Unchristian acts distort message of Jesus Christ

Thu, Apr 5, 2012, 01:00

THIS WEEKEND, Christians around the world will mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But what has been the legacy of the man with a simple message of love and peace, who sacrificed himself for humankind more than 2,000 years ago?

There are so many Christian factions (each with its own interpretation) that one does well even to recall that his message was indeed a very simple one.

The anti-violence aspect of it has always caused problems for Christians; though not so much in the interpretation as in the observance. From virtually the outset, self-styled followers of Jesus readily resorted to violence to propagate or defend his “word”.

Priscillian, bishop of Avila in Spain, was the first Christian heretic to be executed, in 385. The last, Cayetano Ripoll, a Valencia schoolteacher, was hanged by order of the Roman Catholic Church as late as 1826. Sandwiched between those two events, various crusades and inquisitions and innumerable lesser “holy” bloodbaths were prosecuted in his name.

Protestantism, for its part, may have paved the way for the Enlightenment, but it was hardly more enlightened than Catholicism in its everyday activities. For centuries, witch-hunting and heretic burning were as much a favoured pastime of the fervent Protestant as they were of the church he had broken away from.

But surely all of this was back in the Dark Ages and is hardly relevant to today’s Christianity? True, but only if one considers the Dark Ages to have extended to the middle of the last century.

Another concept Christianity has struggled with is the biblical notion of the Jews as a “chosen people”, something that Jesus subscribed to. It appears that, regardless of what God or Jesus actually meant, Christians decided early on if the Jews were indeed to be “chosen”, it was for unremitting persecution.

Throughout recorded history, even while they were busily engaged in slaughtering Muslims and putting to death deviants within their own number, Christians still found time to hound and persecute Jews wherever they found them.

We in the West cling like superglue to the self-serving fiction that the Holocaust was an aberration, largely the work of a charismatic madman and the (conveniently Germanic) people he held in his sway. This is true to some extent, but far from the whole truth. Considered in its proper historical context, the Holocaust was a horrible culmination of centuries of unrelenting anti-Semitism.

It didn’t even mark an ending. Jews are still widely despised, albeit not so overtly, across all Christian denominations. Jesus was a Jew, but that is afforded no more weight than any of the other little paradoxes that separate the reality of Christianity from the theory.

There exists nowadays something close to a gentlemanly truce between the main Christian factions – which doesn’t extend to them respecting one another’s interpretations any more than they ever did – and, for the time being at least, an uneasy ceasefire between Christianity and Islam. However, this does not mean that Christian violence has disappeared. It is now mostly directed inwards.

For all its liberal ideals and democratic sentiments, the USA, the most fiercely Christian nation on the planet, still maintains a legal system noteworthy for its lack of forgiveness and the regularity with which it sentences citizens to death.

It isn’t that the US is guilty of misinterpreting Christ’s teachings. Rather, in keeping with the puritanical brand of Protestantism that so influences US culture, it simply ignores Jesus and reverts to the Old Testament to justify legalised vengefulness.

Even that excuse, such as it is, cannot be applied to by far the largest church founded in his name. If there is one issue above all others upon which Jesus made his position crystal clear, it was the absolute sanctity of the child. Yet the Roman Catholic Church, the self-styled “one true church”, couldn’t even abide by that.

The fact that members of its clergy are embroiled in child abuse scandals in virtually every country where the church is located is one thing (a bad recruitment policy, maybe?). However, that church authorities locally and in Rome were for years aware of, or heavily suspected, what was happening and engaged in lies, cover up and the disparaging of victims to try to conceal the truth, amounts to something else altogether.

Even when concealment became no longer possible, the first resort was invariably to self-pitying waffle about man’s fallibility and wounded shepherds, with seldom more than a passing mention given to the wounded lambs. How very Christ-like.

I do not abide by the teachings of Jesus or anything like it. But then, I do not pretend to. Nor do I claim any theological expertise, but who needs theology when the message of Jesus was so clear.

There are undoubtedly good Christians (I even know some), but unfortunately they are few and far between, and almost entirely absent from the higher echelons of the vast empires, on all sides, that have the cheek to masquerade as the receptacles and manifestations of Jesus’s true word. Easter should be a time of shameful reflection for Christians – because, undoubtedly, Jesus of Nazareth gave his life in vain.