Likely the most controversial individual in the history of the world is Jesus, known by many to be The Christ. And no doubt everyone, young and old, rich or poor, liberals, conservatives, those who are religious, atheists, agnostics; nearly everyone is likely to have an opinion of Jesus. One poll, celebrating the beginning of the second millennium, pointed out that Jesus Christ, more than anyone else, is responsible for how people in the Western World think.
Without a doubt this fellow from the city of Nazareth in an area known as Galilee has provided us with much to think about. Although the man is regarded to be a prophet by each and every one of the great religions of the world, we appear to be on the verge of killing each other for no other reason than our inability to agree on who this man is, what he stood for, and how it is that he would like for us to conduct our lives!
Quite obviously, just as yours, my first concern has always been that of trying to figure out just exactly who Jesus is. And, believe me, if I knew for sure, I would tell you, but like so many who have gone before, I am left with questions. Is Jesus Christ the Son of God … a God of judgment and wrath or one of mercy and forgiveness? What was Jesus’ mission, to show us how to live a good life and/or to save us from eternal damnation? Did he die only to rise from the grave? Is Jesus the one and only Savior of the world, the one in whom every human being must believe or spend an eternity of agonizing pain in the fiery flames of Hell?
Alas, even though I have spent at least five decades trying to figure out who this man is, I am sorry to report that I am yet confused … but, not to give up, I plan to spend the remaining years of my life interrogating God, all in order to better understand who Jesus is.
On the other hand, there seems to be little question as to what Jesus taught. In order to clear away the vast amount of deadwood, the utter complexity of the Jewish faith, Jesus reduced religion to its most essential elements, that we love God, our neighbor, as well as that of our enemy. Assuming that this was Jesus’ mission on Earth, to show us how to live such a life, allow me to share with you what such means to me within the context of the world in which we live.
Now, within the context of those with whom I have lived my life, I have found the teachings of Jesus to be my best guide. I have discovered that when I chose to violate such teaching by treating others in an unkind manner, nothing but harm has come to me. Believe me, it has been so terribly easy for me to love those of my friends, but so horribly difficult to learn how to forgive those who have harmed me.
But in aging, I am convinced that love is a far better thing than hate. As I look back upon my life, often have I deplored that which I have done while angry, but never once have I regretted having made amends, having forgiven, having made an effort to love my enemy.
But what about the church, Christians who claim to know the truth of God, those who claim to know everything about this man they call the Son of God, those who claim to know exactly how Jesus would deal with the critical issues of our day; homosexuality, capital punishment, abortion, cloning, poverty, and war? However, as a psychologist, I am quite sure that such pronouncements are often nothing more than rather well rehearsed attempts to justify, that is, to rationalize, the apparent correctness of their views, unconscious maneuvers, permitting them to believe that God has spoken, revealed his truth, to them.
One might wish that church doctrine was, in fact, a spiritual matter, but alas such may be nothing more than canonical attempts to appease the appetite of those who happen to pay the bills of the church. Add to this the rather mean spirited history of the church (the Spanish Inquisition, the rape of the Indian culture during the westward expansion, the brutalization of black slaves, the New England torture of witches, and the church’s longstanding support of America’s military-industrial complex) and you have a misguided church that apparently has very little to offer the world. As James Hillman wrote in his book, A Terrible Love of War: “Western Christianity’s god comes front and center when war is in the air. War brings its god to life.”
Consequently, I can no longer, in good conscience, claim to be a Christian. Rather, I have chosen to accept the teachings of Jesus as well as those of other religions that tend to support the categorical imperative of Jesus’ command that we love God, our neighbor, and that of our enemy.
And then there is the mess of our own country. I have often wondered how Jesus might feel about this so-called “land of the free.” However, since we will likely never know, the best I can do is to suggest what appears to have taken hold of the American mind. The verdict: sex, money, an avaricious appetite to acquire more and more things, power, prestige, a jingoistic attachment to that of “the fatherland,” and civil religion, and, in all probability, in that particular order.
And there is the undeniable reality of our country’s longstanding desire to dominate the world, and all of such supported by a people who have, with no fight whatsoever, allowed themselves to have been brainwashed into believing that our country has been assigned the divine responsibility of carrying out the righteous will of God. All of such leading to a ridiculously wicked claim that our country can do no wrong!
And finally … this thing about war. There can be no misunderstanding that Jesus’ mandate to love is uncompromisingly opposed to the mass slaughter that defines the character of war. However, because so many have successfully distorted the teachings of Jesus, our country has been allowed to launch a decades-long campaign of death and destruction formulated to destroy all who refuse to play “the game” according to our rules (vis-à-vis the upcoming invasion of Iran).
As William Blum in his book, Killing Hope, so tellingly describes, “It's not that [the leaders of our nation] take pleasure in causing so much death and suffering. It's that they just don't [seem to care] … As long as death and suffering advance the agenda of the empire, as long as the right people and the right corporations gain wealth and power and privilege and prestige, as long as death and suffering aren't happening to them or people close to them … they just don't [seem to care].”
As a result of such actions millions of people have been killed, the rest having been condemned to a life of poverty, misery and despair. And of course, all of such through the rather loosely coordinated efforts of the government, the corporate community, mass media, the church, and that of our own public schools who have collectively decided that it would be in our best interests if we, the people, remained uniformly uninformed in regards to the ugly realities of our nation’s rather sordid past.
Accordingly, I must admit that I am terribly ashamed to have become associated with so much of what so many Americans have claimed to be so very proud. And I am convinced that if our country is to once again become a beacon of light for the rest of the world to see, a strong and resilient democracy capable of standing up for that which is right and good, then the citizenry of our nation must reverse what has become a slow yet determined decline into a morass of ignorance and sloth, an abject unwillingness to face the fact that our country is under attack (not from without, but rather from within) by that of a rising tide of fascism threatening to consume everything that we, as a nation, once held dear, a neoconservative campaign eerily similar to that which occurred in Germany as Adolph Hitler rose to power.
In the meantime however, I ask but one thing… that God bestow upon us the wisdom to realize that time may be short, and that if we are to reclaim our nation, we have no choice but to recognize our constitutional right, our responsibility, and most importantly our duty, to throw aside, even to abolish, any body politic that might threaten to destroy a government created of the people, by the people, and thank God , for every one of the people of our country, the United States of America.
About Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Wharton, Texas.