Sunday, December 26, 2004

Abusing Jesus

This is a small excerpt from a lengthier essay I’ve been working on since April when the Abu Ghraib scandal first broke in the news. I hope to publish the full version with quotes, links and citations on my web site, Joywrite in the not too distant future. But I feel moved to put this out there right now. Partly, I suppose by the incongruous juxtaposition between the plethora of traditional holiday images and icons with those images of the war and of the prisoner abuse that have held uneasy cohabitation of my thoughts for the last several weeks. Partly too because I am just plain impatient and incredulous that, with all the bloviating about values and morals associated with the election this year, that no one has made this connection which seems so obvious to me. Now suddenly it feels urgent to me to get this meme out there and I know myself well enough to anticipate it could take me several more months to get my more formal essay whipped into shape--I wrestle with excruciating perfectionism sometimes. So here it is in abbreviated and informal condition:

I was not surprised by the revelations coming out of Abu Ghraib. I’ve been reading about similar incidents associated with the CIA and the School of the Americas, and those that have become almost policy at many American prisons and jails for nearly twenty years. This is one of those issues that is a sticking point for me. I have been waiting in vain for a massive reaction of revulsion and repudiation from the moral values crowd who claim to be the spokesmen for God and Jesus. The fact that they have not stood up and roundly condemned this atrocity with the same passion they promote prayer in school and pro-life causes, brings me about that close [] (picture a piece of paper between my thumb and finger) to renouncing my own Christianity and giving back the gift of eternal life. If (please note the if) I have to believe that God and Jesus and the Gospel have any part in the theory that justifies such things, I have no wish nor desire--even an active repulsion--at the thought of spending eternity with such a pack of bloody handed, bloody minded, soul-sucking hypocrites or any god who desires their love and praise.

It’s not like there isn’t plenty of scripture to support a stand against such abuse of power, such egregious injustice. Matthew 25 has Jesus say that ‘what you do unto the least of these you have done unto me.’ He is referring to the good deeds--the giving of a drink of water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked and the visiting of the imprisoned. The logical corollary of the proposition that showing kindness to a prisoner is the same as showing kindness to Jesus, is that abusing a prisoner would be the same as abusing Jesus.
Jesus didn’t differentiate between the guilty and the innocent which implies that neither should we. In the world-view of Jesus and his followers and of most Christian’s today there is no such thing as human innocence anyway. But this can be viewed from within two different contexts and the real world application of the logical consequences of each view are diametrically opposed--matter and anti-matter. The first, rooted in the ancient Law of Talion-- retaliation, vengeance equals justice, eye for an eye--requires revenge and punishment and cruel coercion to enforce conformity to standards of behavior and it encourages seeing ones own sins relative to another’s and taking solace and even pride in being guilty of only ‘lesser’ sins and not of those ‘heinous’ or ‘evil’ crimes of ones neighbors or enemies.

The second, rooted in the gospel and the parables, sermons and life of Jesus and espoused by his early followers, is a leveler of hierarchy. It emphasizes that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God‘, that all sin is equal, that all sin disconnects us from our Source. It encourages forgiveness, bowels of mercy, empathy or compassion, and posits the possibility of repentance or change of heart. It proclaims that only the sinless can cast the first stone, which implies that only the sinless can enforce death penalties. It requires us to forgive, even the same individual, beyond 70 times 7 times. It warns that we must not judge if we do not wish to be judged, that we must remove the lumber from our own eye before we attempt to remove the sliver from our brother’s eye. It affirms that kindness, patience, forgiveness, humility, gentleness and joy are among the highest virtues with which to engage life. It constrains us to think of each other as a brother or sister or even better as one’s self and thus to treat one another as we would wish to be treated and to refrain from treating each other as we would dislike being treated. And, most relevant to my thesis, it enjoins us to conduct every encounter with another as though it were with Jesus himself.

So here we are 2000 years after Jesus walked the earth celebrating the advent of the Prince of Peace, and we are bombing the manger in Iraq and applying electrical shock to Jesus’s testicles. All in the name of bringing peace on earth and security to the children of Empire. Rome REDUX. And just as in the age of Constantine, those who claim to be disciples of Jesus are espousing these values and glorifying the empire, trading the gospel of Jesus back in for the law birthed from a belching volcano. Jesus would say to those who perpetrate and perpetuate these things--whether they ordered, carried out, condoned or complacently sat by thinking ‘what is it to me’--”I never knew you ye workers of iniquity!”

If you need to refresh your memory, here are some of the photos & more photos.

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