religion and politics

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I want to write some more thoughts about Christianity, but not assume that everyone is Christian. This isn’t an effort to convert anyone, just an attempt to explore some more of the ideas I’ve been reading about and thinking about.

A quote from the book God and Empire, by John Dominic Crossan:

It is clear, I hope, that the Kingdom of God is inextricably and simultaneously 100 percent political and 100 percent religious. “Kingdom” is a political term, “God” is a religious term, and Jesus would be executed for that “of” in a world where, for Rome, God already sat on Caesar’s throne because Caesar was God. I was once told by a colleague that the difference between us was that I considered earliest Christianity a political movement with religious overtones and he considered it a religious one with political overtones. I replied that, to the contrary, my position was that earliest Christianity was absolutely both at the same time because nobody in the first century made such a distinction.
 

I love the ideas within that paragraph for so many reasons. I’m fascinated by the idea of trying to see ancient religions as they were experience by the people. I love the idea that Christianity was political. Of course it always has been, for a while at least it was political on the side of the poor and vulnerable against the side of the Empire. Then of course it got co-opted and did so much damage but is there a chance now, for people to reclaim the revolutionary voice?

Let’s call for a Democracy of God. What God, of course? Not the God obsessed with people’s sex lives and being worshipped on Sunday. No… let’s call for a Democracy of a just God. A God who would ride on a donkey instead of a war-horse in a triumphant entry into the city.  If Jesus could do street theatre and challenge the presumption that Caesar is God, what can we do to help challenge the assumption that Wall Street is right? Let’s celebrate a God who wouldn’t be afraid to work at a soup kitchen or judge a person’s time as worth less than someone else’s because the person has a mental illness. Let’s celebrate a God who would reject the merging of multi-billion dollar companies but say instead “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.” (Isaiah 5:8)

John Dominic Crossan describes a Jesus who said the Kingdom of God is here, right now, and that its waiting for us to work and live within it. He describes Jesus as posing an alternative to the violent imperialistic norms of society. Well, we still live within a violent imperialistic society. Recently NDP Paul Dewar spoke about his private members bill that would try to prevent Canadian companies from using minerals mined in conflicts. He said that “The only difference between what was happening in the Belgian Congo and now are the technologies and the actors.” I suspect the language is also different.

We use less language of war and more the language of economics. While people of the past might have said that brute force is inevitable and that God brings different empires to power, now people would say that our economic systems are inevitable. We need to challenge the “common sense” that says that people must be willing to work for below poverty wages because setting a reasonable minimum wage would cost them their jobs. We need to challenge the ideas that have gotten accepted as truth.

Yet, though I believe that any God worth worshipping must be supportive of justice, I get scared to of religion the moment it is used to support anything. God isn’t a trump card in an argument. God’s been used that way too much for too many wrong things. So should we banish God from the conversation?

In some ways it seems easier to speak of a God of justice in very vague terms as though keeping away from specifics makes it easier to keep political agendas from being clocked in religious languages. Speak of justice for the poor rather than raising minimum wage. Then people can still debate what type of justice or what justice would look like and it wouldn’t look like anyone was pulling the God trump-card. It wouldn’t suggest that someone doesn’t support God if they reject a specific reform or political policy. That feels safer but also one step closer to just banishing God from the conversation.

What did it mean when people spoke of God two thousand years ago? John Dominic Crossan’s argument is that when people two thousand years ago said Jesus is God they were speaking high treason because God was the Roman Emperor. Now God isn’t that, so to say Jesus is God means something totally different. Is there anything that people could say Jesus is that would be at all comparable to that idea of Jesus as the replacement for the Roman Emperor?

Crossan writes of the normalcy of human civilization’s violence. He says Jesus and Paul challenged it. They spoke of peace through justice rather than peace through victory. I can’t help thinking they would challenge the economics that says economies must constantly grow larger, that wealth will trickle down and that government’s job is to protect investments.

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One thought on “religion and politics

  1. I suspect that if more people read authors such as Crossan, Marcus Borg and Harvey Cox, they would not be so facile in their dismissal of religion. Those writers encapsulate the kind of sophisticated and nuanced thinking that a serious consideration of faith merits, as opposed to the simplistic and childish representations that the professional atheists such as Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. find so easy to attack.

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