I’m in a preachin’ mood tonight…
by Elias Blum
When people talk about ‘biblical values’, what they generally mean is ‘being beastly to the gays’ and, if they are a particularly ignorant type of fundamentalist, trying to get creationism taught in school.
This is a great pity. It makes me want to cry out, “Ye blind guides, ye hypocrites!” If there is a great arc of biblical values, it is this: “All people are precious and fragile, treat them with care and compassion” – otherwise known as ‘neighbour loving’. And if there’s one subject that the biblical narratives concentrate on more than any other – yes, even more than what gay men do with their willies – it is wealth, the just distribution thereof, and the duty of the haves to the have-nots.
If only those who shout “BIBLE!” at people would actually read it, and think about it, and study it critically and historically, maybe – just maybe – they could stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution; that is, they could share in the healing and transformation of a deeply scarred world.
But that would involve stripping away many layers of Christian thought going back to Paul, the first corrupter of Jesus’ teachings. It would require us to be honest about the role of myth, legend and Greco-Roman and Egyptian paganisms in the development of Christian ideas such as the incarnation, the resurrection and the trinity. We’d have to see Jesus not as a dead and resurrecting zombie-demigod, who died to satisfy the wrath of an angry anthropomorphic Sky-Daddy so that we would be saved from an eternity of sentient torment after we die, but as the greatest of the great Jewish social-justice prophets, who died as a martyr at the hands of the rich, the powerful and (worst of all) the religious.
And he wants followers. He wants people who will sacrifice their relative ease and comfort within an evil, exploitative, oppressive system in order to oppose and change that system in the name of love. He wants people who feel the heel of that system, the millions of people across the globe for whom ease and comfort are distant dreams, to experience – no, not just to experience, but to achieve – liberation.
Some people think that the ‘End’ of the Christian life is to ‘get to heaven’, or to be raptured into glory when American Jesus comes riding back from Glory in a golden Cadillac with G. W. Bush at the wheel. But that’s not how the bible seems to tell it. Instead it hints, in mystical and exaggerated language, of a non-exploitative society, governed by love and freedom. It makes us look to restoration of an Edenic promise: a world in which we shall sit under our own fig trees and enjoy the fruit thereof, not tilling for another’s gain, nor reaping for another’s harvest while our children go without.
In other words, Christianity is a social mission committed to a profound revolution: a revolution that starts in the heart and branches out into the transformation of society.
This revolution is the business of the church – the called, gathered and sent community of those who accept Jesus’ challenge to dedicate their lives to the healing and restoring of the world. This truly universal church, as I understand it, includes all who hear and respond to the promptings of love, life and light in their hearts – regardless of their religion, or lack thereof.
The revolution is gradual. We push onwards towards an unfolding End (not as finality, but as objective, purpose, and telos) without knowing when it shall be accomplished. But one thing is very clear: there will be a great levelling. The last will be first and the first will be last. Those who have gathered much will be commanded to share out of their abundance, that those who have gathered little shall have enough. Chains will be cut. Captives sent free. And, first of all, the blind shall see.
So our calling as those who have committed to the revolution of love is two-fold. In working within the world as it is, we are called to provide charity – to hold up candles of hope and succour to those in distress. As we work for the world as it should be, we are called to shine searing light into the darkness of systemic evil, even into the darkness of boardrooms and war-rooms.
Isn’t that a glorious calling?