“There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 309, italics in the original
“The difference boils down to whether one views the perpetrators as evil or merely stupid. Are they evil enough to knowingly commit horrible crimes and then lie about it with feeble rationalizations? Or are they gullible enough to believe those justifications?”
Roy F. Baumeister, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty
In the icon of the crucifixion captures evil at its worst. It causes those who see it to ask their heart what they truly believe is more powerful: the evil that men do, or the power that created all things and raises them up?
It amazes me that those who wrote the Gospels about the teacher who always taught in parables are not understood to be presenting a parable themselves. I do not see how the Church Fathers could have been any clearer about what they were doing. It amazes me that so few understand that the temptations of Christ by the devil (Mt. 4.1-11) are the temptations humans need to be wary of, less they use the Christ as the devil. In the temptations the devil offers the Christ all the kingdoms of the world, the ability to turn stones to bread, and the power of magic and miracles that would save his body from harm if he were to jump off the heights of the temple. In this late stage of the collapse of Western civility Christianity needs to ask itself questions about its faith, as should each believer. Is the Christ really believed in the one that is going to deliver into your hands worldly power, wealth, and miraculous protection? Which one of these is the reason you are seeking out the Christ? It is not easy to follow the thread of loving the mystery, god if you will, for its own sake.
Last week’s essay discussed those who are tortured. Some were said to have been guilty of terrible crimes and the crucifixion for them was seen as a step in seeking justice through revenge. Others who have been tortured were innocent but cast into the role of the scapegoat by their community. Now we can get to the very heart of the matter: What if the guilty were also scapegoats?
What if the idea of a human being, any human being, actually being pure evil is a lie? Did not the person who abused others also suffer once at the hands of one who had themselves been abused? Might it be that only fools seek to nail the devil, this pure evil, to a tree? We know from the recent history of lynch mobs that when they torture human beings thinking they are solving issues they are in fact acting foolish in the extreme. How can we not understand what this man hanging on the cross, suffering torture, is teaching us? God, in reality, humbles himself to dwell among us. That is one way the Church Fathers found to say it some two thousand years ago. You cannot stop violence with greater violence; you cannot nail the devil to the tree. What you nail there when you try – always resurrects.
As I said when we started this investigation, Christianity is a very dangerous religion to misunderstand. It is a direct confrontation with evil. The teaching is a trap for those who would misuse god talk. The destroyer is not going to show up all cloven-hoofed and smelling of sulfur. We would recognize the beast right away and easily steer clear. The Rolling Stones, whose album Their Satanic Majesties Request received its anniversary remake this year, sang a telling line when the star of the album title speaks, “Allow me to introduce myself, I am a man of wealth and taste.” The devil, it seems, comes looking like a type of Christ. It comes looking like a type of Jesus. It comes as an anti-Christ.
Who killed that man hanging there still? A few short decades ago Germany blamed the Jews for all the evil in the world. In doing so they were bringing to a head thousands of years of European misunderstanding of the cross and its trap and message. In WWII they tried to nail pure evil to the tree. They tried to bring about the kingdom, the Third Reich, through the elimination of evil in historical time. Notice how whenever this happens the evil is always located, conveniently enough, in people other than those in one’s own “chosen” tribe. The Bible as the tale of a “chosen” people has much to teach us on this score.
Those who want a magically powered god are drawn to the image of the Christ as it is portrayed in the apocalyptic genre. Here he rides a horse through rivers of his enemies blood and overcomes the beast and his Empire once for all time. This, too, has been very dangerous when misunderstood. The Catholic traditions East and West universally reject any millennialism reading of the Book of Revelations. I don’t think this is quite as well known as it should be just now, as the war machines are being warmed up and the blessings over the bombs begin. This is what the Catechism states about it:
“The anti-Christ’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 676
So is the Christ the god of war or of peace?
One of the rhetorical tricks bully-Christians use is to ask people who they think Jesus was. Who was this man who claimed to be god? In my experience such people do not seem to be sincerely trying to enlighten their listeners, only to bully them into their own narrow interpretation of Christianity. They lay a trap in a play on words where they assert Jesus is uniquely the one and only man-god, or a crazy person since he claimed to be so. It makes the whole edifice of faith rest on a kind of word play more worthy of Kabalistic ruminations than solid, rational foundations. I see faith resting on what is real and must always be honoring my intellect and common sense.
Fundamentalists are ignoring how we know the written documents came to be and what role they are meant to serve. They were not written to record history as we understand that term today. These readings of the Christ story are too small. They ignore the anthropological fact that the man-god myth is found everywhere throughout the world and throughout time. The ancient world was filled with stories of the dying and rising man-god. It is not the magic and miracles that have been drawing hearts to the story of Jesus for millennia. It is the personality of he who is said to have taken up the cross. This is what has made it the culmination of all such stories. The Gospels reache out across time, or from beyond time, presenting a recognizable core sketch of a real flesh and blood human being. We could say it is in the linking of the man who spoke the Beatitudes with the mysteries of the solstice and John Barely Corn that was the new thing, the Good News.
It is worth noting, as Joseph Campbell remarked in Mythos, that the only point in the Apostolic Creed that has any historical reference is the mention of suffering under Pontius Pilate. By having that as the only historical kernel in the whole of the creed, it is as if the teaching were saying that the suffering under Empires is where the real kernel of what is historically real about the story takes place. Empires and religions are still torturing human flesh as Amnesty International documents. Here is the hook where the events of human history, and the timelessness of the creator of humans and history, are united. On the cross our creaturely flesh and blood is married to god.
No, the question about who is this man Jesus is important but leads to the personality revealed, not a super powered magician-god. But that is not the first question Christianity poses. The first thing we need to know, when we see the man nailed there and bleeding, is who would kill a man in this barbaric way? Who would have done this, could have done this? Why? That is what scares us when we see an act of torture so explicitly displayed. Our bodies see that image and instinctively react to the symbol par excellence of what none of us want to have to have happen to us. The Good News is that we personally do not need to hang there. The voices saying we are so guilty we should kill ourselves to please god, are themselves killed here on Golgotha, the place of the skull. Here we learn that killing in the name of god is a lie. It is the revelation of abba, a loving god. Here we learn that many of the acts we have committed and hold ourselves guilty of are not actually our fault but were instead reactions to the abuses we had suffered. Such is the power of sin. The core of choices that remain, those are our true will. Those are the one’s we answer for before the one who made us and knows all things.
This killing of another human being is perhaps the most ancient of religious acts. It is done to either please the gods or cut out evil. The shaman’s pointy bones and the witch’s evil eye have always been, in the end, means of murder through psychological operations (the first psych-ops). Out of fear of an uncontrollable fate, a person offers the invisible world what they claim is most precious to them: their king, priest, husband, wife or, most commonly, their children. Note that the offerings these “faithful” people are making cost them, in fact, very little. It is not their skin and sanity that is on the line. But it all seems so dramatic, such a perfect sacrifice. It’s just trying to trick god.
To understand what this man is doing on that cross we need to understand what the whole Biblical tradition was teaching beyond the use of religion for justifying the status quo and conferring social status. It is a message rather hard to miss once one allows common sense to rule the interpretations. The Bible is the story of mixing politics and religion. It covers many kinds of politics and many kinds of religion. It is often brutal in its honesty, showing the “chosen” in a particularly bad light. This makes the books collected in it somewhat unique since the general tendency of ancient writings is to kowtow to the semi-divine leaders of various civilizations. The history it captures teaches us that politics and religion are the two most dangerous aspects of the human experience. Both can bring about untold suffering if not harnessed to the visionary goal of peace on earth. What if they are, basically, a form of madness we as a species are prone to? What if our complex brains can become so caught up in chasing abstractions, like say the GDP or holiness, that they fail to deal with the real and present danger threatening us in our day to day world, the world of our day consciousness? What if our role as individuals, caught up in the larger powers of history as we are, is to take responsibility for our own will and intentions; wouldn’t this necessarily entail turning away from the Priest and Emperor who would be god?
Abraham is said to be the father of faith. All three monotheisms respect Abraham the patriarch, whose story comes from one of the most ancient layers of Hebrew writings. His faith is proven in the story about sacrificing his son Isaac. At the last minute the real god, aka the one behind all of creation’s existence, stays his hand. The act of faith, as I read this, was not in his willingness to sacrifice his son. That was just following the dictates of what all the “religious” people around him in these ancient times were saying. Tossing the kid into the fires of Moloch was pretty much the most faithful act a man could make. Faith was not found in being driven by fears of invisible forces to the point of being willing to murder even close kin. Faith was listening to the still small voice, the one of conscience and common sense. It reasons something along these lines: that if god made me and made my son, and made me to love my son and hate the idea of killing him, and to have made him to love me and hate the idea of dying at my hand, then it would be a sin to ignore all these witnesses to god’s inscrutable plans he has carved into our flesh. Evidently this is how “god” wants things. I will trust in what I experience as real, as real. I will trust my direct revelation, the one written in my flesh, instead of the voices all around me telling me what I should believe and not believe, do and not do.
This was the beginning of faith. It was the beginning of faith for Abraham and is the beginning of faith for people the world over still today. This faith dares to turn against the inner pressures of nightmare that would confuse the mind with fear. Those inner pressures are what the New Testament will call demons. These inner critics cannot believe in a god who wants acts of kindness and not sacrifice. The demonic voices are the ones that teach our minds that this earth is hell, its creator god is the devil, and so we must destroy the village to save it. It is the same Gnostic teaching we have seen before, that old enemy of the Church Fathers. It is also the faith that the modern world has signed up for when it fails to stop the ecological madness that is destroying our one and only home. Our angels may arrive on spaceships and our kingdom to come might be found on Mars, but we are just as dismissive of the real world under our feet as the most superstitious people that ever lived. We have lost our faith.
If we had faith we would have the courage to admit what the real problems are. We would then have a chance to deal with them best we might. This would be to use our day consciousness correctly. Instead what we find is that the day consciousness of most people, most days, is fed by electronic entertainments. Some of these entertainments are packaged as news. For the most part they stick with strictly human concerns about love and shopping, while feeding viewers an endless stream of revenge fantasies as evil people get paid back in violence by our action heroes who turn death and torture to supposed good ends. These “entertainments” are actually mind training and they take a great deal of the psychic energy we each have to face the challenges of our lives. The imagery keeps us stunned, in shock. The minds of most people are kept too harassed and busy, overloaded and under-educated; to even begin to recognize the outlines of the reality we are enmeshed in through our total, addictive dependence on fossil fuels, corporate institutional structures, and limitless economic growth supporting fiat currencies. There is much that could be done in the daytime world to soften the blows that science assures us are heading our way. It is a question of will; do we have what it takes to wake, fully, into the day?
Kids not to be born or not to have progeny, and species going extinct forever at our hands, can you see how these living things are getting nailed to crosses every single day, their futures taken away from them by our shortsightedness, selfishness and cowardice? These things might be invisible in so far as you cannot see them or touch them. But they are real, as real as CO2. They have an existence in our molecular world, one that is inherent to its nature. Those other invisibles like the GDP, the ones that have us so entranced that we cannot even honestly speak of what ails us, maybe its time to betray them. I think it is what love is asking us to do. There is already a crisis of legitimacy in existing institutions. Neither churches nor governments are immune. In order to thrive we need these institutions and we need them to be strong in serving human beings. Faith holds out a hope of reform, no matter how radical it might need to be. A too cavalier approach to our real problems by the leaders of our churches and governments, one that sees in these problems only opportunities for using nuclear weapons and establishing dominion theology’s theocracy, might well perform acts that undermine whatever legitimacy in the eyes of the normal citizen of earth these institutions still have. I fear the existing generation of leaders may not appreciate just how devastating it is to lose honor in the eyes of the people who are, as Jimmy Stewart said in It’s a Wonderful Life, “doing the living and dying around here.” It is like the abused child who no longer denies that they were not at fault and they see their abuser in a new, cold and harsh light. A few nuclear bombs used in a Middle East war could be the stick that breaks the camel’s back and reveals those who dared to ride their hubris this far in a very harsh light indeed. The people in those times without faith in the day will surely be swept up in the madness of the night. We have an opportunity, today, to prepare for triage conditions. Now is the time to learn to talk sense and think straight.
We need to be really clear about this. If nuclear weapons begin to be tossed around, Jesus is not going to appear out of the sky and catch them, nor will the righteous disappear from cars and airplanes like a Hollywood special effect. No divine magic trick is going to save us from the consequences of cause and effect. If nuclear weapons begin to be tossed around people will burn. Most likely, given the nature of the modern arsenal, people will burn on a massive scale. Nuclear poisons will spread into the land, water and air, mutating the genetic code wherever it reaches. The level of fear and terror everyone in the world wakes up to each day will have gone up a notch, will have gone up considerably. Sadly, frightened minds do not make good decisions. That is what will happen if nuclear weapons are used. That is what will happen if “god” is the vulnerable lover shown on the cross and not the super power magician of the Christian apocalyptic cults.
There are two very different Jesuses here. One is a lying spirit.