“You’re lucky to have invented a god who dances to your tunes.” The youngest and the most beloved wife of the Prophet ridicules him thus in Salman Rushdie’s most controversial novel, Satanic Verses.
“Lies! Lies! Lies!” is the reaction of Jesus on reading Mathew’s gospel in Kazantzakis’s novel, The Last Temptation of Christ. Matthew tries to justify the lies he has written by saying that an angel dictates what he writes. It is divine revelation. How can lies be divine revelation? Toward the end of Kazantzakis’s novel Matthew tells Jesus, “How masterfully I matched your words and deeds with the prophets! It was terribly difficult, but I managed. I used to say to myself that in the synagogues of the future the faithful would open thick tomes bound in gold and say, ‘The lesson for today is from the holy Gospel according to Matthew!’ This thought gave me wings and I wrote.”
We may never know whether that was indeed the real reason why Matthew wrote the gospel. We may never know for sure how much of what Matthew wrote was what really happened and how much was imagined by the writer. It is the case with most scriptures.
It is the case with any writing, in fact. “I say one thing, you write another,” Kazantzakis’s Jesus accuses Matthew, “and those who read you understand still something else! ... Each of you attaches his own suffering, interests and desires to each of these sacred words, and my words disappear, m soul is lost.”
Every writer attaches his own feelings, interests and desires to what he writes, except maybe in purely objective subjects like the sciences. Rushdie’s Satanic Verses is as much his personal reading into his religion as is Kazantzakis’s Last Temptation. Both the writers were trying to understand their religion in their own personal way. They have attached their own feelings, anxieties and desires to their novels and the characters in them.
If every reader reads every text keeping this fundamental fact in mind, the text will be understood more meaningfully. The meaning is created by the reader. When such creation takes place, fundamentalism will disappear.
One cause of religious fundamentalism is the belief that the scriptures contain divine truths dictated or revealed by a god or an angel or any other supernatural entity. Novelists like Rushdie and Kazantzakis show us quite a different truth. And the truths of fiction may be truer than the truths of life, and quite definitely are truer than the truths of religions.