April 17, 2015
Talk about Christ’s resurrection tends to focus on the afterlife dimension, the presence of the living Lord, or the peace that God seeks to insert in our days. But there are also very practical dimensions related to the resurrection. As a victim of religious violence Jesus did address for example the issue of religious violence in his “post-mortem” conversations with his disciples. And this issue is obviously still pertinent today.
A 2015 Pew report shows how in 27% of 198 countries social hostilities involving religion occur, with attacks on minority faiths or pressure to conform to certain norms. Of course, these days Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda or ISIS keep these percentages rising, with violent practices never seen in history, exceeding crusaders’ “temper tantrums”. Jessica Stern, who recently coauthored the book “Isis, The State of Terror”, calls the ISIS caliphate army “the crystal meth of religious violence”. Many people ask what can be done to this escalating trend of religious violence?
The “two cents” from the Gospel are on topic: given the religious framework of Jesus’ death sentence, Jesus did address these violent roots of religion. His approach is twofold: his guidance calls to block attempts to capsulate God that all to easily lead to violence. Next, the healthier alternative is to enter into fellowship, to prioritize the relational dimension of life with God and each other.
- 1) Jesus blocks attempts to capsulate God. With his call to leave Jerusalem and go into the world, Jesus makes the case that restoring the kingdom is not about a territorial fight. No caliphate, holy mount, or sacred tomb will be able to secure the presence of God. In other resurrection accounts Jesus boldly states: “Don’t hold on to me.” The point is that our desire to have tangible certainty regarding the divine, through ‘direct’ presence, through lists of laws, through literal Bible readings, through a specific holy site or territory, will fail and will often generate violence. Territorial claims lead to territorial fights, moralism leads to puritan incidents, or literal reading leads to oppression, idealization of certain social contexts. Most of these claims eventually generate a proprietary defense mode that easily tilts towards violence. The cross being the prominent case in point.
- 2) After the resurrection Jesus explicitly calls to go beyond these tangible realities that people tend to identify with the divine. And He pushes his disciples to let go of these claims, to enter into a different realm, the realm of fellowship, the fellowship of the risen Jesus. The first Letter of John highlights the dimension of fellowship (1John1). Meaning: the relational dimension of life is so far more important than any territorial or moralistic claim. Prioritizing the relational dimension is exactly the realm of the divine. This is why in the Gospel of John Jesus comes to one commandment: Love one Another. The focus on fellowship with God and each other, relational living, is the prominent guide and antidote against religious violence.
Will Jesus’ call automatically bring a solution for today? 2000 years of history illustrate there is no easy path, because every human has proprietary claims that easily inflate, also on the level of religion (my parish versus your parish). But a growing awareness of the value of the Gospel’s focus on fellowship does encourage us to become more explicit advocates of criteria of religion that should more permanently plead against unacceptable religious claims. Simultaneously we should call more boldly to the alternative of deepening fellowship with God and each other. While we don’t have an instant solution, we do have a strong message that needs more bold assertion. May we all enter more deeply into this fellowship dimension of life with God and each other.