I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ was not a man.
Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist.
There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity.
Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him.
Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him. In every other existence but that of Christ how many imperfections!Napoleon Bonaparte
(Photo credit – Pinterest)
Hands down, the most controversial person who has ever lived is Yeshua ben-Yusef of Natzeret. If that name is not familiar, he is better known as Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ.
In the 21st Century, I would guess that fewer people than ever, over the last few centuries at least, would even think to nominate Jesus as “the most controversial person who has ever lived”. This is a sure sign of how far the West has slipped its historical and traditional moorings since 1950.
In a German biography of Adolf Hitler (Hitler by Joachim C. Fest, 1973), the author immediately nominates the infamous dead “Fuhrer” as the most controversial and perhaps most impactful person, certainly in German, and, by implication in his manner of presenting his case, in modern if not all history! He does not conclude that this makes Hitler “great”, but certainly immensely important and extraordinarily singular. However, as he develops his case, it is clear that the author struggles greatly with avoiding actually calling Hitler “great”, although there is no difficulty in saying he is among the most controversial people of all time.
It is notable that Napoleon, another candidate for historical greatness at least as worthy as Hitler for consideration, did not deign to put himself anywhere on the same plane as the man from Galilee in ancient Israel.
For several centuries, Germany was the leading Christian intellectual nation in the world. How is it possible, especially in the West, and even moreso in Germany, to supplant the greatest religious founder and leader of all history with a supremely evil tyrant who, instead of seeking to save humanity from itself and all its worst instincts, sought to enslave it and purge it of all the people who did no measure up to his warped version of the “Ubermensch”?
We have reached the point where, for many, Jesus is a sort of fairy-tale, a nostalgic memory of fantasies that used to haunt our less enlightened ancestors with tales of Utopia and a God of infinite love and goodness reaching out to offer us all paradise in the hereafter. Grown wise and mature, we have either outgrown such things now or learned (as we suppose) that other religious claims are equally valid, or invalid, or perhaps merely all equally fanciful and irrelevant or downright destructive.
Perhaps a greater puzzle is how, in the last hundred years, the major world civilization called the “West”, which once claimed him as its greatest model and inspiration and even its god, could so massively turn its back on him to the point of a majority becoming largely indifferent to him, although perhaps still finding a few nice things to say about him.
Today, large numbers of even reasonably well-educated people (at least “well-educated in the 21st Century sense of having some competence in selective narrow fields of knowledge and skills qualifying them to do certain particular technical tasks in order to make a decent living) even question his actual historical existence. It is astonishing to more and more often hear ridiculous but seriously believed statements among college and university students, and even some professors, that Jesus Christ is a mythical or, at best, a legendary character who never really lived, or whom we know nothing historically accurate about. When offered real historical documentary evidence, the response is a shrug about that being made up after the fact. “What fact, if you don’t believe he actually lived?” begets another shrug and mockery about charlatans seeking to deceive people to enrich themselves.
When told that there are ample reliable sources found among the enemies of the early Christians outside the Bible (which the mockers have almost never read and may never have even seen or encountered in all their years of education, despite its foundational role in Western civilization for two thousand years), this begets another shrug, or perhaps a very mild, “Oh. I never knew/heard about that before.” But there is no intent or interest in becoming better informed.
There is no doubt that the West is post-Christian. It also professes to be non-religious, secular. But, as this blog has discussed before, being “non-religious” is both an illusion and impossible for humans in the true, etymological sense of what “religion” means – that which binds/ties everything together. People and cultures all function by “worldview” – a foundational set of faith-statements, a belief system, however intentionally or unintentionally cobbled together. Call that another name if you prefer, but, it functions as the religion of that person or civilization.
As to Jesus, the mass of 21st-Century Westerners now stands indifferent, agnostic. A minority still seriously hold him as a special person somehow directing us to God. Another minority are downright hostile to him because he engendered the institution they most despise – the Church. The mass moves through life as if who or what he is/was doesn’t matter anymore.
Lost in the cacophony of our age is any idea of the legacy of Jesus which, willing or not, weighs more heavily in the West’s soul than all of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Genghis Khan and any other monsters or genuine “greats” we could add to the list all combined together.
Jesus remains. We cannot avoid him. He will not go away.
Ironically, as the West turns its enlightened back to him, multitudes in the “non-Christian” world are flocking to him – even in Dar al-Islam, even in the murky depths of Red China and North Korea, and even more in the masses of the downtrodden of Africa and Latin America.
Why? What do these masses of the underclasses see in him that we of the rich and self-sufficient Western uber-class cannot or choose to no longer see? Jesus identified most profoundly with the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the forgotten, those of no account. He challenged the mighty and powerful of the elites of whatever sort. The oppressed and hopeless and least esteemed are still those that flock to him, just as it was two thousand years ago. And, just as it was two thousand years ago, the rich and “wise” despise him, mock him, and seek to kill him/get rid of him.
He is and never has been a respecter of persons, or rank, or ordained order, or of prescribed theologies and ideologies slotting everyone and everything into pre-ordained roles, classes, and status. His actions and language towards all such were and are not just challenging, but downright revolutionary and inflammatory. Paradoxically, he never called for violence in facing the persecutors.
He called for the overthrow of all the wrong and injustice by Love! But such a love as exceeds any innate human capacity to exhibit or sustain on our own strength for any appreciable length of time. He pledged himself as the one who could impart the power to love in such a way, for he pledged himself to be among us as God himself dwelling among us.
Such language sounds not just outlandish, but insane, at least to most people, even in our believe-whatever-claim-whatever, neo Tower-of-Babel world.
This is far more revolutionary than Hitler’s call to hate and destroy in Mein Kampf. It is far more revolutionary than anything in Marx’s and Engels’ A Communist Manifesto. If is beyond the idea of ending suffering by extinguishing desire, or losing oneself in the great personal extinction of Brahman.
This Jesus business is much more serious than any call to save Gaia from our human depredations, as important as that is. For, without the kind of heart-change and internal paradigm shift Jesus called for and still calls for, humans cannot fully overcome the internal drive to manipulate, dominate, and exploit one another and the rest of the creation which our capacity to reign, rule, control, and change bestows upon us.
The Jesus call invites an end to all the angst about “finding my true self” and “discovering my true identity” by trying on various letters of the alphabet or other symbolic or even real signs and gestures to differentiate myself as a sort of personal, distinctive mini-god in my own version of the universe.
Jesus said – and did! – more controversial things than anyone else ever did or will. Most controversial of all were his claims to resolve all the conflicts in and through himself by calling you and me to find our final and primal identification in and through him!