Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Very Long (apologies) Easter Reflection

I sometimes rant on about politics, but I usually don’t rant about religion.  I’m going to try not to rant, but if I do, I ask in advance for your tolerance (or forgiveness) as the case may be.

Politically, I have issues with those who live and practice the extremes.  Those on the far political left are anti-religion and in full insistence on separation of church and state.  Those on the far political right quote religion, using their moral beliefs to back-up their political stance on issues, the nature of which I’m not sure should even be considered “political.”
 
I am first and foremost a human being sharing this planet with other equally human beings.  I belong to the Catholic Church, which means I am a Christian.  For those who think those two things are mutually exclusive, Catholicism is the oldest Christian religion on earth and the precursor to all the Christian religions that have followed.  Christianity began in the Middle East, as a revolutionary off-shoot of Judaism, led by Jesus of Nazareth and carried on by his disciples.  The Old Testament stories that so many people quote as justification for their actions were not stories of Christianity but of the Israelites, people of the early Jewish faith.

Today is Easter, the day the Christian world celebrates the resurrection of Jesus after he was crucified.  And here I will begin.  Jesus was a rebel.  He preached a religious belief that was different from his fellow Jews and vastly different from the Romans who ruled the land at the time.  Romans had many gods, but for the most part, we remember them as a godless, warrior society.  Judaism was monotheistic…as in only one god, Yahweh.  Don’t forget, Jesus himself was born a Jew.  Other than preaching monotheism, one god the Father, what he did and said went against most of what he had been taught.
 
He attracted quite a following, and the leadership of the Jewish faith began to feel threatened; their power over the masses was diminishing.  They wanted to be rid of him, so they manufactured reasons to present him to the Romans for execution.  The Romans wanted nothing to do with it.  To them, this was a family squabble, a rift between two factions of Judaism.  In the end, they relented, if for no other reason than to have the situation resolved so they could move on to other things.  In having the Romans perform the actual crucifixion, the Jewish leadership could then claim that the Romans, not the Jews, had killed Jesus; therefore, they insured that they followed the literal letter of Jewish law, the law given to Moses…Thou shalt not kill.  Pure and simply put, this was a contract hit.
 
The move backfired, because after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity grew at a phenomenal rate.  Soon the Christians were viewed as a threat to the Romans.  The persecution of the Christians began.  And religious persecution goes on today against many faiths.

This scenario has been repeated over and over in the history of man.  It isn’t so much religion that is the issue.  Power and money, and the quest and greed for power or money is where the problem lies.  Religion is a convenient scapegoat, as are race and ethnicity.  Such things are used as a rallying point.  Convince the masses that a particular race or religion is the source of their problem and they will rise up and follow the person who is seeking the power.  They will give their money and time to that person, all because they have been brainwashed into thinking that if the target group is eliminated, they will once again be safe and prosperous.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
 
Does that scenario sound familiar?  It should.  It was the tactic used by Hitler to rally those around him, and convince them to do unspeakable things in a quest for the imagined public good and self-preservation of his “kind.”  Hitler was an extremist, a hard right-winger, a psychopath, raised a Catholic and a professed Christian.  It was his intention to make the masses think his way and carry out his intentions.  Dissent was punishable by death.  He alone was in charge; his ideas were “divine inspiraton.”  He would broach no argument or questioning.  Hitler convinced an entire nation that the Jews were their enemy and that all the ills of the nation would be resolved if they were eliminated from the earth...and that it was God's will that it be done.
 
He was not the first to preach genocide.  He won’t be the last.  But indeed, Hitler’s reign of terror is something we should strive to avoid.  Unless someone is holding a gun to your head, why would you perceive them as a threat to you or to your way of life?  The existence of other religions, Christian or non-Christian, or other ways of living, should have no bearing on our daily lives.  Most of the threats people perceive are imagined, or they are implanted in our heads by those who wish to control us by fear.  Place a lion at one end of a field and all the sheep will run to the opposite end, even if the lion is in a cage.

There are a few things that I find threatening:  a vehicle out of control, a gun pointed at me, a single person who is bent on harming me physically; but most of all I fear those whose thirst for power and money drives them to instill fear in others.
 
I don’t fear people of any Christian or non-Christian faith simply because their beliefs differ from my own.  I don’t fear people who dress or act in a different way.  I don’t fear people based on the color of their skin.  I don’t fear people of other sexual proclivities.  I don’t fear people with diminished capacities or special needs.  But I am human.  I do have my likes and dislikes, though they are based on experience with individuals, not a tarring of a whole group with the same brush.
 
The existence of people that are different is not a threat.  Those who stir up the rallying cry to pass laws to execute gays, to legalize discrimination, to keep others from exercising their civil rights, or to deny others basic human necessities are nothing but wanna-be Hitlers, seeking power through fear and inciting those who can’t or won’t think for themselves.

Jesus walked, talked and ate with sinners.  He ate with lepers.  He associated with and counseled criminals and prostitutes.  He did not discriminate, giving his good news to everyone, not just his fellow Jews.  He fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, cured the sick, gave solace to the grieving.  And he forgave everyone.  He told us to do the same.  He threw the merchants out of the temple.  He told us to pay taxes (give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s), and that applies to everyone, rich or poor.

So, on this Easter Sunday, stop and think.  If you profess to be a Christian, if you profess to have Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then treat everyone with respect, pay your legal debts, pay your share of taxes, and act in a more Christ-like manner without complaint.

Stop listening to those who are telling you that your problems will be solved if only the civil rights of those different from yourself are taken away, if only those different from you are legally murdered, if only those different from you are targeted for beatings and criminal abuse.  That is not what we as Christians are mandated to do, or how we are mandated to act.  Those who try to convince you of these things seek only to further their own wealth and power by using you.  Their resulting wealth and power will not filter down, no matter how long you wait.
 
What strikes me as ironic in the extreme?  That while the supposedly anti-religious political far left seems more concerned with equality, humanity, the needs of the country and its people, and doing the right thing; the self-proclaimed keepers of morality on the extreme right are spearheading some of the most blatant, arrogant, anti-humanity, self-deferential ideas and laws since Hitler.  The Jesus I believe in would be ashamed of their actions.