In reshaping American politics and society, the Christian Right has applied a distorted version of Jesus’s teachings, downplaying his pacifism and his contempt for wealth while emphasizing later revisions that didn’t threaten the powerful. That’s why Rev. Howard Bess says the search for the true Jesus is crucial.
Exclusive: On Good Friday, Christians observe the brutal torture and crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of Roman occupiers, but many modern Christians don’t mind when it’s “their” side doing the extraordinary renditions of alleged subversives to be tortured and sometimes killed, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern notes.
From the Archive: Over the centuries as Christianity bent to the interests of the rich and powerful, the story of Jesus’s fateful week in Jerusalem was reshaped to minimize perhaps its central event, his overturning of the money tables at the temple, a challenge to the merging of religious and political power, says Rev. Howard Bess.
For years there has been a debate over not only who Jesus was but whether he existed. Historians remain split on many Jesus-related questions – and the issue is fraught with religious overtones – but Rev. Howard Bess believes enough is now known about Jesus to put him in context for his (and our) times.
Though founded by a pacifist, Christianity has justified some of the most brutal slaughters in human history, from the wars of the late Roman Empire to the Crusades to the Inquisition to world wars to genocides against “heathens,” Muslims and Jews. Yet, Gary G. Kohls says the essence of Christianity can still be reclaimed.
It is an inconvenient truth for mainstream and right-wing Christians that Jesus was crucified for taking his protest against income inequality to the power center of Jerusalem, where he challenged how money had perverted religious principles. Now, that tension is returning with the Occupy protests, Rev. Howard Bess says.
In the holiday season, many Christians take pride in helping the poor – by donating food and toys – but U.S. religious leaders have stayed in the background of challenges to an inequitable economic system, leaving that Jesus work to mostly secular young people of the Occupy movement, the Rev. Howard Bess observes.
The core crisis of Christianity is how could a religion based on the teachings of Jesus, who called for peace through love and generosity to the poor – and who disdained the rich – have grown so tolerant of war, greed and inequality. The Rev. Howard Bess traces this conundrum to the Church’s early days.
Friction between Christians and Muslims is growing, as the world’s two largest religions – with a long history of conflict and animosity – collide in a shrinking world. The Rev. Howard Bess sees some of that friction as unavoidable but urges dialogue and understanding to avert the worst.
If Christian conservatives truly understood and accepted the teachings of Jesus, they would not be at the Tea Party barricades fighting to protect the money, power and privileges of the rich; they would be demanding what Jesus wanted, a radical redistribution of wealth and decent treatment of all, as the Rev. Howard Bess notes.