“You won’t hear me say a mumblin word agin’ God Almighty,” said Count Justin Vistor to Pappy O’Day, who was barely awake but who remained determined to stay upright as long as the Count was providing him with free drinks. “I got no beef agin God. Like I said before, there’s no percentage in bad-mouthin’ The Lord, or using His name in vain, or attracting the unfavorable notice of the Divine. But the same doesn’t hold for the various churches that have sprang up like mushrooms in cowflop, and all claiming to be the one true, and sole representative of the Almighty. I’ll admit right now that the Roman Church has had some time to set themselves up to look mighty slick, but some of them Protest-Ant churches are mighty peculiar. I guess the likes of the Piss-in-a-pailians are laughing themselves sick over the snake-handlin’ antics of their lesser brethren. I got no gripe against any particular church. Going to church makes you a very popular citizen, in some quarters. It’s always good for an enterprising grifter to mingle with the quality, and get a whiff of the good life, and get a load of what the well-dressed pluty-crat will wear.
“The way I see it, this business with the fool hath said in his heart there is no God reminds me an awful lot of the Gold Brick. That’s where you offer to sell a piece of lead painted over with gold paint at a “bargain” price to some enterprisin’ sucker. Churches remind me of the cute little stunt that Barnum had. He would hire a man to go around town with a brick, picking it up and putting it down where everyone could see him. he would begin to gather a crowd, and once he did, all paths led to Barnum’s American Museum.
“A church is an awful lot like Phineas T.’s Museum. You got the architecture, and the stained glass, and the pictures on the walls, and the big pipe organ, and men in dresses who stink of myrrh–and every other inducement to lure in the rubes who are looking to add a little color to their lives. Mostly, I’m talking about the mackerel-snappers. What with the blood drinking and the flesh eating and all that, I never professed to understand ’em. But it does add a great air of mystery to the doin’s, especially with all that Latin palaver that the priests are slinging around–Dominick Nabisco and all of that. And some of them colored Baptist churches also put on a pretty decent show, or so I hear.
“Me? I’m a Hindoo, I guess. Let’s face it–all the major religions have got a whiff of the old bunko. It takes a grifter to know a grift. Don’t get me to talkin’ about Moses. He goes up a mountain and he comes down and tells the people that he talked to God himself and that God chiseled the commandments on a couple of stones? Sounds to me like Old Man Moses was the one who was up to some chiseling. Not even a small boy would fall for that one, now-a-days. He’d tell you to get wise to yourself, and to peddle your papers elsewhere.
“And then, of course, there’s Jesus. He was either the Son of God, and therefore the greatest man who was ever borned, or else he was a grade-A confidence man, who thought out every move even more carefully than Houdini. Just think of it! Out of nowhere here comes this fellow who can heal the sick, make the blind see, the lame walk again, and the dead go cavortin’ around like a spring lamb. Here’s a Yellof who takes a dozen of the most chuckleheaded Yobs who ever drew breath and forges these hobos into an evangelizing army. This here Jesus moke must of had a whole lot of what the Perfessers call ‘charisma’ and the Yids call ‘chutzpah’. Here he goes, smashing the tables of the moneychangers, tellin’ off the greybeards, makin’ friends with prostitutes and tax collectors–that act still wouldn’t fly for a Preacher-man, even today, so it’s small wonder that they nailed him to a tree. I’m wondering why it even took ’em as long as it did, to be honest. Seems as though everything Jesus did, he did backwards from the way a normal sinner would conduct himself. Like I say–he was an A-1 grifter. If He was a speculator in the stock market, I’ll bet He would of made a bundle, buyin’ low and selling high, and keeping his cool in a stampeding panic right after the bubble burst.
“Don’t get me wrong–I ain’t disrespecting The Saviour. If He is who He said He was, then that was something holy and divine. But ask yourself, what if the whole story is one of the slickest hoaxes you ever did hear about, like the Cardiff Giant, or George Washington’s Nurse, or the expedition to the Moon? What if Jesus was a Feejee Mermaid made of part mythology and part history? Then what we got here is a classic ‘Big Store’ operation, with all these disciples stumblin’ around and gettin’ each other’s way and acting like Jesus is all holy and hustling the rubes one at a time to sell off all their worldly goods and get on board the Messiah Wagon. Even Judas with the thirty pieces of silver makes sense. He was jealous of ole Jesse and wanted to cut into his racket, and figured 30 shekels would get him a bit of a grubstake. There’s always a snitch in every crowd, and, by the way, I’ve been wonderin’ who the snitch is here at the Seven Stars. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, Tipsy?”
But Tipsy Smith was, by now, literally asleep on his feet, and in no condition to provide an intelligent answer–he only mumbled.
“Of course, them Roman Centurions took a dim view of all of this Messianic horseplay–they were the bunko squad of their day, I suppose. But instead of sending Jesse down the river to Joliet, they gave him a thorny crowned headache and hammered him on the cross. And that wasn’t all! Ha! That part about Rolling Away the Stone was real inspired–a bit of conjurin’ genius.”
Count Victor Justin Smiled complacently and took a long sip of beer and said, “The great Houdini his own self couldn’t of done better.”