To many the good news of salvation is a warm fuzzy feeling or a vague promise that one day–after you die– you will float off to the sterile vacuum of heaven. While this is nice in theory, it is, by implication, delusional. Yet this is the party line of the Western Church. And in the rigors of thought that take you there– to heaven (wherever it is) — the material power of Christ will be cutoff and siphoned into abstractions–to be forever forgotten. To ensure this faith, and if ever this spasm escapes the mind to explore reality, the Gospel then becomes the self-help seminar wrapped around biblical phraseology– a Sunday bazaar with fail safes. Here dramatics are performed, products are sold and bible verses are ripped from context to be made applicable to first world problems. No sooner than you question it you are rocking a trendy WWJD wristband.
A fool’s paradise is in part believable because the alienating and oppressive qualities of Western society are seen as organic institutions, and by consequence any significant analysis of the status quo within the frame work of historic Jesus (the communist) is limited by Western ideology. This is why any sense of his materiality (e.g. social justice, etc.) making up the spirit of God is hard gained. To the Western mind, for example, capitalism and its debilitating social dynamic is something Jesus approved of too. Capitalism then, cannot be inherently evil or something to overcome. In fact, there is no such thing as social problems in the eyes of the Western Church that a “band-aid” cannot cover. Thus, the journey to Western heaven is now far, far away and unrealized on earth; because what Jesus represents for social, collective togetherness against systemic oppression conflicts with Western practice. Jesus, in turn, becomes an individual, personal message tailored to every whim: a togetherness of self. This is why a new Western Christian can become an over night master of his own doctrine. A shallow master he is, devoid of any social-political concept of a bible packed with social-political currents. All he knows is a stripped down reduction: “Jesus loves my flesh.”
Today it’s no longer a question if the West can maintain any integrity to Christ. When mass Christianity is itself pregnant with an oppressive, violent and sick child – the image of its own society – it stands no chance and falls back into an inversion, into a collective sigh of the oppressed creature. And depending on who is talking, Western Christianity is either the world’s most profound expression of the Gospel or its biggest betrayal. But these days a simpler description suffices: it is dead.
My Kingdom is not of this world
The book of Isaiah (42:1-7) teaches Christ will bring judgment and truth to all nations. If truth and judgment are not old wives’ tales, and are not lies, then he cannot perform these acts in the abstractions of the Western mind. His teachings, methodology and revolutionary zeal of the law, then, have a place in practically: that is to say, in reality. Take the West. According to its own dogma, Jesus came to float you off into the sky. However, according to the prophets, Jesus came to prepare a way that will occupy eternity; i.e. establishing heaven on earth or new Jerusalem. “And it shall come to pass in the last days…,”reads Isaiah, that “he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks” (2:1-4). This power to act as liberator presupposes a few facts– first the political views of Jesus are not in alignment with the Western world; second, a habitable earth is the point of return. And finally, the earth and its mode of reproducing our daily lives (social-economic foundation) is contrary to that of Jesus. The only misunderstanding is in the mind of the Western Christian. He is not aware of any of this.
It is true. Jesus teaches that change first starts within, but once transformed the change instantly becomes the point of departure. From that point on we learn to live a just life; and if Jesus will “teach us of his ways” and how to “walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2:3) a certain condition exists that cannot play out in the imagination exclusivity. A newly reborn creature in Christ, then, is as much in the ‘here and now’ as a ‘sinner’ is in creating hell on earth. The only difference is intent. Now emotional sobriety, justice, equality, peace, brotherhood and man back in healthy relations to the rest of the creation obtain a material expression. Once this is activated it becomes the gospel. Within this paradox rests all true theology, practice and pure religion (James 1:27). The Apostle Paul, as he himself is sent out to organize the Roman world, writes that these Christian qualities are “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
It follows from this, for example, that Christ did not swing his whip at mental images or pure air when he drove away the money changers from the Temple court. He was not acting in abstractions alone when he rebuked the rich to redistribute social wealth among the poor (Mark 10). Jesus was teaching in these and other acts how to materialize the kingdom “inside you” (i.e. to translate thought to the real world). From the moment of his baptism to his murder he sought daily to strengthen his followers in this understanding. He started with 12 people. That 12 soon turned to 120 in his lifetime. Shortly after it ballooned to thousands. By mimicking him the revolutionary fight back to the ways of the Creator could be fought and won. He did not leave any of his students without the tools to succeed and he surely did not teach to wait for death. It’s no marvel then, that in their practice of becoming like him his first disciples successfully established pockets of resistance all over the Roman world.
On news of her sons coming birth Mary proclaimed with joy, “he has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away (Luke 1)”. This radical aim was further revealed to be rooted in an earlier promise: on the never ending throne of King David. That is to say, on the earth and in a kingdom that will last forever. Yet, it was more. She also knew that on a societal level her son would go on to complete the promise made to Abraham – in that: class antagonisms, poverty, unjust gain and tyrannical rule will be destroyed from society on the waves of redistribution. In other words, all nations will be blessed through Abraham. Jesus is not isolated form this process and Mary was not ignorant to this fact. Paul in his letter to the Galatians (3:8), calls the covenant made between God and Abraham the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of the Kingdom–a classless society free of social exploitation of man by man.
2,000 years ago: fresh off a 40 day fast and now back home in Galilee, Jesus opens the book of Isaiah and in a few quick words outlines his kingdom aim:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4: 14-19).”
Shortly after he was taken to a cliff edge “that they might cast him down head long.” His ministry had just started and already Galilee was not interested in the change Jesus was coming to make.
Neither is the Western Christian.
The struggles that gave rise to the era of Christ have no meaning to most in the Western church. Oppression is not something seen to eradicate, but something that should be embraced and encouraged by Church goers. Most in the West think it’s high time capital starts to line them up financially; just like their rich masters. Their modern theologians differ little from those of the ruling class political parties; and this is precisely why the urge for action will not come from the mass, Western Church. Like in Christ’s day it will come from below. It will come from the meek, the poor, the hungry and from those thirsting after righteousness. The God of Abraham be thanked. The human passion for freedom is stronger, smarter and faster in the ranks of the oppressed than it is with the so called popcorn Church. Real Christian thought is about the total liberation of man, and its ideology will take humanity far beyond the reactionary aims of all existing Western society. To include its religion.