Christianity: Curse or Cure? (part 2)

Rescue (salvation) is the unspeakable necessity that meets us in the Gospel as we consider what this hope really requires, however. We cannot do it on our own. We need to be radically changed, personally and politically.

The baptism we are offered, through death to life, is the means for this. It is not a reduction into a narrow, self-affirming, life-denying sect, as many preach and believe today. Rather it is slow, continuous transformation within a community of welcome and rejection, gathering and dispersal.

We welcome people, but we reject what degrades and divides. We gather as the Body broken and renewed, but we receive that brokenness and renewal in the world, not in our favoured religious hiding places.

At the heart of this ekklesia, the assembled and sent-out community, is prayer. This is the language of donation through which we understand that the life we share is given to us, not possessed by us.

Similarly, worship is the means to identify whose we are and what is really worshipful (worth-it-full). It is this that forms us in the face of masses of things that claim dominion over our humanity: money, possessions, status, allure, xenophobia, violence, greed and self-absorption.

The fruit of the Gospel community, then, is not exclusion but embrace, not detachment but engagement, not credulity but critical thought. This is extremely difficult for Christians in a world where they have been offered, and taken, power along the lines of the ‘religious right’ in the US.

To be people of God is to lose the dangerous desire to ‘be in control’ and to recognise the significance of not being finally determined by who we are and what we do. This is what is meant by ‘being made in the image of God’.

So the challenge to the conventionally religious of Jesus’ day was to abandon the fearful misreading of their rituals, texts and institutions – the one that enabled them to condemn those who God loves: strangers, the poor, the excluded, the odd, the ‘unclean’ and the marginalised.

This is also the challenge in our day. Those who turn God into a sentimental sop for their own egos or into a tyrannical buttress for their own interests are not walking Jesus’ path. His is a road where you will find strangers and enemies, outcasts and friends – all those invited into the Feast of Life.

This, then, is the Gospel’s radical portrait of what is involved in reconciling difference. And what are the alternatives? One is the superpower heresy that enables us to project all the evil ‘out there’ and to seek to bomb or suppress it into submission. That isn’t Christianity at all.

Another is the kind of religion that turns love into hatred, God into a despot, and faith into a revoltingly pious exercise in self-delusion. It doesn’t matter much whether it quotes the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad-Gita or the Buddha, for it is blinded by what it preaches.

A third is that distortion of empiricism, positivism and rationalism which says humans are nothing more than the sum of their own parts. This is a self-constructed ‘whole’ that leaves us tragically bereft of the actual resources that are on offer if the Gospel is anything like true.

The challenge, of course, is that this Gospel does not allow us to write off the ‘others’ of religious and secular fundamentalism, either. In the face of hate and death-dealing, Jesus embodied the difficult, narrow call to shared life – and paid the price. To be a disciple of his is to live by the conviction that his death is not the end of hope, but its beginning.

If we took this message seriously and joyfully others might still think us bonkers. But at least we Christians might have something worth calling Good News on our hands. That’s much better than colluding with the appalling betrayals of religion that lead from faith to fratricide, and from curing to killing.

(Simon Barrow works with Churches Together in Britan & Ireland)

1 comment:

  1. It helps to remember how Peter expressed it when God sent him to speak with Cornelius, a gentile: "But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean" and later "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what's right'.

    He made all of us, we are connected by one Father, we are all brothers and sisters, every one of us. We are commanded to love each other, and learning to do that is a big part of what this life, this gift, is all about.

    Love God. Love people. Period.