Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Recrucifying Christ?

Crucifixion was employed by the Romans as a means of execution for the Empire's worst criminals because it meant a long, drawn-out, and torturous death. Political prisoners who threatened the Roman hegemony were generally elevated to this "worst" classification, and according to the Biblical narrative it was for this reason that Jesus was crucified. Even though this supposedly took place nearly two thousand years ago, some modern Christians have decided that there are activities so utterly and irredeemably evil that they rise to the same level as the crucifixion itself.

What could be so utterly awful that it rises to the level of torturing an innocent human being to death? According to Pastor John Piper, it's not theft, rape, murder, or anything that obvious. In fact, it's apparently so unbelievably terrible that Jesus himself was unwilling to speak of it, preferring instead to teach on more pedestrian wrongdoing like exploitation or demonization of the poor - which, by the way, some modern Christians have no problem doing. No, this unspeakable evil is the sin of watching nudity on television.

A listener named Adam emailed Piper, asking, "Pastor John, what would you say to a Christian who watches the cable TV show Game of Thrones?"

What proceeded were a dozen heartfelt, challenging questions Christians should ask themselves before considering watching shows like Game of Thrones, noted for their graphic sexual content.

"Christ died to purify his people. It is an absolute travesty of the cross to treat it as though Jesus died only to forgive us for the sin of watching nudity, and not to purify us for the power not to watch it," Piper explained.

"If we choose to endorse or embrace or enjoy or pursue impurity, we take a spear and ram it into Jesus' side every time we do. He suffered to set us free from impurity," Piper concluded.

So here's my question - what the hell is wrong with these people? We live in a world where billions of people suffer poverty and/or violence on a daily basis. Now I understand that the majority of Christians and Christian Churches live their beliefs and do make charitable contributions, host community meals and food shelves, and so forth. But any Christian who teaches, in the light of all this, that the most terrible thing of all to do is watch a television program that shows some nudity is so out of touch with the real world that I completely fail to understand how any reasonable person can take them seriously.

And this disproportionate, bizarre theology is always about sexuality in some form. Homosexuality is probably the most familiar example. I do understand that it's a violation of Old Testament law (at least for men), but so are all sorts of other things that modern Christians don't worry about, like eating shellfish or mixing clothing fibers or getting tattoos. Jesus' actual teachings don't even mention it. But nonetheless, according to these folks it's among the most horrible things in the universe, right up there with nudie shows - a contention that has little scriptural support. With all the problems in the world that harm real people, this is what they focus on?

As I've mentioned many times on this blog, even though I'm not a Christian, I was for many years when I was younger and don't have any real problem with it as a religion. What I do have a problem with, though, is when people imagine their personal biases to be universal spiritual mandates regardless of what their religions actually teach. This is not a problem limited to Christianity, by the way, but rather one endemic to poor critical thinkers everywhere. It's just that in the United States most are Christian because most people here are Christian. Many fundamentalist Muslims do the same thing in majority-Muslim countries, except they spend their time condemning stuff like women driving cars and seeking education.

The bottom line is that media has little or nothing at all to do with spiritual realization. You're not going to magically start having spiritual experiences if you confine yourself to exclusively "pure" music, television, and films like some conservative churches recommend, and you're not going to keep yourself from having said experiences if you don't. What you actually need to do is practice, the importance of which those same churches often gloss over. You don't have to take up esotericism or become a ceremonial magician. Pray. Meditate. Explore the nature of your consciousness. Spiritual practice on a daily basis will get you much further than a diet of exclusively G-rated fare ever will.

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