This may be the organizing breakthrough I’ve been waiting for, a book idea I should outline while it’s fresh. A late Philip K. Dick type thing, since the hour’s getting late. The main character, living in a hopeless dystopian shithole in the near future, or recent past, has finally arrived at the place where he figures he might as well just cash it in, even though his work is not done. His gently estranged friends have no idea what he is still trying to do, if anything. The authorities are closing in anyway, as they always are. The powers that be, if they knew of his mission, would be certain to crucify him straight away. Trial no longer strictly necessary, the long emergency and everything. Death on the cross too good for him, really, considering he’s hardly performed any miracles, to speak of. Potential to do good works, most who still know him will agree to that, but hasn’t done any really impressive miracles, in spite of a lot of talk.
Flashback to Roman times where there was a small group who worshipped a murdered rabbi they considered holy, a charismatic teacher. They were catching hell, these early followers of Jesus. Turning the other cheek, as they’d been taught by their other-worldly master, persecuted because they didn’t worship the gods of their worldly masters, they were fed to lions for the amusement of the idiot crowds in Rome.
In fairness to these idiot crowds, their lives were hard and they didn’t have TV, so watching people unfathomably committed to peace even at the cost of their lives, being ripped apart by wild beasts, put to the sword in great spectacles, was the closest they had to an exciting evening out and they went in droves, according to the market research that comes to down to us. They also were mostly poor and hungry and got free bread at these circuses, though the obscenely rich also attended.
These spectacles, and the bread, helped keep the desperate off the streets, where they might organize and fight the people who were keeping their mercenary army’s well-sandaled feet on their necks. Watching these Christ-loving wretches who didn’t fight back get hacked up was the best show the Roman rabble were going to get.
This went on for a long time, as the Roman Empire continued its long decline, until there arose a public relations machine that changed the script, and the long-term fate of this small sect of mostly martyrs who eventually became, at the time, the world’s most populous religion. The story of Jesus was rebranded, brilliantly, told compellingly, the teachings most critical of the rich toned way down, blame for his murder shifted from the Roman authorities to the local Jews, and eventually sold to the highest classes of society. The headquarters of that church today, ensconced in its own sovereign country in Rome, is a place of fabulous wealth, its art collection as impressive and valuable as any to be found in the world’s greatest museums.
Several off-shoots of this church became very powerful and came to rule most of the European nations over time. With the divine rights of kings it was necessary to have a state that was also pretty much a church, and these churches, built on the teachings of the Son of God, a passionate devotee of peace and fairness, often went to war and put members of each other’s sects to the sword.
The main thing, though, is the improvement of Christians’ fortunes, once they become the dominant religion through brilliant marketing, having sold the franchise to the wealthiest and most powerful of society, an inspiring story, the greatest in the history of marketing and branding.
That flashback would be only the momentary musing of the character, background that pulses through his mind as he passes the crucified, nailed up on the main streets of the once great city where he used to play stickball as a kid. His last couple of friends would express concern over these hallucinations of crucified martyrs he kept speaking of. There would be some debate about whether these were visions of martyrs or of criminals, or some combination of the two. There was nothing so clear about who these ghosts on the crosses were.
These concerned friends would also debate the kind of medication he should be on. The author would burst through the narrative to comment, metafictively, about the events playing out in the story, bring in the real-life materials that were being metaphorically paraded before an audience of jaded literary agents, bored slush pile readers, cagey editors, ambitious book marketers, slick book packagers.
The book, of course, would bypass all these types and find its way directly into ordinary people’s lives through the internet, for a minimal cost, perhaps a donation. This would be necessary for the author, and the character himself would also insist on it, having this successful and influential book about devoted souls slightly advancing madly impossible missions, almost enough to bring them to life, before their dejected surrender and crucifixion, bring no monetary profit to anybody.
Would kind of defeat the spirit of the book, if the author took in any real money for it. But that is a musing for another time.