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  • holderlin66
    We all have a stake in who Jesus is today. So we all have the right to get involved in the debate. Perhaps we even have the obligation. It s part of being a
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 27, 2003
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      "We all have a stake in who Jesus is today. So we all have the right
      to get involved in the debate. Perhaps we even have the obligation.
      It's part of being a good citizen. Good citizens get involved in
      every debate that affects communal life. The debate about Jesus is a
      big one."

      Pick Your Favorite Jesus
      by Ira Chernus

      Who was this fellow Jesus, born, so they say, on December 25th?
      Christians have been disagreeing about it for nearly two thousand
      years. Here are just a few of the leading contenders:

      A supernatural son of God in human form, offering immortality to
      everyone.

      A truly human being filled with divinity, sent by God to pay off our
      debt of sin.

      A wise teacher who never claimed to be divine, but was deified by his
      followers.

      The head of a spiritual army committed to destroying every evildoer.

      History's greatest example of perfect love for others.

      The first nonviolent revolutionary, teaching us how to use love as a
      political tool to overthrow the system.

      Christians even disagree about Jesus' skin color. They have depicted
      him in every color imaginable (though it's a safe bet he was as brown
      as your average Palestinian or Oriental Jew).

      Jesus is the great Rorschach inkblot of Western civilization. Look at
      him and tell me what you see. Your answer won't tell me any objective
      truth about who Jesus really was. It will tell me a lot about who you
      are.

      It's no different in any other religion. Every religion is really a
      big debating society, an endless struggle to control the meaning of
      crucial symbols.

      But the Christian debate about Jesus has special importance for all
      of us here in the United States, even if we are not Christian. The
      Christians have tremendous influence in our political life. Across
      the political spectrum, they consult their own Jesus when they form
      their political views. How could they not? A Christian's Jesus is the
      embodiment of his or her deepest values.

      It gets more complicated when they publicly invoke their various
      Jesuses to justify their political positions. When they argue that
      our government should do this or that because Jesus was this or that,
      they breach the wall between church and state. To keep that wall high
      and strong, we should base our political arguments only on logic, not
      on our favorite religious images.

      When Jesus does enter the political arena, the result may not be so
      bad, if you are a progressive. Much of Christian politics is liberal
      or even leftist. Before the Iraq war, most Christian groups said very
      publicly that their Jesus would not send troops to attack Iraq. Some
      of them said that their Jesus taught them war is never the answer, no
      matter how dangerous the problem. Of course, some Christians think
      Jesus is smiling down on the U.S. troops who use guns to bring
      freedom to Iraq.

      No matter what positions Christians take, though, bringing Jesus into
      the public arena has the same effect: it makes him an important
      public figure for all of us. Whether or not we are Christian, our
      lives are directly influenced by the prevailing image of Jesus. We
      all have a stake in who Jesus is today. So we all have the right to
      get involved in the debate. Perhaps we even have the obligation. It's
      part of being a good citizen. Good citizens get involved in every
      debate that affects communal life. The debate about Jesus is a big
      one.

      If you haven't entered this arena yet, it's high time that you pick
      your favorite Jesus. Then get out there and start lobbying for him.

      As every good lobbyist knows, the first step is to get your facts
      straight. Everyone can invent their own Jesus because there are no
      definite facts about his life. Even expert historians of religion
      ultimately shape the data to fit their preferences. But some versions
      of Jesus are more plausible than others. So get yourself well
      educated about the facts that support your favorite Jesus. Then go
      out and campaign for him.

      You can do the same for the Maccabees, the heroes of the war
      commemorated in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Jews have a big
      debate going about them, too. Some say they were the first Zionist
      soldiers, fighting to secure a Jewish homeland against anti-semites.
      One Jew I know recently praised them because they were right-wing
      extremists, war-mongers who supported an uncompromising violent
      nationalism. But another praised them as an indigenous band of
      committed and idealistic freedom fighters who defeated a mighty and
      oppressive empire.

      Were the Maccabees moderate nationalists, ultra-right religious
      zealots, or radical freedom fighters akin to today's Palestinians?
      You can take your pick. And you should. The story of Hanukkah always
      gets tangled up with people's views of Israel and the Middle East
      conflict, which costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars every year
      and plenty of worry about where our troops might take their guns
      next. So even if you aren't Jewish, you have the right, and perhaps
      the obligation, to lobby for your favorite Maccabees too.

      I bet your particular Jesus and your particular Maccabees would get
      along together just fine. Religion just seems to work that way.

      Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of
      Colorado at Boulder. chernus@...
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