Thursday, August 25, 2011

Human Nature Versus Christianity

One of the things that has always both impressed and mystified me is the real radicalism in the example of Christ. A Jesuit priest, Fr. Harry Tompson, SJ, once explained to me that the power of Christ (and of the Christian God) was precisely in his powerlessness. That really struck a chord and made me think. It's such a simple idea, yet so meaningful, too. And when you really look at the story of Christ in the Bible, it's really all there. Christ never lifted a finger against his crucifiers. He preferred the company of the weak and the marginalized. He admonished Peter to put away the sword. He ignored the taunts of the cynic being crucified next to him and who told him that if he really were the Messiah, he could just save himself. Time after time, the example we have of the real Jesus is one of powerlessness. In fact, even when miracles were performed that were ascribed to Jesus, it behooves us to remember that Jesus himself never said that he was the source of the power behind the miracles. Rather, Jesus always openly acknowledged that it was the conviction and the faith of the person seeking the miracle that was the power behind the miracle.

Yet, so often Christians speak of a powerful God. An "omnipotent" God. They couldn't be further from the truth If there is a God, powerlessness is his defining characteristic. Why doesn't God end suffering in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn't God intervene to right wrongs? The answer is simple: God simply doesn't have the power to do so.

Yet, it is precisely in that concept of powerlessness where power is paradoxically exercised. It is the radical attribute of Christianity.

But human beings are wired differently. We seek power through assertion of will. Through expression of authority. Through an ability to control. And what I've come to see all the more readily these days in the behaviors of people who call themselves progressive Christians is the antithesis of the true Christian example of powerlessness, and the unconditional love, forgiveness, and humility that is necessarily associated with it.

In the past few weeks, I have seen so-called Christians behave abominably not just towards another fellow member of the human race, but to their very own church pastor and his family. I have seen an unwillingness to embrace the radical and progressive example of Christ in how they are managing their discontent or disappointment with their pastor. What I have seen is a kind of meanness, spitefulness, and almost even hatefulness in working through their issues with the pastor. I am simply stunned by the callousness and swelling of self-righteousness that some members of this church community have exhibited in their quest to assert and exercise their "power" over their church and their pastor. And it comes as somewhat of a shock to me because I thought very differently of these power-consumed members of the church. I thought they had embraced the radical example of the powerlessness of Christ, not the reactionary perversion of Christianity as some legacy of an authoritarian omnipotence.

But then I remember that these are human beings -- that we are all human beings. And our human nature (call it the "fall from grace" if you will) leads us always down the path of behaving in ways that are the antithesis of the Christian example. It is hard work to go against our nature and to live the example of Christ -- to "put away the sword" and to not cast stones. I, myself, fail at this difficult task much more often than I would like. I just wish we could be better at it. And I remain disappointed that some apparently not only fail to even see the need to be better at it, but actually think that they are being Christian even when they are clearly not.

Yet another disappointment in my encounter with Christians and Christianity.

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