Judas: saint of secular humanists

I would like to make the case for the sainthood of Judas. Specifically: Judas as the patron saint of secular humanists. His suicide was not out of regret, but rather was the ultimate protestation of the secular humanist faith.

I’m certainly not the first person to think of Judas as the voice of the secular, rather than just a stereotypical “bad guy” and “betrayer.” The musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”, written in the 1970’s, did a good job of portraying Judas as a sympathetic character. In that story he is practical and worldly, and he sincerely wants to help people and is worried about the politics and social consequences of some of Jesus’ claims and actions. Jesus, by contrast, is so focused on his spirituality that it is easy to see how Judas would become frustrated with Jesus’ pie-in-the-sky idealism.

If Judas had a flaw—and the storyline of the musical does a fantastic job of being neutral on this point—it is not being evil or malicious or sinister. Rather, it is simply being overly-concerned with worldly politics and affairs. His spiritual vice is, in essence, the virtue of the secular world.

The final two songs that Judas sings—his song at his death, and his “reprise” where he appears from the afterlife—are fantastically complex and nuanced expressions of Judas’s feelings and position. He is still skeptical (“He’s just a man” and “Who are you? What have you sacrificed”), and he blames Jesus for the guilt he feels (“I have been saddled with the murder of you” and “I’ll never know why you chose me for your crime. You have murdered me!”). He feels terrible, he feels sickened by his betrayal of Jesus, and it is actually unclear in the lyrics whether he—even after his death—believes that Jesus was God or not.

It is in this tumult of guilt and emotions that Judas kills himself. This is a fantastically complex portrayal of very real human emotions, and I give all due credit to the lyric-writing abilities of Tim Rice.

But I’d like you to consider an alternative view.

Let’s think for a moment: What does suicide mean? How does the meaning of suicide differ for a theist and for a secular humanist?

For a theist, suicide is a sin. Although you have free will, you are not the “owner” of your soul. Your soul belongs to God, not you. You therefore do not have the “right” to do with it what you please. This argument, articulated well in this article, finds its roots in passages of the bible such as:

“For every living soul belongs to me” (Ezek. 18:4)
“You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19)
“A man’s life is not his own” (Jer. 10:23)

By contrast, for a secular humanist, suicide is not always a bad thing. It can represent a real and valid rational choice. It can embody a fundamental right in the secular humanist world: the right to decide the value of your own life, and the right to decide when and how to end it.

What if Judas was not filled with regret? What if he stayed the voice of the secular world up to the very end? Because in this context, suicide is also a statement: I am the owner of my soul. It is I, not God, who gets to decide.

It is with this in mind that I would like to nominate Judas as the patron saint of secular humanists. Every act of his life was a true expression of someone who values pragmatic, worldly affairs. A practical man, a good man, concerned more with caring for his fellow men than with “salvation” and the philosophy of “sin”.

And if he were portrayed in the classic fashion of saints (such as in the stained glass windows of St. Vitus Cathedral), he would be holding a noose in his hand: the ultimate symbol of self-governance and choice. The ultimate statement of the secular humanist: I own my own soul.

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  1. Bipolar Bear says:

    Not sure that committing suicide out of guilt for betraying the Son of God really qualifies him that well for secular sainthood.

    • Greg Stevens says:

      Well, it’s a question of interpreting his motives. I know that STANDARD narrative is that it was out of guilt… but I guess I’m trying to build an alternative, hypothetical scenario: what if it wasn’t guilt? What if it was actually a statement, in a way? Since religion usually acts on the assumption that it “owns” your soul (which is why it’s a “sin” to commit suicide), then killing yourself can be construed as an act of rebellion against religion, or even against god.

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