Saturday, December 03, 2005

Christ Against the Fascists 

I had an e-mail exchange with Finchy about this column by Deepak Chopra, published at the Huffington Post. Finchy found the exchange interesting, so I thought I'd post what I wrote to him. First a bit of Chopra's piece:

"Taking the Bible literally makes no sense to moderate and liberal Christians, and one of the most urgent tenets of literalism, that Jesus will soon return to Earth to render judgment and save the righteous, seems like a fantasy. Secular society has no need for Jesus to return. It leaves each citizen to privately choose a religion, or not to choose one, and all other matters fall outside the realm of faith.

So it came as a shock to secular society when millions of people couldn't take their minds off the return of Jesus, so much so that Judgment Day colors everything else they think about--family, relationships, morals, business, politics. Speaking for myself, I came to terms with this issue in the following way:

We are indeed waiting for the return of Jesus, and in this "we" I include those non-Christians who want to live in a tolerant, compassionate relationship with everyone. But if Jesus returns, there are three choices of who he will be.

The first Jesus was historical, a rabbi living in first-century Palestine whose life profoundly changed religious belief in the West. The second Jesus is the core of a religion, which has its particular dogmas, rituals, priests, churches, and scriptures. These two Jesuses are undeniably real, but the second one--the Jesus of organized religion--has been subject to human whim and change. Right now, if you are not a fundamentalist, he seems to have been hijacked in the service of intolerance, bigotry, and war. A religion that began in the name of love has reached almost its exact opposite--not for the first time, of course.

The third Jesus is not rigidly sectarian. He falls into the world tradition of spirituality. This Jesus speaks for peace and love; his morality includes all peoples; his Father is a universal deity. I was well acquainted with the third Jesus as a child in India. I could love and revere him. It never occurred to me that he would ever become an enemy. This Jesus doesn't speak of non-Christians as pagans. He raises human nature to its highest ideal, along with the saints and sages who have guided humanity for centuries.

I don't think that well-intentioned fundamentalists mean to pervert the third Jesus; I suspect they've never heard of him. He has one great disadvantage, however. You can't own him. You can't say 'he's all mine and nobody else's.' The third Jesus won't work if you need to justify a war, if you need evil enemies, or you want to brand 'them' as godless."

This is what I said in response:

"As far as I know, Chopra isn't despicable, just your typical wishy-washy
'spiritualist' who helps people (people like us) adjust to damaged life
under capitalism. I don't mean to mock his work--it's what yoga instructors are doing, and there's a component of this kind of thing in all healthy
religious/aesthetic pursuits.

He seems like a nice enough guy.

The problem with him and other secularist 'spiritualists' is that they are
too willing to say that religion is a private matter. This position actually
concedes the public realm to the maniacs and lunatics. The fact is, the public realm is where the biggest moral decisions are made, and people are always going to want and need and willy-nilly make justifications for such decisions in the language of transcendental imperatives. The question is, which imperatives?

We can't be afraid to fight the fundamentalists and fascists with fire, or light.
Martin Luther King and Dietrch Bonhoeffer knew this.

As for the three Christs, I would say in response, there is only one Christ: the Jewish prophet who was so radical that he blew up Judaism from within by seeming to invite all men (not just the citizens of Israel) to avail themselves of God's all-forgiving love; and who had such integrity that he was perfectly willing to die in order to show us what all-forgiving love looks like when it's put into practice on this earth.

The second Christ, the center of the dogmatic religion, is this same man, though he is covered by various theoretical excrescenes; but he is there, deep at the center--that is why the greatest Christian thinkers have managed to find him again and again. The Church's founding dogmas (the creeds of Nicaea and Chalcedon) can be connected to the historical experience of the murdered Jewish prophet. The third Christ--the universalist spiritual master--is continuous with
the other two; it shouldn't be suprising that Jesus shares qualities with
certain other 'Sages,' most especially the Buddha.

These two, more than any other figures in history, made the
universality of their appeals an essential, if not the essential, part of
the appeals themselves. They created 'humanity' as a universal category. This
is the meaning of 'evangelism,' which we were discussing in the comment-thread below about Jimmy Carter.

I would, however, argue Jesus' message is still more comprehensive than the Buddha's because he speaks for an anthrophomorphic God who is able to see and judge all people fairly, mercifully--with love but without base personal interest. I am more and more convinced that the idea of some fair-minded, patient, imperturbable judge of
human character is essential--if only as an idea--for getting on with
life. I believe that Jesus, whatever else he was or is, was the one person more responsible than any other for introducing this idea into human history. (If you don't follow what I am saying, you might look at some Eastern Orthodox icons--not later perspectival images--of the Savior Acheiropoietos. This image of Jesus' face is not meant for us to look at; it is meant to remind us that he is looking at us.)

As for the Jesus that Chopra says has been hijacked by fundamentalists: my response is, in all seriousness, that this just is not Jesus. The fundamentalist "Jesus" certainly has nothing to do with the traditional Crucified Lord of older and legitimate forms of Christianity.

Fundamentalists are addicted to a television-made cocktail of paranoia,
hatred, and self-justification. They just stick the name "Jesus" on it and
march around under the banner of the cross, with no awareness whatsoever
that the cross, in Jesus' time, was analogous to the electric chair. The
first Christians were, unbelievably, taking the symbol of overwhelming, inescapable, and objectively triumphant imperial domination and murder, and declaring that this symbol meant the opposite of what the imperalists thought it did. They declared, "Jesus is lord"--and the cross was meant to remind everyone that the declaration was made in the teeth of fact that Jesus had suffered the seemingly unanswerable ignominy of penal execution.

Fundamentalists simply know nothing about the Bible or Christianity.

Only 40% of Americans have read even one of the four canonical gospels. (Today's "evangelists" do not read the words of the four original evangelists.)

They listen to their preachers. Their preachers just cut up the sacred
texts and re-arrange the words until they fit their bloodthirsty message.

So Chopra is most completely wrong in his assertion that fundamentalists
are "literalists."

There is no literalism. All interpretation is figurative. So-called "literalism" is just a particularly stupid and ignorant mode of interpretation that disavows its own interpretive character by calling itself "literal." In other words, it is simply fascism, stamped with the label "Christianity," decorated with words cut and pasted unscrupulously from the Bible, and distributed like poisoned candy to the masses.


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