There is good news and bad news. The good news: a biblical angel said, “’Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. . . . Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!’” (Luke 2: 10, 11, 14) The bad news is that no “Messiah” is going to come and save us. The “Messiah” came, and, like numerous other historical liberation prophets, he was crucified—in his case, by the occupying Romans, for seeking to set his Jewish people free. But he did leave a sacrificial model, embodied in The Golden Rule and in The Beatitudes like, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” But that model involves much risk-taking. So, basically, his later followers, and their descendants, institutionalized him, turning him into a Christian and his model into a monument—with rites emphasized over rights, and doctrine over doing—and they became chaplains of the status quo.
The transformation of Jesus from liberator into evangelizer is instructive. When early Christianity finally became the religion of the state and attained authority and power under Roman Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century, the “good news” went mainstream—moving from liberation to domination. What began as a grassroots movement to empower and set people free became an imperialistic crusade to evangelize and gain power over them. Armed with state power and with the exceptionalistic belief in the resurrection as proof that Jesus was “the only Son of God,” the now legitimized “Christians” joined the state in seeking to conquer the world.
The Christians’ mission of world domination was wrapped in the imperialistic words of their risen “Lord.” They put wings on his feet and words in his mouth: an assumed resurrected Jesus supposedly appeared to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 16-20) Never mind that the Doctrine of the Trinity does not appear elsewhere in The Bible, and was not formulated until centuries after Jesus’ death. ( See, “The Doctrine of the Trinity,” www.religiousfacts.com)
Such New Testament beliefs in Christian exceptionalism turns non-Christians into The Other, making them fair game for conversion, or for obliviousness—and oblivion. A 21st Century example is former, “Christ . . . changed my heart,” president George W. Bush, who launched an illegal, falsely based, preemptive war against the Iraqi people—on prayerful bended knee. His planned aggression against defenseless, non-threatening Iraq was supported by “the war sermons [of]. . influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to Iraq war.” According to evangelical Christian and University of Virginia professor of religion Charles Marsh, “The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq,” with “an astounding 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supporting the president’s decision in April 2003—and almost three years later “68 percent of white evangelicals continue[d] to support the war,” (“Wayward Christian Soldiers,” The New York Times, Jan. 20, 2006) The, one true, “Prince of peace” provided symbolic inspiration for imperialistic war and conquest.
Numerous Christian denominations in the U.S. initially opposed the invasion of Iraq, some strongly. But, the fact that its horrible destructiveness continued for almost nine years, and that war criminals Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney are walking around free, and honored in mainstream political, media and religious circles speak volumes about the immorality of the evangelizing mentality. One person may wear an American flag on his lapel and another may wear a Christian cross; both have similar meanings for victims of American imperialism.
Traditional Christianity’s imperialistic belief in its own exceptionalism resonates with, far more than challenges, American exceptionalism, which our government trumpets to camouflage its goal of world domination. Thus there is little Jesus-inspired outcry or demonstrations against the Obama administration’s drone warfare, that violates the national sovereignty of other countries, fills their skies with fear, and kills innocent children, women and men in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere– people in wedding parties, a grandmother working on her farm, children in their homes, and countless other human beings Places that are far away, and their peoples’ out of sight. Whereas, here in America “There’s a song in the air! There’s a star in the sky” . . . And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a king!” (“There’s a Song in the Air,” words by Josiah G. Holland, 1819-1881; music by Karl P. Harrington, 1861-1953) In America, it is about a “star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,” not about a drone raining its fire while The Other scream—and are suddenly blown to bits.
“Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” the mission of evangelical denominations, shares similarities with our government’s some 1000 American military bases in around 130 countries throughout the world, many in Arab and Muslim lands. Never mind that America’s global presence is not really about “spreading freedom” but about expanding “free enterprise”– which depends on controlling Islamic countries, exploiting their resources, and using their strategic locations for predatory policies toward neighboring nations. Rather than speaking truth to such imperialistic power, many American Christian leaders are more likely to provide accommodating Invocations and Benedictions.
The Christmas carol, “Joy to the World” is an imperialistic fit for America’s global ambitions. For, “He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of his righteousness.” (words: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748; music: arr. From George Frederick Handel, 1685-1759, by Lowell Mason, 1792-1872) Yes, “There’s a song in the air! . . . O’er the wonderful birth, for the virgin’s sweet boy is the Lord of the earth.”
Along with their imperialistic theological world view, many Christian worshippers place a related emphasis on personal salvation that encourages detachment from human rights, social justice, and “peace on earth, good will toward men.” It is far more about individual belief than about interpersonal behavior. About salvation, not solidarity. About one’s final destination, far more than about the journey with others– unless they are like-minded. (See, Alberts, “Jesus, the Theological Prisoner of Christianity,” Counterpunch, Aug. 25-25, 2007)
Here, too, certain Christmas carols reinforce preoccupation with oneself and detachment from “strangers.” From: “God rest you merry, gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay, For Jesus Christ our Savior Was born on this day. To save us all from Satan’s power When we were gone astray.” (“God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” 18th Century Trad. English Carol) To: “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new-born King!; Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” (words: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788, Alt by George Whitefield, 1714-1770; music: Lyra Davidica, 1708)
A self-centered gospel of personal salvation, and related evangelical imperialism, driven by the belief that Jesus is “the Lord of the earth,” prevents many Christmas worshipers from practicing one of Jesus’s greatest teachings: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Their one true religion, with its personal and exclusionary salvation, depends not on them loving their neighbor as themselves, but on their neighbor becoming like themselves.
That baby in a manger still holds the key to “peace on earth, good will toward men.” Not his assumed divinity in supposedly being “born of a virgin.” But his humanity, which was corrupted by the evangelical imperialistic need to turn him into a unique, divine being. It is that baby’s humanity that is shared by all children and women and men and mothers and fathers everywhere. All human beings laugh and cry and love and hate and hope and mourn. To hear each other’s laughter and to see each other’s tears is to experience each other’s humanness. And the need to be loved, and to love, is the center of that humanness. Love that follows The Golden Rule and puts itself in another’s shoes. Love that experiences rather than interprets other people’s reality. Love that recognizes everyone is exceptional, without exception. Love that believes everyone is entitled and has an inherent right to be and to belong and to become. Love that demands justice for all people, and thrives on kindness.
The messiah awaits our coming to the realization that no one is going to come and save us. It is up to us. “Peace on earth” depends not on saviors, but on models, not on military power, but on human empowerment, not on force and fear, but on love and justice.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, “demonstrates what top- notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling. It is available on Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.