When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, we had a lot of books in my house. Along with a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, we had several leather bound classics including a book that included the complete works of William Shakespeare. It was huge. We also had a large leather bound Bible.
Since there were only 3 TV stations in those days and most TV shows really sucked back then, I spent a lot of time listening to the radio and reading. I often perused the Encyclopedia, but most of the actual reading I did was in the Shakespeare volume and The Bible.
I was brought up in the Methodist Church. My pastor was surprised that a kid had a good understanding of the Old and New Testament. Years later my knowledge of Shakespeare would impress my English teachers who encouraged me to start writing. Along with having several short stories published as a teen, I also became a reporter/photographer for our local paper, The Plain Dealer, and The Atlantic City Press.
After reading the works of the Bard of Avon along with the Old and New Testament, I was surprised at how similar they were. Both were about good and evil and retribution. Although I have to admit when it comes to retribution, God had it all over Shakespeare. The prolific Englishman stabbed and poisoned his villains while God flooded the entire planet and performed other acts that impacted the entire known world at that time.
Shakespeare didn’t have an ultimate champion like Jesus, but he did have lots of memorable heroes and bad guys. Since the Bible we had was the King James version, the accuracy of which has often been called into question, the language was difficult for a preteen to comprehend. So was the same “Old English” of the Shakespearian text. But I kept reading until I understood. I credit reading both of those books with the fact that by the time I reached high school I was reading well over 2,000 words per minute at a 95%+ retention rate. (They tested us, remember?) I can read like a demon without having to stumble over all the “forsooths” “thees” and “thous.”
After my childhood, I attended many different Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, New Age, Buddhist and even Muslim services. For several years I was a Deacon for a little Protestant church I joined when I lived in Pennsylvania. When the church elders conspired to oust the progressive pastor, I left. Haven’t been a regular church goer since.
I am not a religious scholar by any means, but while taking my wife to church this Easter, I had a revelation. Most of what the Priest said at the Catholic service was pretty much the same as I heard as a child from a Methodist Pastor and every other man or woman of the cloth I’ve heard since then. It’s been a few years since I attended a church. I believe that absence helped me make this comparison on Easter Sunday. I was listening with fresh ears.
Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, all the members of the clergy I’ve heard through the years preached the same thing; Love God, Love of your fellow man and perform acts of kindness and charity where and whenever you can. The pageantry is different but the message is the same. Islam does have that nasty “kill the infidel” text, but there’s a lot of “sell your daughter into slavery” “stone them to death”, etc. stuff in The Bible. The basic difference is that Christians ignore the lethal nonsense.
It’s the same with Shakespeare. Every play has a troubled good guy, really evil villain or villains and usually a surprise ending. Most of the sonnets have a similar theme that was inadvertently summed up by Clemenza in The Godfather, “I love you with all-a my heart, if I don’t see-a you again soon, I’m-a gonna die.” Obviously the writings of Shakespeare have influenced anyone who has decided to try their luck at the written word.
It took 64 years for me to come to my religious epiphany. The messages are all the same, regardless of the religion. I was getting close to this many years ago when I wrote:
“There’s just one God in heaven,
But we call him different names.
Just one kind of people,
Many faces, all the same…” (from the song “Just One” ©2000 Steve Bryant)
Yesterday, it was crystal clear to me.
I hope you and your family had a joyous Easter, Passover or just a great day!
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