I bound from book to book, leap frogging my bibliophile life to what strikes my mood or need. Sometimes this has a soothing effect on my psyche – other times more jarring to my mindset.

This week took me to what on the surface may seem dis-similar genres. I finished Jesus A New Vision by Marcus Borg and then immediately picked up The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

McCarthy, pretty sincerely, meant for his book to be a post-apocalyptic stark study of human beings that makes a case for desolate view of the indifference of the universe to the plight of man, a cosmic condition that he takes to be the “absolute truth of the world.”

Borg’s book is a portrayal of the historical man Jesus – a charismatic healer, sage, cultural leader, who lived in and within the divine Spirit bringing a new philosophy to the Jewish people. Borg states that Jesus did not come to create a new religion, but to re-shape faith.

Is it wise to make comparisons or connect the themes of these two books?

I’m not suggesting a debate between this historical Jesus with the fictional father and son in the Road – or between Borg and McCarthy, for that matter. It’s just that because I read them in such quick succession my mind wanted to build some parallels or bear down to the essential meanings.

For one – Jesus was straddling the old and new worlds, as are the main characters, father and son in The Road. When the father considers attempting to make the old world real to his son by telling stories about what used to be, he realized that the story is too difficult and sad to tell, the whole story is one that ends in loss. Yet he again and again is compassionate toward the boy modeling patient and loving behavior on The Road. While Jesus, in rebuilding the world of Judaism by deconstructing the cultural morays of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, also straddles an old and new world. Jesus seeks to show others that life should not be filled with rigid, authoritarian law, but instead pattern a new road that maintains the love of God while throwing off the man-made encumbrances that restrain the culture from treating one another with mercy.

For another – the business of being human characterizes each book. Father teaches the son not just to survive but what it means to be human. In The Road, the babe was born just after the apocalypse occurs and he has little notion of how to “be.” Throughout their travels, the father assures his son that “We are the Good Guys,” and “This is how the Good Guys do it.” Borg states that this is what Jesus is doing as well in countering the cultural leaps that the various Jewish leaders are taking the faithful down their roads. As the Roman Empire had conquered the land of Israel and Palestine and were intent on either changing the culture or crushing it, the Jewish leaders dictated a dogmatic adherence to Old Testament laws. Jesus showed disciples and followers how to be merciful, humane, compassionate. Each, in their way, have stepped out to tame the savageness of man and create a new world.

Yet there are contrasts: in The Road, the characters are making their journey through unchartered times and the Father must make some decisions that the boy questions, “Are we still the Good Guys?” the child asks after the father kills a gangster and later leaves another to starve.  By contract, Jesus challenges the Roman Empire with his non-violent resistance stance and thus martyrs himself to change the culture. Father and son face danger with a defensive stance in order to stay alive, while Jesus sacrifices his life. In the end the son and the Christian disciples are left – one to carry the fire and the others to follow it.

(Headline of Blog from JRR Tolkein)

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