By Rob Borsellino Mon Feb 13, 7:12 AM ET
I remember when Jesus Christ was about religion. That goes back to when he was caring and compassionate all the time, not just during the political campaign season.
He used to bring people together and give them hope. He wouldn't have his people get in your face and tell you to fight gay rights or you'll burn in hell. That's not what he was about. That's not the Jesus who made folks such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson rich and famous. He was a different guy from the 21st-century American Jesus Christ.
When I recently visited Sicily, Italy, the old Jesus was all over the place. His statue was on the counter at the restaurant and the coffee house. His image was on the wall at the clothing store and in the hotel lobby. And there was a huge painting of him on the side of an apartment building.
Sometimes he was with his mom and dad, and sometimes he was sitting with his pals - the apostles. Mostly he was hanging from the cross. Whatever he was up to, it was all about religion.
It was interesting because I didn't go to Sicily looking for a religious experience. I went looking for what's left of my family. My grandfather and his brother came to the United States in 1904 and left behind their parents and two sisters. The sisters had kids, grandkids, great grandkids.
I never met any of those people, and I knew nothing about Sicily except the obvious - pizza and the Mafia. My wife thought it was time to connect. She made some calls and let the family know we were coming.
We landed in Palermo, got our bags and were met by my cousin Peppino Rizzuti, who was holding a handwritten sign with my name on it.
He was there with three other cousins. They hooked us up with more family and spent the next seven days driving us all over the island and stuffing us with mozzarella, prosciutto, olives and about 50 kinds of pasta.
My cousin Maria made the sign of the cross before she ate. My cousin Antonio's car had a figurine of a saint on the dashboard. My cousin Gian Marco had a beautiful cross hanging from his neck.
But nobody was going on about God, Jesus and religion. It didn't come up. I saw all that and was reminded that you can be a decent person - a good son, husband and father - and still oppose the war in Iraq. You can be a caring, thoughtful member of your community and still question whether Justice Samuel Alito should have been confirmed. Jesus won't get mad at you.
Several times during the week, I thought about telling my family what's happened to Jesus in the United States - how he's been kidnapped by politicians and preachers who decide what he does and doesn't think. They speak for him, and it doesn't always make sense.
They say Jesus is "pro life," but he doesn't seem to have a problem with the death penalty. And he thinks stem cell research - something that would save lives - is no different from murdering babies. They say he's the embodiment of kindness, love, decency and compassion. But he hates gays, lesbians and Muslims. And he's not too crazy about Buddhists, Hindus and the rest. Jews? He can put up with them if he has to.
The Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka claims to speak for Jesus and goes around the country talking about how " AIDS cures fags." Pat Robertson says it would be a good idea if the United States killed the president of Venezuela. It would be a lot cheaper than starting another war.
All week I went over that stuff in my head and decided not to mention any of it to the family.
It would make America look ridiculous.
Rob Borsellino is a columnist for The Des Moines Register and author of So I'm talkin' to this guy ...
This is the Jesus I grew up with, raised with a Canadian mom and an Italian dad. My grandmother was almost a nun and even was in the process of making her vows. She wasn't 18 yet and needed permission from my great-grandmother to make the final vow (you know, the really permanent one) and she refused. Great Gramma Melfi told Grams that she had to wait one year and if she still wanted to be a nun, then she would have all the blessings and permission she needed. Three months later, she met my grandfather and within a year or 2 they married. They've been married 57 years since this past September and had 6 children. John was born still, MaryAnne died when she was 11 from a recurring brain tumor, and Angelo died when he was 11 from bone cancer. She still has my oldest Uncle Nick, then my Dad, then my Uncle Mark, the baby of the family. She had so many trials in her life, growing up poor and then losing so many children (not even counting her miscarriages). She had to have a rich spiritual life to endure all she had been through, she had to have a reason to go on for her family. And she did it in a way that this author talks about.
Manny's family is the same way, and they're off the boat Italian. Reading that article was like talking with my in-laws and talking with my own Italian ancestors. How is it that Jesus has become a political figure? What would He say about our leaders using His name to suit their purposes? I'd like to think He'd be fed up, flip them off, and tell them to get over themselves. I'd like to think He would tell them to grow up and sit back to watch how it should really be done. That they need to listen to us, the people, more often. Now yes, I'm a Bush Supporter but I'm not blind to the idiocies he's committed. I don't think he's evil but I don't think he's the best thing for this country either. I do think he was the lesser of 2 evils for 2 elections in a row. I think either way, we were screwed. I think it's great that we have a leader who can say (hopefully honestly and with heart) that he begins each day with the Bible, but it would be even better if he lived by the teachings of the Bible. I'm afraid for what our next elections will bring. How religion will be used as a weapon to win points in politics, even worse than it has been.
It would just be so nice to go back to quietly being whatever religion you are and not have it matter. Not having In Your Face advertising in stores catering to one religion or another. Not having to see the stupid headlines about the supposed "War on Christmas" and putting Christ back in Christmas crap. Come on, if you're Christian, then all that matters is the God in your heart and that you live your life morally and as you feel He wants you to live. Why should it matter how much you show everyone else how "religious" you are? How much better your faith is? How much stronger your belief is? Whatever happened to quiet dignity?