D Gregory Smith

Easter Revenge

Filed By D Gregory Smith | April 04, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Christian fundamentalists, Christianists, Easter, Jesus, Rambo, Revenge

I've been reading Michael McCullough's book Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of The Forgiveness Instinct.

It's fascinating. Part of his analysis involves human instinct, sociological observation and psychological study. What conditions lead generally to forgiveness rather than revenge? Is the (sometimes) ubiquitous theme of revenge in our popular culture (literature, film, games) really an unbreakable cycle? In the long view, he maintains, violence worldwide is significantly down. Murder in Europe is 1/3-1/5 of what it was in the 16th century. It challenged me to think, and also helped create an understanding of the current (global) human condition. It's a good book, and I recommend it.

Still, I can't help reflecting on the American Christianist emphasis on defense, fighting, and the pursuit of our country's honor by acts of revenge. It's everywhere- Rambo has become us. But, it just doesn't play out well if you pay attention carefully to the Gospels and early Christian tradition.

"Turn the other cheek", and "He who is without sin, cast the first stone" seem to be conveniently forgotten and "an eye for an eye" (words never spoken by Jesus or his followers in the Gospels) adopted as a Christian rallying cry. In fact, these words were a Jewish attempt at early defense and protection of their new and still-fragile culture. Most experts agree that it was not meant to be taken (literally) out of the desert into global perpetuity, but it was an early attempt to codify a type of justice- which, in itself, was God's province. They also note that it directly contradicts the words and spirit of Jesus. And yet, Christianists use them to justify revenge and pervert justice.

So. For those Christianists who use an "eye for an eye" as a mandate from God, one question:

What would have happened if the Apostles and disciples had stormed Pilate's palace in anger, swords and shields clashing with guards and innocents alike to avenge their murdered leader?

You're right. Nothing. The whole message of Jesus would have been perverted, contradicted and probably would have died out shortly thereafter. After all, credibility is everything. Jesus didn't fight, and except for an awkward attempt by Peter to defend him, neither did the Apostles. Jesus turned the other cheek, tolerating great physical and verbal abuse, valiantly and triumphantly loving in the face of tremendous pain.

That's why we still remember him- despite the perversions of his message by some followers, despite horrible and terrible things done in his name, we can still remember the love and dignity of this man- if we try.

That's a role model I want. That's what I celebrate this week.

Happy Easter, friends.


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A. J. Lopp | April 4, 2010 9:57 PM
What would have happened if the Apostles and disciples had stormed Pilate's palace in anger, swords and shields clashing with guards and innocents alike to avenge their murdered leader?

The Apostles did not attempt to avenge Jesus --- however, in a broader sense, history tells us explicitly the answer to this question.

Because the Jews did continue to chronically resist Roman rule in their land, and history is clear about the ultimate result: In 70 AD the Roman armies moved in and destroyed, thoroughly and utterly, the Jerusalem temple to the ground. Only the Western edge of the foundation was left standing ... and stands to this day, as the famous location for prayer now called the Wailing Wall.

Moreover, the remnants of the Jewish resistance outside the Holy City, such as the Zealots, were utterly destroyed as well, giving us the story of the Masada.

Two thousand years later, it was Gandhi who said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" --- but there is little doubt that Jesus would have heartily agreed. During this Easter season I have found myself doing a lot of thinking about vengeance vs. forgiveness, and how great spiritual leaders have repeatedly met their end by speaking Truth to Power. Of course, I would include Martin Luther King Jr. in this category, also.

Personally, I always loved it that my family is rather anti-Semitic and ham on Easter is a family tradition. I never go for dinner anymore, but I always want to call and tell them that Jesus wouldn't be able to eat dinner with them since they're serving pork.

A. J. Lopp | April 5, 2010 10:58 AM

Hate to ruin the fun of your irony, Bil, but Jesus is said to have appeared to the Apostle Peter in a vision and rescinded the Jewish dietary laws. It is somewhere in the Book of Acts. Chances are, Jesus would have no problem with your Mama's ham steaks at Easter.

In fact, some liberal theologians have suggested that he might enjoy being invited to your next sausage party. I'm not so sure about that one.

I too am a devout Christian who doesn't eat pork.But you won't catch me in a church ever! When the churches start preaching GOD's love and not hate, I'll be back, until then, a quiet mountain meadow or a quaint garden makes for a far better place to acknowledge and return GOD's love!
On another note, Jesus was no wimp! If you remember he violently attacked the moneychangers in the Temple.Also he spoke to the Roman businessman(merchant) about how it was his duty to defend his family and that if he owned a fine cape, he should sell it and buy a sword!

You are right- Jesus was no wimp- and biblical examples of all kinds of emotion and metaphor are easily attributable.

The question is this: Are they historically accurate, or just an attempt to justify a later position by the authors?

kori mika | April 5, 2010 1:42 PM

Unfortunately, much of the Bible can not be taken for face value. Not that it is not historically based,but because of the translations. This is a known fact. The other problem is that the Catholic church did not allow the Books that did not go along with their aganda to be placed into the Bible.
We do have three different sources from ancient historians that give discriptions of how Jesus looked. All three said that He had light hair and had a fair complexion with a deep tan.He preached outside, so the deep tan was almost a given.This proves that Jesus existed, but there is nothing that I've found that historically backs up what the scriptures say about His Word.

Rightwing christians' need for revenge at all times reminds me of dueling from the movies - any insult to honor leads to pistols being pulled out. That seems to be what people want to go back to, since it makes them feel bigger.