(from a letter)
The real power of the story of Christ, I think, is in the very honest human reaction to those who seek to revolutionize love. It’s the same thing that happened to Dr. King and to Malcolm in his later life. All such beings come to the public life imbued with an otherworldly glow, apparently untouchable by the cold claws of our world. They seem to be fearless of the terrible evil that makes our life grinding from day to day– a fearlessness that is born not of ignorance or the delusion of invincibility but by an intimate knowledge of how deep within the soul of man that evil lies, how large it looms within the human heart. There are things that some of us who came close always suspected and that suspicion was what terrified us the most. But to understand it, to look it in the eye and stand in its presence is surely a liberating experience because it delivers us from not knowing, and, at least in these people, it evokes the bravery required to reject it– to say to that darkness: no, we can be better, you will not triumph.
And logic dictates on a basic level that we should revere such people, collectively. That in a just and loving universe, if we’re of the type that believes in a deity with such a heart or in that human decency that leads us to believe that we can be redeemed by ourselves, those people should be protected and worshipped and held sacred by us. The idea of Christ as a divine being, a man beyond other men, leads us to scratch our head in bewilderment and anger that despite a devotion to God and a willingness to sacrifice everything to and for God that in the end, Jesus dies alone, on a hill among common thieves. I never understood that, how within the universe of the Bible, God could let Jesus die. The explanation given to me, that God let Jesus die basically as a marketing ploy, to exert his will so that people would see him die and realize that the place of right was in deferring to God, outright disgusted me and for much of my life left me with a very low opinion of the apostles and evangelists specifically and of Christians as a whole. I wanted the apostles and the followers to revolt, to demand justice.
What I recognize now, after many many years of trying to reconcile a belief in humans as fundamentally good and logical products of an elegant universe when given so much evidence to the contrary, is that Jesus died because that’s just what happens. God could not or would not save Jesus from the cross because 1) if you don’t believe in God or in an interventionist God, there’s your answer or 2) because even with a living God still in the picture, intervention by him would be just dishonest. In life, which although marvelous can also be terrible, bad things happen and there’s no control we have over it. Jesus’ dying for our sins is a misnomer– he wasn’t crucified so that we may be forgiven for masturbating or being attracted to members of the same sex. The sins that he died for were fear and apathy– he believed in the power of human beings to be better than themselves (which back then must have been quite tenacious indeed); he believed in our ability to recognize and reject greed and religious oppression. He spoke for the people nobody else would speak for, “the least of these,” and our silence on their behalf, past and present, is the sin that all truly great human beings live and die for. And while I eschew most of the rest, the prophecy and the fate, I do believe that anybody who pursues this line of work goes into it knowing that that monolith of evil is more than capable of being the end of you as a physical thing.
Faith that your philosophy, that ragged banner of love and forgiveness, is more important than the physical form they will surely annihilate someday, is the closest thing to real holiness that I think I’m capable of understanding. I have always wanted that conviction. Even though I consider religious zealotry or zealotry of any kind, really, to be a harmful thing, I admire and wish for myself the feeling of believing in something, anything, so devoutly. I hunger for an undisputed personal truth. Even though I believe in forgiveness and love and the wonder of the immensity of it all, the stars and the oceans, I’m frequently troubled by my own moral confusion. I look at the most horrible things in life and see the cynicism, the apathy toward one’s fellow man, the unwillingness of people to give anyone the benefit of the doubt while refusing to hold themselves up to any moral standard at all or own up to their own shortcomings as human beings, and my belief in the deserving of men of our best qualities is temporarily but brutally suspended. Maybe we don’t deserve freedom, something in me growls, if we can’t even recognize and want for the freedom of others. We don’t deserve help if we’re unwilling to help eachother. I see violence and my hurt, angry, battered little fallible heart cries out for violence in return. What scares and surprises me most about this shift is the sincerity of it. My primal lust for force has no conscience to be plagued by and thus seems stronger than my own ethics. It’s like someone sticking a finger into a very raw wound and twisting it– nothing but the pain and the reactive adrenaline compares in the way of reality. I always eventually calm down, get a grip on myself and give myself a good firm talking-to. I remind myself that I cannot be the evil that frustrates me to begin with, that I am capable of good and that capability comes with a duty to be the change I wish to see in the world. But even after I’ve returned, I remain shaken. There is a brutal cruel hateful force within me that requires much self-discipline and faith. I may never need to stare into that void that others have faced with such bravery because this trembling dissonance is my own calvary and there’s nobody to die for my sins except me.