I grew up in a very religious family: church every Sunday, Catholic school, confession, sacraments, the whole lot. Generally, I’m satisfied with my religious upbringing and feel that I’m a better person for it. That’s probably a fairly unpopular sentiment in what is a very secular age, but I’m happy to admit it.
I think that many outside observers have a skewed view about what it means to be raised Catholic. Leaving aside the horrendous experiences of those raped by clergy (and I say this not to in any way belittle their trauma, but as unacceptably numerous as these cases are, they are not the majority), there is a stigma attached to being raised in the church. It’s viewed as stodgy, humorless.
On this last count, I couldn’t disagree more. My upbringing taught me that God, if He’s (She’s…why not?) up there, most certainly has a sense of humor. And, this may be a bit presumptuous of me, but I’m fairly certain that He/She finds Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Jesus’ Childhood Pal very, very funny.
Christopher Moore’s main creation is Biff, Jesus’ closest friend, who is never very far away during Jesus’ entire life. Biff is resurrected by an angel to tell his version of the story. The stories of the Gospels are retold humorously enough, but the shining section of the book is the middle, where Jesus and Biff head east for eighteen years, a span of time completely absent in biblical accounts. Jesus spends the time in Afghanistan, China, and India preparing for his eventual ministry. Biff learns kung fu and gets laid, much to the annoyance of his pal, the Son of God.
In a shining example of Moore’s humor, Jesus and Biff are staying in a mountain fortress with one of the wise men and his Chinese concubines. For Jesus’ birthday, the concubines prepare a magnificent Chinese feast, a tradition which, according to Biff, survives to this very day among Jews.
Later, as Jesus and Biff travel to China, the run against the Great Wall. Waiting to get through the gate, Biff figures it’s taking too long and suggest they just go around. A month later, at the same gate, Jesus suggests, since the wall doesn’t have a name, Biff should name it.
And so it came to pass that through the ages the wall was known as the Ostentatious and Unpleasant Wall of China. At least I hope that’s what happened.
Christopher Moore points out, in an afterwards to this book, that his intention was simply to tell a funny story, not to offend anyone’s faith. In that way, this book is remarkably refreshing. Mean-spirited and sarcastic works skewering Christianity are very much in vogue and easy to come by. This book, while certainly irreverent, is never scornful or mean. It is, in fact, quite respectful of Jesus and his teachings. Moore adheres to Christianity’s main tenants while fleshing out the New Testament in a decidedly unorthodox way.
There’s a time and place for scathing satire, even when it comes to religion. I can appreciate that. There’s also a time for simple, good-natured fun and Lamb is a healthy dose of the latter. I’m pretty sure that Jesus would concur.