Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What Jesus Means To Me

A Christmas Essay, by Anarquistador

We're all Christians in Hell. Really. If all that's required to be a Christian is to believe in God, then we're Christians. We don't need to believe; we have proof. SOMEONE damned us, after all. And I've always said, that if God is as cruel and bureaucratic as those who call themselves "Christians" say he is, then I will gladly live in Hell. A Heaven full of self-righteous sycophants who never lifted a finger to help their fellow man while on Earth is not an afterlife that appeals to me. Besides, all my friends are here.

But around Christmas time, I tend to get a little sappy and a little more pious. I was raised Catholic, and while I'm not exactly practising any longer, I can still appreciate and respect the idea of God, and I can still love what Jesus was meant to be. I say "meant to be," because I believe that Christianity in its modern incarnation is so far from what Jesus intended that I doubt He'll recognize it when He comes back.

As I sit here, a day before Christmas, with a Bible close at hand (my flesh isn't burning; must be the new translation), I ponder the Myth of Jesus, and what He was meant to be. Christ as Redeemer. I ponder the meaning of that word. "Redeemer." To restore, to recover, to renew. That's the notion of the Christ. The notion that, somewhere along the way, Humanity lost contact with God. Whether through human disobedience or not, God and Man were separated. Then came the Christ. God taking on mortal form to restore that relationship. And not simply restore it, but re-create it, in a new, better form. That was the point of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees, of course: rather than reinforce the old Covenant, Jesus talked of building a new Covenant, one based less on strict adherence to old laws and more on simple human compassion and empathy. The old Covenant had Ten Commandments; the new Covenant only had two: Love God, and Love Each Other.

I don't know why Christians today find that so hard.

The notion of the New Covenant has, I think, been lost by modern Christians. The law of the Old Testament was supposed to have been superceded by that of the New. Far too often do Christian leaders condemn difference rather than welcome it, and far too often do they use some verse from the Old Testament to back up their hatred. The pet cause of Fundamentalists in the here and now is homophobia, and they frequently quote Leviticus 20, wherein it states that men who lie together "as with a woman" are hated by God and should be killed. Of course Leviticus 20 also states that if you have sex with your wife during her period, you both have to go into exile. Don't see much of THAT happening nowadays. I can't find a passage in the New Testament where Jesus condemns homosexuality. In fact, Jesus doesn't really condemn ANYONE. He has issues with people who give lip service to the law without being committed to it, sure, but He never outright damns a single person. This is a man who, as He lay dying, forgave His executioners. Doesn't sound like the kind of person who'd condemn two people who love each other because their love is unconventional.

That was what characterized the notion of Christ as Redeemer: His enormous generosity and love. He came to restore a spiritual balance that had been lost. According to the notion of Original Sin, when Adam disobeyed God, he condemned all of humanity to Limbo: no one could get to Heaven until the balance was restored. That was Christ's job. To restore the balance to the world. To the WORLD; that's the thing no one remembers. Jesus came to redeem EVERYONE. Not just the Jews, not just the Christians. Not just the people who believed in Him. EVERYONE. Even the ones that didn't believe. In fact, ESPECIALLY the ones who didn't believe; they needed it more. And all He asked in return was that His followers live by His example. Spread the good news, be kind to your fellow man, repay insult with kindess, etc. Jesus demanded little of people while He lived, and gave of Himself whenever He could. THAT, boy and girls, is a man worth emulating.

So how did we get to where we are today? How did this wise and kind man, this Redeemer of the Covenant, become the stern exacting judge of human behavior we know Him as today? Well there are a lot of reasons, of course. Leaders who usurp religious teachings and bend them to further their own ends are nothing new, and Christianity is not immune to it. Well-meaning Church Fathers who interpreted Jesus's teachings through a glass darkly also had a hand in it (Saint Paul immediately comes to mind in this respect). And of course, good old-fashioned human stupidity is capable of amazing things when given the right framework to work within. It's a shame. Dare I say it, it's a SIN. To take the notion of the Christ and to attach strings to it is a sin. Here was a man who took the sins of world upon His shoulders, and died for them. He asked nothing in return, except that we love each other. Too many times have Christians had deep spiritual guilt heaped upon their shoulders for it. Too many times have we been told to give ourselves to Jesus, because we owe Him; He died for our sins. That message is inaccurate. Jesus died to restore the relationship between God and Man. No longer were we condemned to limbo forever; now we would be free to act how we wished, and we would be judged accordingly at the end of our lives - and for those of us who truly lived by Jesus's example, that would be nothing to fear. Jesus gave humanity its freedom; how can we be so ungrateful as to give it back to Him?

That's the danger of Fundamentalism: blind faith. The fear, the inability to make moral choices on our own, so we instead ask God to make the decision for us. How is that living by Jesus's example? How is that making use of the gift He gave us? How is living on our knees honoring Him? How is persecuting those who do not agree with us following Jesus's example? Is the commandment to "Love Each Other" only applicable to other Christians? That's not what Jesus wanted, I think. I think we can better serve by being mindful of one another, of being generous and compassionate, of turning our talents to improving the condition of this world and our our fellow man. Is that not truly Loving Each Other?

Ghandi was once quoted as saying, "If Christians truly lived by Christ's teachings, there would be no Hindus left in India." There is a sad truth in that. If Christ's message and example were truly being taught, then there would be no religious strife. Who WOULDN'T want to be part of something that taught tolerance and compassion and love? It's a grand irony, I suppose, that the very kinds of men Jesus fought again in His lifetime - corrupt religious authorities who used their positions to further their own agendas - are the same kind of men who have usurped His own teachings. It's discouraging...but Christmas is the season of hope, after all. And hope is a powerful thing. The hope that maybe someday Christians will come around, and realize how far we've all strayed, and try to come back to the path. It's a hope I have.

So, in this festive season, I say, without intent to offend and in the true spirit Christ intended, Merry Christmas to you all, and may God bless and keep you.


Blogger James said...

well said.
one needn't accept the supernatural to believe the philosophy attributed to jesus is worthwhile.
merry christmas.

4:14 PM, December 23, 2006  
Anonymous portraitinflesh said...

Merry Christmas, Anarq. And very well put. Now stop making perfect sense...you know that gets me to thinking, and that's never good.

10:06 AM, December 24, 2006  
Blogger Noreen Braman said...

this is one of the most thoughtful and honest assessments of the state of Christianity today. Which is why I also beleive that it is our mandate to "love one another." It is an aspiration, an ideal, but something all who call themselves Christians should strive for. Merry Christmas to you.

5:17 PM, December 24, 2006  

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