For Christians the holy season of introspection is upon us. We call this Lent, and it is a time when we follow Jesus’ example of going out into the wilderness to wrestle with the devil for 40 days.
As the story goes, it was immediately upon his return that Jesus began his public ministry of confrontation with that era’s 1 percent, which ended first with his gruesome, bloody death and then with his victorious resurrection and presence among us today. At least that’s how Christians see it.
Jesus himself was on a 40-day vision quest as a repetition of the 40 years of Jewish wandering in the wilderness. The “Exodus” story is familiar to most Americans, but what is often overlooked is that it is a story of revolution in which the slaves of empire throw off their shackles and form their own nation.
Although the revolution is presented as nonviolent, the results certainly were not. Pharaoh’s army was drowned in floodwaters. And after 40 years of being formed as a “people,” the newly freed slaves invaded and conquered a land that had a people. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are part of the Hebrew scriptures, part of the story that formed Jesus and his followers.
Indeed, although Christians want to claim that Jesus was the Gandhi of his day, it is most certainly not the case that his followers practice what he preached. Christianity is a religion drenched in vengeance, violence and cruel, conquering remorseless massacres. To read the history of the Christian church is like reading the history of America with both equally slaughtering those whose land wealth we covet. Native Americans and the world’s indigenous people whose lands contain oil underneath are testimony to our relentless pillaging.
But Jews, Christians and Americans are not alone with God-mandated violence on their hands. Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism also have shadow sides. Indeed even secular ideologies have been known to engage in a blood orgy or two against the enemy. Being tribal with loyalty to one’s own while being suspicious and afraid of others is a sadly tragic and weary aspect of civilization.
Rabbi Jay Heyman, Islamic scholar Jafar Jeff Siddiqui and I will explore this violence that is so prevalent in each of our monotheistic faiths. Each of us comes out of sacred disciplines and oral traditions that posit the violence of God. How do we reconcile our commitment to compassion and peace with traditions that teach us to practice Holy War against the infidel, the one not us?
You’re invited to engage with us in this deep and troubling root of why the world is so damned perverse. Come and participate in the conversation on Thursday, Feb. 21 at the Common Good Café, 1415 43rd Street NE, 7 p.m.
There’s free parking at the University Bookstore.