Saturday, September 04, 2010

I ran across this piece the other day and I thought it was really good. It is about “What Jesus do you believe in.” Even though this is from new minds of today, I think it is filled with insightful thoughts. Enjoy.

“We must face the fact that many different saviors can be smuggled in under the name “Jesus”, just as many different deities can be disguised under the term “God” and vastly different ways of living can be promoted under the name “Christianity.” Jesus can be a victim of identity theft, and peoples can say and do things with and in his name that he would never ever do. Nobody has helped me see this more clearly than one of my most loyal and dedicated critics.

He was being interviewed a couple of years ago and described me and my friends as those that want: to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.

Quite a way with words! The characterization of my friends and me was nothing, though, compared to his characterization of Jesus that came shortly thereafter:

“In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper; halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

What would cause this articulate and highly committed Christian to portray Jesus as a prize-fighter, armed with a sword, intent on harming, killing, inflicting violence, drawing blood?

……However ridiculous – or tasteless – some portray Christ, it mirrors as only satire can a sad reality of church history and of today’s religious landscape. We all are tempted to remake Jesus into just about anything we like. We like a Jesus who hates the people we hate and likes whatever we like, a certain kind of politics, either right or left, or cuddly omnipotence. Too many of us, whether as individuals or groups, honestly – and naively – believe our view is “objective” and “true”, with no distortion at all.

Among those who become more self-aware about the danger of distortion, an understandable fear arises; if all of us (not just “all of them”) are tempted to remake Jesus in our own image, then we should be extremely cautious about compromising, letting Jesus be reimaged according to our contemporary tastes.

Thoughtful readers have probably already anticipated a problem with this otherwise well-founded caution. By holding a presumptive hostility to new views of Jesus, which may indeed reflect contemporary biases, we may unwittingly preserve old views of Jesus, which also reflect dangerous and comprising biases – just biases of the past rather that the present.

So, in successfully rejecting an insipid “hippie, diaper, halo Christ,” we may unintentionally protect and uphold --

The white supremacist Jesus,

The colonial Jesus,

The Eurocentric Jesus,

The slave-owning Jesus,

The nuclear bomb-dropping America first Jesus,

The organ-music stained glass nostalgic-sentimental Jesus,

The Native American-slaying genocidal Jesus,

The cuddly omnipotent Christmas Jesus,

The male-chauvinist Jesus,

The homophobic “God hates fags” Jesus,

The South African pro-apartheid Jesus,

The Joe-six-pack-Jesus, and so on.

Those who think they stand had better take heed lest they fall, and those who think they know may have some more learning to do.

As we noted earlier, the slippery slope argument – that we’d better not budge on or rethink anything for fear we’ll slip down into liberalism, apostasy, or some other hell – proves itself dangerous and naïve even as it tries to protect us from danger and naiveté. First it assumes we’re already at the top of the slope, when it’s just as likely that we’re at the bottom or somewhere in the middle. Second, it assumes that, even if we were at the peak, there’s only one side we might be in danger of sliding down, as if the mountain had only a northern liberal slope without an equally dangerous southern conservative slope, or an Eastern “new age” slope without an equally Western “old age” slope. You can back away from one danger smack over the hill of another.

My loyal critic sincerely and passionately believes in the tattooed, sword wielding prize fighter Jesus because of his reading of Revelation 19:11-16 –

“Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horsed. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

Now, if we read this passage not as a constitutional document decreeing future events, but as a crucial document in the biblical library, we need to place it in its historical context and genre. Clearly, this is a work of Jewish apocalyptic literature, which in turn is part of a larger genre known as the literature of the oppressed. These kinds of literature worked in the first century in ways similar to the way some science fiction works for us today. For example, when we read or watch Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, The Matrix, or Wall-E, we don’t think the writers and filmmakers are trying to predict the future. No, we understand they are really talking about the present, and they are doing so in hopes of changing the future.

So Planet of the Apes turns out to be a way of talking about how nuclear war—a hot topic in the Cold War era in which it was written – could destroy humanity……

The depictions of the future given in these works of science fiction are not predictions or prognostications. They provide windows on the actual present from the perspective of an imagined future, and they do so in hopes of influencing us in the present to live and choose wisely, thus creating a better future than we otherwise would.

In the Apocalypse, or Revelation, early followers of Jesus are in a similar moment of creative possibility. They must deal with the fact that they believe Jesus was right and his kingdom was true, yet they are being vilified and persecuted brutally. The emperor of Rome seems firmly in control, and nothing seems to be moving in the direction of the Kingdom of God. In that light, what message do they need? Do they need to hear that soon they can forget about all that naïve peace and forgiveness stuff that Jesus taught, because soon they’ll be allowed to pull out their swords, mount their warhorses, and kick some persecutor’s hindquarters? Or do they need a message of reassurance, encouragement and confidence that the way of peace that Jesus modeled is indeed the good and right way, that it will triumph in the end, and so they shouldn’t give up on it?

Apparently, the passage in question can be interpreted wither way – one way that subverts the reconciling messages of Jesus’s gospel and life, and another way that reinforces them.

For me, the latter approach is the only acceptable one.

The passage in question isn’t telling us Jesus is a prize-fighter with a commitment to make somebody bleed. Nor is it claiming that the Jesus of the gospels was a fake-me-out Jesus pretending to be a peace-and-love guy, when really he was planning to come back and act like a proper Caesar, more of a slash-and-burn guy, brutal, willing to torture, and determined to conquer with crushing violence.

Nor is it informing us that even God has to use violence to impose the divine will in the end.

Instead, this image of Jesus as a conqueror reassures believers that the peaceful Jesus who entered Jerusalem on a donkey that day wasn’t actually weak and defeated; he was in fact every bit as powerful as a Caesar on a steed. His message of forgiveness and reconciliation – conveyed as a sword coming out of his mouth (not in his hand, as my loyal critic asserted – quite an important detail)

Will in the end prove far more powerful than Caesar’s handheld swords and spears. And the blood on his robe—that’s not the blood of his enemies. It’s his own blood, because the battle hasn’t even begun yet, and Revelation has already shown us Jesus “as a lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (5:6)

And it may also recall the blood of the peaceful martyrs (6:9-11), since in attacking them, violent forces were also attacking Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who taught them the way of peace.

To repeat, Revelation is not portraying Jesus returning to earth in the future, having repented of his naïve gospel ways and having converted to Caesar’s “realistic” methods instead. He hasn’t gotten discouraged about Caesar seeming to get the upper hand after his resurrection and on that basis concluded that it’s best to live by the sword after all. Jesus hasn’t abandoned the way of peace and concluded the way of Pilate is better, mandating that his disciples should fight after all. He hasn’t had second thoughts about all that talk about forgiveness and concluded that on the 78th offense (or 491st, depending on interpretation), you should pull out your sword and hack off your offender’s head rather than turn the other cheek.

He hasn’t given up on that “love your enemies” stuff and judged it naïve and foolish after all, concluding instead that God’s strength is made manifest not in weakness but in crushing domination. He hasn’t had a change of heart, concluding that the weapons he needs are physical after all or that the enemies of the kingdom are flesh and blood after all, which would mean that the way to glory isn’t actually by dying on the cross but rather by nailing others on it.

When I read this I thought of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, and how absurd it would be to think that either of them would turn to the sword if they had lived longer.

A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren, painting from the Internet


Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi Fred:)

Very interesting post and very realistic when you consider what people especially the youngsters want to think and believe about Jesus since they have no proper grounding in the Christian faith.

I believe that Jesus in the New Testament is a simple,selfless person who is always willing to help others,lead a very simple life mostly on charity and did maximum good to people wherever HE went.He abjured violence and never even mentioned about retribution or punishment.He even healed the ear of the centurian who arrested Jesus and Peter in a fit of anger drew his sword and severed the centurian's ear.HE told Peter to put his sword away saying that those who draw the sword will perish by the sword.

It is only in Old Testament that God is portrayed as a revengeful God.But Jesus completely changed the picture of God as forgiving God full of mercy and compassion.

I enjoyed reading this post and there is a lot of truism in this post because those who read science fiction and watch such movies would always like to think of Jesus on these lines.Instead of watching such movies and reading these fictional stories people should spend more time reading the New Testament of the Bible which portrays the life of Christ.

Best wishes Fred:)

Mel said...

Hi Fred! :)

FCB said...

Hi Joseph,
I really appreciate your comments, as usual, and I like your scripture reference, one I hadn't thought of.
God bless my friend,

Hi Mel,
Good to see your name pop up, I'll come by for a visit.
God bless,