend was the Almighty, and who wants to keep hearing that? "Well, Yahweh never had any problem with premature ejaculation!" If you've ever dated a Jewish girl, Oy Vey, you know what I mean.
Anyway, the happy couple are on a road trip, maybe following the Grateful Dead, I don't know, and Mary goes into labor. She can't get a room, so she gives birth in a goddamn horse stall, plopping the kid into a feed trough. Apparently, adequate health care was an issue then, too. God, who has been screening his calls for nine months, now shows up again, sending angels to hand out cigars and tell the Israelites that their problems are all solved. One angel comes upon some shepherds, happily buggering sheep before they bed down for the night, startling them, and giving one the idea for a screenplay called Brokeback Mountain.
Meanwhile, to the East, a group of Magi (or wise men, from magus, Latin for sorcerer, and root of magesty, magisterial, and magistrate) see a new star in the sky over Palestine. (Maybe it's the light from Jor-El's spaceship.) Auguring it a good omen, they set out on a journey which leads them to the very same unsanitary manger in which the little baby Jesus is lying. They leave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, valuable commodities then as well as now. (Side note: As the magi were from Persia, I often wonder if one of them could possibly have thought to bring some opium. God knows, Mary needed something for the pain, and that would be a Helluva sacrament. I might even reconsider my desire to go west and join a peyote cult. I'm just sayin'.) The magi depart, and despite the expensive gifts, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus live a life of poverty from then on.
In a development that will be strangely echoed in about 2009 years, the Israelites promptly forget all about their Messiah just because everything isn't fixed before the ink is dry on the birth certificate. (I was going to say "before the placenta was cold" but I've given you enough strange imagery to digest already.)
Luckily, all this took place right around the winter solstice, so that centuries later the Catholic Church could co-opt local fertility rites as its reach expanded.
Not much is reported about Jesus as he grows up, with the exception of an arcane tale about 12 year old Jesus hanging out with the temple priests in Jerusalem, something Holy Mother Church should have kept in mind in their hiring practices.
Fast forward another twenty years, and Jesus is a fully grown man, preaching a gospel of peace and humanity. What's worse, he's got long hair and doesn't work, the dirty hippie. Feeling that Jesus isn't showing the requisite level of respect for authority, the Romans decide to kill him, although Pilate tries to avoid responsibility by throwing it back to the Jews, thereby beginning two millenia of anti-semitism and causing the Holocaust. (Again, luckily, this happens right around the start of spring, allowing the Catholics to co-opt yet another fertility festival.)
The method of execution the Romans use to kill Jesus is crucifixion, a particularly gruesome method that actually causes death by suffocation, since so much pressure is placed on the chest, one cannot get enough oxygen. By the time he's dead, Jesus has a spear puncture in his side, a couple broken ribs, and two broken legs.
Three days later, he's up and around, ambulatory and looking to score some myrrh.
So there it is. Yeah, Christianity is way more believable.