Tuesday, December 9, 2014

You Want Me To Believe You, Show Me Your Opponents

In the past year, as I've gotten closer to the black liberation theology of James Cone and his colleagues the quote of his teacher, Reinhold Niebuhr  has come to make more and more sense to me.  Niebuhr said, “If a gospel is preached without opposition, it is simply not the gospel which resulted in the cross."    In short, it can't be the same gospel that Jesus preached.  That means that any claimed representation of the teachings the man on whom capital punishment was imposed by the duly appointed legal authority of the state, which rests easily with the state, can't be authentic.  It may be wrong in its conclusions, opposition to it is only one test, not the one that guarantees authenticity, but if it lacks opposition by the state and by the rich and powerful, it is guaranteed to be inauthentic.

And Jesus noted that himself in the scandalous passage about his  message driving families and people apart from each other.  That wasn't his goal but he was a realist who knew that would be a result of it. God's law doesn't rest easily along side human selfishness and self absorption.  Especially the selfishness of those with an ability to exercise either legal or de facto authority.  It is as guaranteed to be unwelcome by the outlaws as well as the in-law crooks and gangsters.  An impressive number of the Hebrew prophets ended up getting killed or otherwise suffered for their preaching.

In an article by Timothy King, which I read while researching this series it points out that the message that was going to happen is contained in the verses I've been examining this Advent.

Before Jesus was born, his mother Mary predicted that he would offend some people. In the Magnificat she sang:

"He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

She probably didn't realize in that moment how right she would be. That in fact, Jesus would offend and challenge so many people in high places that they would kill him for it.

Jesus set a clear pattern during his ministry of comforting those on the margins of society and offending the wealthy and powerful. He offended many in religious leadership by dining with "sinners." He shocked even when he reached out to those whom society considered "unclean." The rich young ruler walked away when Jesus told him that to be perfect, he should sell all that he had and give the money to the poor.

It is often said that Jesus was put to death by Rome because he was a challenge to their political power and domination and that both the Roman and local authorities were worried about him causing another of the many revolt that were common in the resistance of the Hebrew people to Roman rule.  But that only gets to the top level of his challenge to authority.  The reason for Rome to have invaded and conquered other people was, at the bottom, so they could steal the wealth of those people, essentially the thing that the rich do to the poor with the support of the civil authority.  That is one of the most common attributes of secular, civil government as it is of theocratic governments or any but the most radical of egalitarian democracies (in theory).  The poor are always under the colonial domination of the rich, the rich became rich, maintain their wealth and expand it through the acquisition of the product of other peoples labor, if not their labor, itself through either chattel or wage slavery.  It is also the fact that in most places women and minorities are customarily so colonized.

That is a fundamental violation of The Law, the instances in The Bible when that is allegedly sanctioned in the Israeli conquests of other people is inevitably in conflict with that law.  If that is a test of the authenticity of those passages contained in the canon is an interesting question.  For me it means that a choice in what to believe has to be made and for me, I would rather not lead myself into temptation of the kind that the imperial claims inevitably lead to.

For us, today, in America, the foremost imperial power, once challenged by the British, then the Soviet Union, briefly by Japan and now by China, we have a choice to make.  One of the tragedies of American imperialism is that it has discredited the best things about us as well as the worst.  Instead of being an example to follow, in our domestic politics, corrupted by imperial conquests and enslavement of other people, we are an example of the tragedy of falling into sin and the casual easiness with which people who claim to aspire to goodness can talk themselves into ignoring the evil that we and our government does.

It is one of the greatest scandals of Christianity, the extent to which even otherwise admirable religious clergy, religious and lay people have both accepted and participated in the respectable evil by civil authorities, governments and the oligarchs and other criminals who wield official and, so, respectable power.  Power held to be legitimate by custom and law but which is obviously, baldly and blatantly at odds with The Gospel of a man they, though, insist spoke with divine authority.   That acquiescence to evil is them failing that test of attracting opposition.   The extent to which their words can co-exist with legitimized evil is the extent to which their Christianity is a fraud.  To a good extent, the neo-atheist fad feeds on that inauthentic Christianity.  As Chris Hedges has pointed out, much of the Christianity around today is openly heretical, as much of a betrayal as the governance of Herod depicted in The Bible.  Complete with slaughters of innocents, another sign of trouble found early in the story of Jesus.


One of the other recent things I read while researching the Nazis was the little remarked fact that they were an eager adopter of one of the very symbols of The Enlightenment, the guillotine.   I'm sure that if any true blue fan of the 18th century Enlightenment has read this far they are chaffing at my description of that scientific engine of execution, what for Revolutionary and then secular France could take the place of the Roman cross, a means through which the state killed those it chose to kill.

Among those who the Nazis murdered, by law, with that enlightenment machine were the young students of the White Rose, who have been the subject of books and a movie.   I plan on writing about them more in the future.

Another victim of the Nazi guillotine is, I suspect, far less well known because he wasn't a Lutheran or Catholic, as the White Rose martyrs were, but a Mormon, of all things.   Helmuth Hübener's crime against Nazism was similar to that of the White Rose, he told the truth.   In this excellent article two Mormon scholars Alan Keele and Douglas Tobler go into quite a bit of detail, much of it not welcome, I'm sure, to many Mormons.  Though admitted by others. Including that many German Mormons were either enthusiastic for Hitler or were willing to go along to get along.  That is a sin that was so common in the face of Nazism, the size of even the legendary French resistance was a lot smaller than used to be pretended.

It may be a mark of the authenticity of his witness that local Mormon authorities excommunicated Helmuth Hübener and condemned him even as he was marked for death, though that was never official, from what I gather, since the higher levels of the Mormon hierarchy didn't OK it.   His witness, his message passes the test of leading to opposition, hands down.

I would recommend reading the article, I can't do it justice in the few minutes I have to write this post.   He and his resistance, leading to the opposition of both secular and religious authority deserves far more than I can give it.

No comments:

Post a Comment