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Archive for February, 2012

Religion is Dangerous

There is perhaps no greater argument against Christianity than the existence of oppression and atrocities committed by those who are considered by culture and history as “Christians”. The Spanish Inquisition of 1480 was inspired by a desire to maintain Roman Catholic orthodoxy in the Kingdom through terror, imprisonment, torture and murder. In the New World, the Salem Witch Trials is forever remembered as a dark time where any who lived differently that the Puritan lifestyle was suspect of being possessed by the devil. Over 150 were accused and about 35 were killed as a result of the hysteria, some by hanging, some by their inhumane imprisonment and one man by being crushed to death by rocks because he refused to confess to the accusations. Speaking of the New World, every Columbus Day  we as a nation celebrate a man responsible for heinous acts against the natives of the lands he “discovered”. The Arawak people are a people made completely extinct by his cruel and murderous campaign for wealth and power. All this in the name of the Church and the Spanish Empire under the guise of “converting the savages”. These type of religious crimes are not limited to only Christianity. During the Utah War between the LDS Church and the United States Government, Mormons murdered a group of families traveling by wagon train in an attack known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The Middle East conflict can be blamed entirely on irreconcilable religious belief systems. Suicide bombs are the only way, some claim, they can defend themselves and protest the oppression they are experiencing. Constant fear of air strikes and blood shed over “holy” land and past offenses seem to be a forever open wound on our world. There are many more examples that could be cited in history. All of them awful and inexcusable acts of evil.

Religious ideology is not alone in flaming the human capacity for violent evil. The twentieth century saw millions dead for “progress” all justified as the result of the will for power. Mao Ze-Dong is responsible for the genocide of 49-78,000,000 Chinese and Tibetans during his reign. Jozef Stalin saw the need to purge his nation so that his understanding of progress could be expedited namely, his power. His “purging” combined with famine in the Ukraine bloodies his hands with that of 23,000,000 humans, twice that of Hitler who was responsible for the Holocaust which eliminated 12,000,000 people. Speaking of Hitler it has been argued that his Catholicism was a big influence in his crimes. I have found this in my research to be very misleading. Hitler’s religion was one unique to himself. He saw Christianity as very incompatible with his intentions and would much rather prefer Islam or the Japanese religions than the “meekness and flabbiness” of Christianity. Hitler was, like Stalin and Mussolini, a tyrant very much consistent with a modernist understanding of humanity and his world. He was a victim of a philosophy that over estimated the abilities of policy and human reason as well as a man with the dangerous and unique ability to take great power with a weapon of tongue. It is interesting to note that one of the greatest German resistance movements to the Third Reich was a Christian one. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the first to publicly denounce Hitler over the radio.  He was one of the founding members of the Confessing Church, a Church intended to resist Hitler. More recently, Jean Kambanda lead the “choppings” of around 800.000 in Rwanda in 1994. Everyday many are killed, raped, robbed, manipulated and oppressed by the religious and the non-religious alike. It won’t due to blame whoever we think has caused more evil. Secular humanism? Religion? If anyone or any ideology is guilty of evil they must be flawed and rejected. I personally am convinced that there is no greater litmus test for truth.

It might be coincidence that this issue, of Christianity being rejected for its evil acts, and the theme of this blog site, that the philosophy and movement of Jesus is very much anti-establishment and revolutionary as well as holistic for true liberty and human life, come together here. I have spent time on this site arguing that Jesus was a revolutionary born in a time of oppression and tyranny. He was not only against the Roman Empire but against the fraudulent Jewish leadership as well (also he denounces the militant Zealot movement). He threatened all those in his culture who held power because they gained and held that power by being evil: oppression,violence and everything related to these. I am convinced that the contemporary church culture has got Jesus very very wrong. And I believe this misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what his movement was is a big reason why those who call themselves “Christians” do very un-Jesus like things. It is our nature to shape events, people, deities around our own interests and desires. It is my hope that we stop doing this when it comes to Jesus, for as it is now, the Jesus of history would be not be welcome, nor would he want to be involved with, our popular church culture. It is time to begin a deep re-thinking of who Jesus really was. This takes a massive amount of work and sacrifice, but the result is a life long quest of liberty and truth.

Jesus resisted evils religious and secular. He stood against the Church and the Empire. One having a religious motive for doing violence and oppression does not change the fact that it is evil anymore than a government assassinating a rival country’s nuclear scientists in the name of “national security” is righteous. Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious and the secular. His six trials as described in the Gospels, confirmed also by the non-Christian account of Josephus, give testimony to the fact that Jesus was a man condemned to die by all in power, for he resisted and threatened them all. To the Jews he was dangerous because he didn’t pick a side in their conflict but rather exposed them all as hypocrites. To Jesus the Temple was no longer relevant, God was doing what he promised but in a totally unexpected way. If the Temple was no longer necessary, then the High Priesthood was null and void as well. The Zealots, who Jesus seems to be close with for a little while, are too militant and if they are allowed to have their way of bloody revolution will bring the full wrath of the Roman Army upon Jerusalem (70AD anyone?). When Jesus takes a coin out of the mouth of a fish in response to the question of taxation his intention is not financial advice. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” is a direct disowning of the Zealot movement, which Judas Iscariot (meaning ‘the knife or dagger’) was a member of. It seems this is when the Zealots would begin to put into motion a betrayal, carried out by the one of their own within Jesus’ inner circle.

Many scholars have said that the Roman magistrate were very timid about punishing Jesus but were fearful of the Jewish reaction so they did it anyway. This is not completely accurate, it actually makes no sense. The Romans were not at all hesitant about squashing revolts, particularly when it came to the Jews. Jesus was indeed amassing a following and the rumor was that he was King of the Jews. The Romans were the ones who decided who was “king of the Jews”. When Herod sought the life of Mary’s new-born he was seeking him out as one placed into power by the Roman power structure. Rome was seeking and destroying infants in an attempt to stop the Messiah from causing a problem. It seems more probable to me that Rome would behave here as they did with other political prisoners causing ripples. They condemned Jesus to death because he was not just a threat to the religious establishment, he was a threat to the Empire. He was being hailed a king and a prophet without Roman appointment. He was establishing a movement that Rome was never in the habit of allowing to exist.

Jesus suffered and died. This alone seems to fly in the face of those who would act like following Jesus means causing violence or harm to others. He himself never hurt anyone. He did however give himself freely for a revolution he believed in, a revolution which according to post-easter testimony, he believed would endure even his own crucifixion (see John 17). When we are mad at the sufferings and injustices in this world and in our society, we are right to feel so. When we want to resist the powers who oppress and manipulate, we are right to feel so. Jesus was angry with how the world was. Jesus resisted the powers of his day both religious and secular. His revolution continues today. His movement requires a critique and resistance of the popular Christian sect in America and it requires a revolution against an Inverted Totalitarian State masquerading as a democracy.

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2012 has just begun and already its proven to be very electric to say the least. Many believe it is the end of time according to the Mayans and therefore must be the year of some grand terrible apocalypse. Last year there was quite a stir in our culture thanks to Harold Camping’s rapture prediction, that Jesus was coming back to earth to take all the faithful, i.e. those belonging to the american evangelical culture, leaving the rest of us to suffer a horrible seven-year tribulation where the Anti-Christ rules the world and beheads all who don’t take the “mark of the beast” which is thought to be a microchip or bar code of some kind (see the novel series “Left Behind” for more details as to what to expect for this particular version of the coming apocalypse). I remember well the uproar during the turning of the millenia when the “Y2K bug” was supposed to infect all our technology and end civilization as we knew it. I also remember going shopping with my brother a few days into the new year 2000 and being amazed by the huge pile of doomsday and Y2K books at stores being practically given away. Like so many last days hypes to end up being nothing but another example of the consequences for bad history and biblical interpretation, that one was a doozy.

So it is I feel with our current proclamations of the apocalypse. I have been in numerous political debates with Christians lately who somehow go from political analyst to doomsday prophet. “We are in the last days, only prayer can save our country.” “We are about to witness the last days, voting will not stop the coming destruction” and so on. I was raised in a home that believed in the rapture and Armageddon and the Anti-Christ. I remember what it was like to have a worldview that centered around this story. I also remember the freedom I experienced when I came to different conclusions after going out on my own and getting out of that type of community. For many Christians, like myself years ago, being a Christian is about “being ready, being prepared for the rapture, the second coming [of Jesus] and the last judgement”(Marcus Borg).

Jesus was a man who lived in a time saturated with an end time and apocalyptic atmosphere. The Jews were always looking for the promises of the prophets to come to pass, for God to come and deliver them while destroying the gentile powers that oppressed them (see the Wisdom of Solomon and the Book of Enoch for a clear demonstration of how the Jews at that time saw their world and interpreted their scriptures). The New Testament has nothing at all to support the popular and rather new eschatological theory portrayed in the Left Behind novels (dispensationalism and a belief in a rapture and so forth became an accepted theory in the 1800s). Rather the movement of Jesus described in the New Testament is one of identity through revolution against evil. Jesus has much to say regarding how the oppressed of his day are to resist Roman oppression and religious manipulation. He critiques the Jewish way of thinking, even going as far as usurping their beloved temple and redefining what Israel is. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians tells his audience that those who would identify with the Jesus movement are to understand that they must continue the ministry (work) which Jesus began (ch.5).

It is my hope that we would learn from our past and rethink our faith around a more historical understanding of Jesus rather than the fictional Jesus of many American Churches. The coming of Jesus was one spoken of in a Jewish context. Jesus, as a second temple Jew, used imagery found also in his scriptures as well as in some apocryphal literature such as “coming on the clouds”. This image was one meaning God’s presence and usually God’s coming in judgement. The prophet Daniel uses this language to describe how the Son of Man will come, meaning the Son of Man as one representing Yahweh and bringing judgement as well (Daniel 7:13). Jesus adopted the title, “Son of Man” for himself. He tells Caiaphas, the high priest during one of his trials, when asked if he believes he is the Messiah that he is indeed and that Caiaphas will “see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven”(Matt. 26:64). The reaction of the high priest conveys that he understood what Jesus was really saying, for they were speaking the language of the time. Caiaphas tears his robe as a declaration of outrage. Jesus has just told him that this is the plan all along and that there is nothing the Priesthood or even Rome can do about it. He is the chosen one and his movement is the new thing God is doing. He is replacing the Temple as the symbol and place of God’s power, he is the new high priest, he is the one bringing judgement.

The judgement Jesus brings is also something to understand from ancient context he lived in. Throughout his ministry Jesus alluded to a time of “tribulation” when a great war would come upon the Jews. This time would be extremely difficult. He advises those living in this time to not have children and to flee to the wilderness and pray that “flight be not in the winter…!”(Matthew 24). The apocalyptic vision attributed to the apostle John, titled simply as ‘Revelation’ tells of similar events. Many today believe Jesus and John were foretelling of events way into the future. I believe however that these events were not so far into the future that they would be irrelevant for the immediate audience. The horrible fate of Jerusalem, the Temple and over one million Jews in 70ad at the hands of the Roman army sheds light on these grim passages in the New Testament. It was a time of great tribulation indeed as Rome slowly starved the holy city. In the sieged walls, trapped Jewish mothers made the hard decision to kill their children rather than let them starve or be captured. Even one of the most popular symbols of Revelation, the mark of the beast or 666 has historical explanation. The term “beast”was the jewish code for the Emperor of Rome. And 666 seems to be a code for Nero, the brutal mad Caesar who was in power during the imprisonment of John which is when he had his vision.

It is time to identify with the movement and ministry of Jesus and carry it into our world. The revolution has been overlooked due to an obsession with non-biblical last days nonsense. Why should we care for and be responsible in our treatment of our world and environment if this world is going to burn in judgement anyway? Why should we give ourselves totally to the helping of those in need when we need to be sure first and foremost that we are righteous and have our tickets for the imminent rapture ride? How can we continue the revolution of Jesus against injustice, oppression and evil when revolution is not even on our radar theologically? When our churches teach Jesus from creeds only and not from historical context, or if they teach history it is only reformation history as if the New Testament and Jesus can be understood from a Medieval frame of reference, how can we truly know who Jesus was and therefore who we are as participants in his movement? Everything Jesus said and did pointed to his being the solution to the world’s brokeness. His miracles, his parables, his reenactment of Israel and his death all point to his ministry as being something very different than the American Church culture demonstrates. Why believe in his resurrection if not also in the new world he has offered? Why believe in his miracles if he hasn’t restored the world and given his people the power and charge to continue this ministry of reconciliation? Jesus is for everyone.

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