Questioning Religion: The Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar

Questioning Religion: The Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar

In 1971, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice debuted the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. The musical began as a rock opera concept album which was released in 1970, and a film adaptation of the musical was released in 1973. The narrative is based on the New Testament Gospels’ account of the final week of Jesus’ life: spanning from the preparation of Jesus and his disciples prior to their arrival in Jerusalem to Jesus’ crucifixion. A worldwide phenomenon, “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been professionally produced in forty-two countries and has grossed more than $205 million dollars since 1970.

The Final Seven DaysJudas1

The Rock Opera begins focused on the Apostle, Judas Iscariot as he watches Jesus with a group.  Judas expresses his growing concerns that Jesus and the disciples will be perceived as a threat to the Roman Empire and will receive deadly retribution.  In somber tones, he reflects his premonition “My mind is clearer now. At last all too well, I can see where we all soon will be.” As the pragmatist of the drama, Judas sees Jesus’ current behavior as reckless, foolish, and selfish.

Thinking that Jesus has put his own stardom above the safety of the group and the Jewish people, Judas pleads with Jesus with a series of questions. Has Jesus forgotten how put down the Jewish people are by the Romans? Has Jesus forgotten that the Empire has enormous power and could crush them if they are not careful? Does Jesus not see how close he is to ending all the good they have accomplished in the last three years?

More than anything, Judas wants to be heard and wants Jesus to listen to reason. He raises a series of valid points as to why Jesus should abandon his super-stardom and keep a low profile, so that the group can continue to spread tJudasheir message and help the people. It is important to note that at this point in history there were dozens of men claiming to be the Messiah: the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies. Each one of the “supposed” messiah has his own group of followers and message. To Judas, this Messiah role was never a part of his group’s trajectory, and he is concerned that the public mistakenly believes that their movement is based on his Jesus being the Jewish Messiah. Clearly confused by this turn of events, he demands that Jesus answer if he believes that he is the Messiah. If Jesus is the Messiah, Judas feels entitled to that information considering his dedication and service to their cause. The musical does an uncanny job of allowing Judas to serve as a “placeholder” for all Christians who are questioning their faith in Jesus. Jesus remains an enigma both to Judas and the questioning audience. Just what was he thinking in the week leading up to his crucifixion? 

The High Priest, Caiaphas and his associate Annas, echo Judas’ concern that Jesus’ popularity will bring down the wrath of the Romans. The Priests’ Council determines that Jesucaiaphass and his movement must be crushed, and that Jesus must be killed, sharing the fate of John the Baptist. Undeterred by the danger involved, Jesus and his disciples triumphantly enter into Jerusalem, surrounded by cheering, palm waving crowds singing, “Hosanna.” Finding the Temple overrun by money lenders and unsavory merchants, Jesus lashes out and angrily throws them out of the Temple. At this point, Judas decides that Jesus has lost his mind, and he feels obligated to do something to stop the impending Roman attack on the disciples and the Jewish people. He is driven by fear, trying to protect those he cares about and himself.  What he does to stop the Romans is for the good of all, he believes, and it is not because he seeks “blood money.” He is aware enough to realize that he may be “damned for all time,” but he acts because he feels he has no choice otherwise. Judas goes to the Romans and tells them that Jesus will be at the Garden of Gethsemane the following night and receives thirty silver pieces in return for the information. JesusChristSuperstar Last Supper

The next night at the Garden, the audience witnesses the famous last supper. When Jesus announces that one of his followers will betray him, an angry Judas jumps up and retorts “cut the dramatics you know very well who!…To think I’d admired you,” Judas lashes out. “Well now I despise you!” Jesus responds by calling him “a liar” and tells him to go. The two men, teacher and pupil, share a final embrace, and the audience can see the pain, compassion, and regret exhibited on both sides. “Every time I look at you,” a frustrated Judas sings, “I don’t understand, why you let the things you did get so out of hand.” He then flees to retrieve the Roman soldiers and identifies Jesus with a kiss. Jesus is arrested, sent to a series of inquisitions: first with Caiaphas, the High Priest; second, with the Roman Pontius Pilate; and third, with King Herod.

In the performance, Pontius Pilate serves as another questioning archetype, compassionate and full of reason. Pilate argues Jesus’ innocence before the crowds, only to have Jesus’ supporters retort, “we have no king but Caesar.” The angry mob now threatens to end Pilate’s career if he does not fulfill his duty and crucify Jesus. Pilate knows Jesus’ innocence and entreats Jesus to save his own life, but Jesus declares the future to be fixed. Responding with disgust, Pilate declares Jesus a fool, sentences Jesus to death, and exclaims “die if you want to, you misguided martyr.” With the crowds screaming, “Crucify him,” Jesus is whipped, sentenced, and condemned to death on the cross. 

Judas and Jesus: Pragmatism and Idealism for the same Cause

“We made him a type of Everyman. Judas did not think of himself as a traitor. He did what he did, not because he was basically evil, but because he was intelligent. He could see Christ becoming something he considered harmful to the Jews. Judas felt that they had been persecuted enough. As far as what Christ was saying, general principles of how human beings should live together, Judas approved of this. What Judas was worried about was that as Christ got bigger and bigger and more popular, people began switching their attentions from what Christ was saying to Christ himself… Judas reckoned that if the movement got too big and people began worshiping Christ as a god, the Romans who were occupyingJesusChristCross Israel would come down and clobber them.” – “Jesus Christ Superstar” Lyricist Tim Rice

Jesus, Judas, and the rest of the disciples share a belief in the philosophy of love, peace, and brotherhood. They dedicate their lives to serving humanity, but they maintain very different beliefs in what choices the group should make in the final days of Jesus’ life. The dichotomy between Judas and Jesus is a fascinating one. Judas is the practical one, concerned with image, message, public opinion, money, etc. Jesus is concerned only with the Message. That central relationship shows us a mammoth tug-of-war between pragmatism, represented by Judas, and ideas, represented by Jesus. Judas finds himself constantly frustrated and confused by Jesus’ refusal to look at the practical side of their situation, as verbalized in many songs from the Rock Opera, including “Heaven On Their Minds” and “Superstar.” They fight because they both care passionately about the cause and about each other. There are three main arguments that break out between them, during the songs “Strange Thing Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright,” as well as, at the Last Supper. Judas acts as a kind of business agent and PR man, concerned over the political message they’re sending out, the perceived inconsistencies in Jesus’ teachings, and the money wasted on Mary’s ointments and oils.superstarcarlanderson

Questioning Religion and Freemasonry’s Role

Freemasonry is not a religion, but it requires its members to believe in God, whatever name they choose to give him. Masonry embraces all world religions, rejects dogmatic teachings, and teaches its members to question their beliefs. Those who have studied comparative religion will find that many facets of Christianity, including the Genesis story, the sacrifice and resurrection hero myth, and the miracles performed by Jesus were present in other world religious texts long before Jesus was born. While these similarities do not discount all of Christianity for many believers, they do raise questions that are voiced in Jesus Christ Superstar.  In the song “Superstar,” Judas questions Jesus about Christianity’s relationship with other world religions and whether all religions are essentially one. He sings, “Tell me what you think about your friends at the top. Who’d you think besides yourself’s the pick of the crop? Buddha, was he where’s it at, is he where you are? Could Mahomet move a mountain or was that just PR?” A Mason is at liberty to practice any religion in the worship of God, but Freemasonry does obligate him to question his beliefs in an effort to better know himself and his God. 

How does Sufism Relate to Freemasonry? A Search for Truth

How does Sufism Relate to Freemasonry? A Search for Truth

What is the purpose of religion? To be certain, the teachings of morality are fundamental to all of the world’s major religions. Each religion teaches a form of the Golden rule: do unto others as you would have done to you. In Judaism, followers are instructed, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id).

Is the purpose of religion also to teach wisdom and enlighten the followers of that faith? Most religions provide exoteric or fundamental teachings, as well as, a path of esoteric study for those who seek it. Perhaps it could be said that once a fundamental understanding of the tenants of a religion is obtained, a door swings open providing the seeker a deeper level of wisdom and understanding. In Christianity, the Apostle Paul writes, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Corinthians 3: 1prophet-depicted-624x420-2). Similar to all world religions, the dichotomy of basic and advanced study exists within the religion Islam, where Sufism serves as the esoteric branch of the religion.

What is Sufism?

Sufism is the esoteric school of Islam, which was founded for the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. The word Sufi is Persian in origin, meaning “Wisdom.” From the original root word, many derivations can be traced into other languages, including the Greek, “Sophia.” Students of Sufism seek knowledge in order to understand reality as it truly is which they believe will ultimately allow the individual to achieve Ma’arefat: divine gnosis. Thus, perfect self-understanding will lead to the understanding of God, as the Prophet Mohammed stated, “Whoever knows oneself, knows one’s Lord.”

As with many forms of mysticism, the exact origins of Sufism are unknown, some evidence suggests that it dated back to ancient Egypt. According to the Muslim tradition, the descriptive term ‘Sufi’ was decided at a council of 45 mystics in 623 C.E.: the second year of the Islamic calendar and the Order was officially founded in 657 C.E.

The Teachings of Sufism

Sufism is rooted in the teachings of the Koran, the Holy Book of the Muslims. The central message of Islam is the declaration of faith, referred to as the Shahada which WhirlingDervishstates: “There is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad is the Messenger of God [Allah].” From the esoteric perspective of the Sufi, this statement can be understood as “there is no reality except Reality.” Within Islamic esotericism, knowledge is made accessible depending on the integrity and cognitive abilities of the individual. This measured unveiling of spiritual truths is called Hikmat at-Tadrij: the “Wisdom of Gradualness.”

To a Sufi, there exists no gulf of separation between the Creator and His Creation. The perception of fundamental unity, however, is masked to most of humanity due to the limitations of the material and physical tools that mankind possesses. Sufism provides a pathway that can be followed through purification and meditation in order to perceive what is already a reality. When the heart is purified, the God is reflected in the mirror of the heart, transporting man from his carnal state to the true human being.

Poetry and Ritual of Sufism

One of the beautiful aspects of Sufism is the poetry written by its followers. Two of the most famous Sufi poets are Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz. Jalaluddin Rumi was a 12th century saint and mystic who provided the inspiration for the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, which practices the Sufi ritual of revolution in order to be in harmony with all things in nature offering praise to God.

You’ve no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You.rumi

Nothing seemed right.

What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.

Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.

It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.

So, I’ve brought you a mirror.

Look at yourself and remember me.

   Rumi

Hafiz of Shiraz also lived in the 12th century and is considered the greatest lyric poet of Persia, whose poetic form has been described as taking unparalleled heights of subtlety and beauty.

holytreeEven after all this time

The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe Me.”

Look what happens

with a love like that,

It lights the Whole Sky.

-Hafiz

Sufism and Freemasonry

How does Sufism relate to Freemasonry? Freemasonry is not a religion, rather, it teaches its members to respect all religions and faiths. Religious tolerance is an important tenet of Masonry because members of the Fraternity belong to allhaqq major faiths. It is not uncommon to find Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists all belonging to the same Masonic obedience and happily working together to assist humanity and to glorify God.

At its core, Freemasonry is a search for truth: a guiding principle the fraternity shares with Sufism. The Sufi Hadith wrote, “Our cause is the truth of truth. It is the exoteric, the esoteric of the exoteric and the esoteric of the esoteric. It is the secret of the secret; it is the secret of that which remains wrapped in secret.” In our modern world, confusion, ignorance, and falsehood blind humanity to the true nature of reality: the universal oneness of the All.

Like Masonry, Sufism requires the individual to be initiated, after a period of time where he or she has been subjected to various trials. In Sufism, these trials are aimed at provoking what is referred to as “Awakening of the Sufi” or the “Awakening of a Friend.” The Sufi Scholar Omar Ali Shah explains that the esoteric school is based on the “doctrine which seeks to remove the veil from the eye of the heart to see what is real.” Thus, initiates of both organizations are prepared in their hearts to serve and enlighten.

 

Is Environmental Degradation a Sin? Pope Francis’ Revolutionary Manifesto on Climate Change

Is Environmental Degradation a Sin? Pope Francis’ Revolutionary Manifesto on Climate Change

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s more than one billion Roman Catholics, has become known as a radical agent of change since his election in March of 2013, especially with regard to environmentalism. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936, Pope Francis hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before his ordination as a Catholic Priest in 1969, he held some unusual jobs, including chemical technician and nightclub bouncer, which may have given him a deeper appreciation for the common man and his travails.

SaintFrancisHis choice for papal name, Francis, speaks to his deep respect and admiration to Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Ecology. Pope Francis’ radical changes to the Catholic Church, following a period of decline in public opinion and membership, reflects the legend surrounding Saint Francis. While praying at an ancient church at San Damiano, Saint Francis heard the voice of Christ saying, “Francis, repair my church.” As the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, it may be less than a surprise that his approach to leading the Catholic Church is different than that of his predecessors. To declare, however, that environmental degradation is a sin is a truly revolutionary step in the eyes of many people around the world.

The Jesuit Approach

The Jesuit Order, also referred to as the Society of Jesus, was founded in the 1530s by Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius, a Basque soldier who experienced spiritual transformation at the age of 33 after being severely jesuit-emblem
wounded in battle, formed a brotherhood of himself and six other companions with a dedication to service of God whatever the sacrifice. Dedicated scholars devoted to knowledge and learning, Jesuits have served the Catholic Church for centuries and have taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The Jesuits are the largest order in the Catholic Church, and the leader of the Jesuits is referred to as the “the Black Pope” for his distinctive black attire and his perceived power. The Order’s structure is of a military-style and ethos, and the Jesuit troops are known for their willingness to go wherever and whenever needed to do their duty to God and humanity. In the 1960s, the Order decisively shifted their focus toward an emphasis of working on social justice, a sentiment echoed in the writings of Pope Francis.

The Pope’s Environmental Manifesto: Laudato Si

In June of 2015, Pope Francis released a revolutionary manifesto, an encyclical of 184 pages, entitled “Laudato Si,” translated as “Praise Be To You.” With the Subtitle of “On Care for Our Common Home,” the document represents a compilation of work and a collaboration of dozens of scientists, theologians, scholars and previous popes. One member involved in the creation of the document, the U.N. Assistant Secretary for Climate Change, Janos Pasztor, described the unique nature of the encyclical by stating: “We have a situation here in which science and religion are totally aligned.” A revolutionary concept, indeed, in our polarized society and world.

pope-francis-laudato-si-artworkThe earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.

  • Pope Francis, “Laudato Si”

The Pope calls for all countries to adopt a circular model of production, known as sustainable development, which is capable of preserving resources for present and future generations. Additionally, he emphatically affirms that science has reached a consensus that the planet is experiencing “a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and an increase of extreme weather events.  

While he acknowledges that other factors are affecting the planet, such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, and the solar cycle, Pope Francis argues that primary blame can be attributed to human activity. He writes, “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecLaudato-Si-quote-3osystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

Sin and the Catholic Church

What constitutes a sin? Sin has been defined as an “offense against reason, truth, and right conscience” and “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI provided this direction on the theology of sin stating:  “Today we are used to thinking: ‘What is sin? God is great, he understands us, so sin does not count; in the end God will be good toward all.’ It’s a nice hope. But there is justice, and there is real blame.”

Pope Francis’ environmental treatise states that the destruction of the environment is not merely a sin, but it is the major sin of our time. The destruction of the planet is “our sin” and the Pope delivers a shocking condemnation on the current public inaction to deal with environmental issues. Pope Francis decries humanity’s reckless behavior in terms of a heedless worship of technology, compulsive consumerism, and an addiction to fossil fuels. Selfish behavior has pushed our planet to a perilous “breaking point,” and Pope Francis warns that “doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.”

Ecology, Values, and Freemasonry

Pope Francis’ decisive statement on climate change shifts the focus from a question of science to a question of values. He argues that climate change is a global problem with far reaching environmental and social consequences, with the mPope_Francis_address_to_Congressost dire predictions for the poorest of the world. In his manifesto, Pope Francis calls on humanity to collectively acknowledge a “sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”

Freemasonry shares this important lesson and teaches its members to regard all of humanity as a brotherhood under God. When an individual treats each of his fellows as an equal, the application of this lesson of moral rectitude brings an increase in harmony and peace to our conflicted planet. Masons are obliged to exercise brotherly love for all humanity.

As Pope Francis writes, rich or poor, we are all children of the same Creator with each person deserving support and protection. Freemasonry instructs that we are all stewards of the earth: placed here to protect and cherish the great gift of our natural world. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs on the theology of sin, we should all realize our shared responsibility to take care of each other and the planet.