Monday, April 09, 2007

On why religious fundamentalism makes the baby Jesus cry

Okay, so I thought it best to save my condemnation of the political power of fundamentalist religion until after Easter Sunday, but really, these thoughts have been brewing since Good Friday, and a long brew makes for a strong cup. Which really has nothing to do with religion. But whatever.

Good Friday in a Catholic church is observed by a reading of the Passion, which, largely unrelated to the famous Mel Gibson religious snuff film of the same name, follows the last hours of Jesus as he prays in the garden at Gethsemane, is handed over to the Romans, and is ultimately beaten and crucified. Heavy stuff.

But here's what got me as I listened to the Passion this past Friday:
So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring against this man?”

They answered and said to him, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”

At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.”

The Jews answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,“ in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.

And this:
Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him.”

The Jews answered, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”

Pilate: What's he done?
The people: He offended our religious sensibilities.
Pilate: Well, that's not exactly a crime.
The people: But we want him dead.
Pilate: And?
The people: We hardly have the authority to do it ourselves.
Pilate: Maybe that should tell you something.

Pilate even went so far as to have Jesus scourged and given over to the Roman soldiers to beat and taunt, which seems like an awful lot of liberty to take with a man you're not even sure is guilty. But he also talked to Jesus and asked him if he was guilty of the offense of which the people accused him.
So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?”

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

Pilate: So, what, did you piss off the Jews?
Jesus: What do you think?
Pilate: I think it's not my place to be pissed off. But they want you put to death. What did you do?
Jesus: I pissed them off. And these days, that's enough.

And then Pilate went back out to the people and said, "I find no guilt in him."
Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out, “If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

Pilate: Folks, I really don't feel comfortable doing this. This man hasn't done anything wrong beyond offending your religious sensibilities.
The people: If you don't put him to death, we're telling Caesar.
Pilate: But -
The people: Causar isn't going to be happy to hear that you wouldn't crucify this guy for us.
Pilate: But -
The people: You do not want to get on Caesar's bad side.

And, because he was a pussy, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified, in fulfillment of the scripture.

Obviously, from the perspective of an observant Catholic, the crucifixion and resurrection were a good thing. They represent salvation, and they were a prophesied occurrence that Jesus saw coming from the beginning and welcomed as his responsibility to bear, albeit reluctantly.

But if Pilate hadn't pussied out and bowed to the will of the religious fundamentalists, Jesus wouldn't have died.

Pilate himself, as a representative of the government, recognized that Jesus was guilty of no crime or offense against the state. In terms of him being a threat to the government, public health, or public safety, he'd done nothing wrong. He'd broken no laws. He'd caused harm to no one. The worst complaint that could be leveled against him was that his teachings opposed those of the high priests of the time - he preached charity, kindness, forgiveness. He healed the sick. He offered sympathy to prostitutes and tax collectors. He pissed off the fundies hard core because he lived a better and and more full and more virtuous life than they did, and he encouraged others to follow his way instead of theirs, and they had him killed because of it. They demanded the power to dictate law based solely on their religious beliefs, and the state gave it up out of fear.

The fundies rallied, the government folded, and an innocent man died in the most horrible way imaginable.

Way to go, Pilate.

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