The Jesus I don’t want to know

Sunday, 16th September 2007 at 7:58 UTC 2 comments

This won’t be another Climate Camp post, I promise. But is does need to begin with something which happened as a result of Climate Camp: my being interviewed for the Heaven And Earth show, which went out on BBC1 last Sunday. After the bit where I was shown, there was a studio debate between three people and the presenter. The person I want to discuss was not Bruce Kent, though I have to say he did a wonderful job representing the NVDA-inclined Christian.

The man in question (they were all men) represented an organisation which aims to spread Christian values (usually a bad sign, I find). Listening, the impression I got was that these Christian values were politeness, total respect for the state and the norms of society, and ‘decency’, whatever that is. I was struck by the extent to which this was a religion of the respectable, the Jones with whom others try to keep up, etc. The kind of Jesus who wears deodorant to somehow validate his message. Frankly, it worried me as much as it filled me with revulsion.

This is the myth about Christ that much of the church in Britain has been running on for decades, if not centuries. Jesus appears, not as a penniless rabbi from Palestine, but as the ultimate example of polite society; a well mannered and well-presented being who treated people exactly as etiquette required. This is not a Jesus who strives to stand alongside the margins and to approach life with gritty honesty.

More over, it is clear that showing deference to those higher up the social ladder than yourself is part of this, as is trying to conform to the ways of those near the top, as if that ladder somehow leads to heaven. In my experience, it leads in a direction mostly away from heaven: rarely have the highest in society been the best examples of Godliness, those that have have usually gained their ranking through church involvement.

Personally speaking, and with more experience than I’d usually like to admit, I find the whole charade of polite society really grating. I’m required to cover over who I naturally am. Not to challenge it or change, but to pass it off as acceptable, dampening down the bits which might upset others and pretending I’m something that I am not. Its a bit like painting a rusty drainpipe does nothing but hide the rust with something a bit more flashy. We are taught to ignore injustice, show deference to those who trample on us, value the ways and attributes of those who do most to damage our world.

To me, Jesus challenge is that he didn’t compromise when he met with the rich. He didn’t hold back, he let rip into them, and yet he showed the poor respect, while still speaking their language and still opening himself up in honesty, never hiding anything. That said, he never really had much to hide.

I’ve written this across about three different ‘sittings’, so I’m not sure it hangs together, or that it says what I want it to say. I guess what I’m getting at is that real, deep-down, honesty and integrity are more like Christ than anything which the ‘gospel’ of good manners offers us. It might be a bonus in some cases, but in others it would be helpful to discard these surface-deep values for gritty honesty that doesn’t shy away from upsetting the comfortable and nice and well-to-do of our society.


Entry filed under: Religion, Theology.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Helen  |  Sunday, 16th September 2007 at 16:12 UTC

    Good post. I hate respectable Jesus. Well, I don’t hate him, I just don’t find him particularly interesting.

    Re: the not having much to hide – I think everyday people hide things that shouldn’t be shameful, even to the rather silly extent of liking an unpopular band. Jesus was, in the eyes of society, an illegitimate child – he’s referred to as “the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3). And you never catch him saying things like “Oh, this is Matthew, he was… a business man…” (true story, I once heard Julia Gash, the liberal democrat who owns a sex shop introduced “Julia Gash, a… business woman”) He wasn’t ashamed to be associated with the outcasts.

  • 2. Greg  |  Sunday, 16th September 2007 at 19:18 UTC

    So, you say that people have always wanted to co-opt powerful stories like Christianity to support their own cause, and the people who’ve been best at doing this have been those already in power. I totally agree with you, and infact I’m slightly tempted to start expounding the catholicity of Ben XVI.

    As far as your politeness rant goes, I get just as sick as you of the application of my previous paragraph which tells us that being a good Christian is about looking pretty, being inoffensive and bowing your cap to your elders and betters. However, I think you go a bit far. There are plenty of situations where giving our honest opinion really isn’t a good idea. We need to recognise that we’re considerably less wise and less knowledgeable than Jesus, and so we need to be humble and give other people their voices, in case they know something we don’t.

    There are also plenty of situations where our tongues can do immense damage (cf. James 3). There are people who are too delicate to take my no-holds-barred opinion. People are also very complex creatures, and often if I keep a hold of my tongue for some weeks, I’ll learn why it is that they are as they are, and the possible excuses they may have for certain ways of behaving which I’d otherwise have ranted about when I first met them. Christianity isn’t just about setting other people’s wrongs to rights, it’s also about forgiving others their faults and being gracious; about not shouting about specks in each other’s eyes all the time, lest they point out the planks in our own.

    I think I’m actually less polite to those who know me well – I I hope that we know each other enough to drop our usual charades and engage with each other at a deeper, closer level. Then again, I’ve managed to say things in this way that I still wish I hadn’t, especially when I’ve misjudged those people.


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