Once upon a time I quit drinking, beating up my wife, and got religion instead.
For most people in America the plot I am outlining points to the phenomenon of giving up some obvious vice and replacing it with a couple of hours of sitting on a pew before an audience of sacred music singers and listening to a preacher rant and rave about everything that is wrong with the world and you.
Whatever the merits of such weekly exercise, it can not possible be the bottom line of everything that Jesus Christ stood for. Jesus was not the founder of a new religion, which he designated as Christianity and rolled into a package of seven sacraments and ten hail Mary’s. This is the caricature Hollywood enjoys promoting and ridiculing to the detriment of honest seekers.
Religion more or less is about the things I need to do to earn heaven, Nirvana, the 72 virgins, and avoid the hot temperature down there. In America therefore religion is about Sunday (or Saturday, or Ramadan) morning and my funeral. If I consider myself civilized and well-mannered, I am not supposed to bring my religion to work, to school, or among polite company because all that stuff is a private matter of the heart. I should keep it to myself and not impose it on any one out of respect for their dignity. That is good religion, but it is not Christianity. Christianity is demanding, sacrificial, and it entails telling others. Therefore, if I am a sincere Christian, I do not have the option of keeping it all to myself. The Founder has not left that option open. When somebody finally discovers a vaccine against cancer and AIDS, I doubt she will keep it to herself. Good news is supposed to be passed around, not boxed in. More of that anon.
The way we do politics and religion has a way of putting Christ at a disconnect. I tire of hearing that Jesus isn’t about politics. We want our Jesus and our State, solo and separate thank you very much. The two shall not never intermix. So said Jesus:
“Give Caesar what is due to Caesar, and to God what is God’s.”
“My Kingdom is not of this world.”
Problem is Jesus wasn’t preaching a separation of church and government, a la Thomas Jefferson. The idea of separation of church and state was popularized by Jefferson in a letter he addressed to a Baptist Association in Connecticut in 1802. The Constitution does say that government ought not to establish a national church, as England and other countries had done. Everyone is free to pick or refuse to worship as they like. From this notion there has emerged the massive schemes and rhetoric that one ought to keep Christ out of government, schools, law courts and the like. Christ has no bearing there because these institutions are trying to do things that are practical, whereas Christ is concerned with the concerns of the soul and what happens to you after you die.
Schools and government are trying to educate and order people’s affairs or minds or whatever. But that is exactly what Christ intends to do: to educate people, to bring order into a disordered world, to usher justice where injustice prevails, and to arrange people’s affairs! Jesus is very political. That his kingdom is not of this world means that it is of a different kind. He is not denying he has a kingdom, but exactly the opposite! Giving Caesar what is of Caesar can hardly mean that one ought to keep religion out of politics whereas the affairs of the church are to be kept in designated sacred buildings for a few hours a week, and the two shall never cross.
But theocracy is a nasty word. It conjures up images of fiery inquisitions, torture wheels, self-righteous prigs burning heretics at the stake, and wars and crusades on infidels who deserve punishment for not conforming to my holier-than-thou religious dogmas. History provides plenty witness of the hideous effects of church and state getting in bed. Hardly anybody I knows thinks that is a noble form of fornication that we ought to endorse. When the church gets political power, it normally goes up its head. A head full of power sometimes means a heart hollow, stripped of compassion and love. The German church thought it was getting into a good deal when it decided to align itself with the Führer. Wrong headed church. Because Mr. Mustache had zero intentions to advanced the Gospel of love and kindness on behest of the church. He had his own agenda of hate and genocide and quite eagerly he recruited the church in his insane policy of mass destruction and chaos, no the other way around.
Power is not wrong in and of itself. We need power to keep things in check. The alternative is anarchy and the predation of the weak by the strong. God won’t endorse that kind of world. So what of Jesus then? Is he simply to be a shepherd of the heart and the comforter of our souls for when we die? No, no, that is a very domesticated Jesus, a very non-political Jesus who has no bearing on social life or the affairs of nations. That is the Jesus of Sunday school, old women’s convents, and people dying with a bad conscience. Jesus refuses to be strapped into that kind of straight jacket. Meek and mild Jesus is a very dangerous man if we allow him to strip the blindfolds that make us not see his real power. However, the world is not yet ready to have that kind of Jesus. We don’t want the Jesus of the Apocalypse, the powerful roaring lion, sword clad Jesus who judges and slays the unrighteous. We want our Jesus low profile, lamb-like, manageable, gentle, non-political, non-threatening. That would be a Jesus we can control. And religion is all about us having control. Christ on the other hand, is to rule the nations (Psalm 2).