Easter week and Easter day are not normally a moment to reflect on hatred, at least not for me. I find that the love of God and the enormity of his sacrifice take over my whole mind and I can hardly think of anything else, all the less so of the Jews’ hatred at Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion. Nevertheless, a recent article I read this Easter morning on opendemocracy.org struck a chord with my ideas about Christianity as a force in history. But it turned out the chord was anything but harmonious.
If I understood it correctly, the tenor of László Bitó’s essay is that the Christian church and teachings ought to be sanitized and fumigated of their “hatemongering” content so that a peace-bearing message might be promoted in relation to every bit of Scripture, in all churches, but most of all in the Catholic church, the object of Bitó’s grievances and the target of his censures.
It is my understanding that the Passion and Resurrection are indissoluble from a broad context of hatred and animosity that brought about the events Christians around the world celebrate this week. Take hatred away from all this and you end up with a phoney explanation of why things occurred as they did. Stop remembering that the chief priests and the elders of the Jewish people “consulted that they might take Jesus by subtility, and kill him” (Mt 26, 4, Lu 22:2, Jn 5:18, 7:1, 8:37) or that on the day of the Crucifixion the people “cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him” (Jn 19:15) – and you don’t need a crucifixion any more, let alone a resurrection. Redemption dissolves into tepid indifference, everyone goes back to their homes and it’s up to us and us alone to find propitiating blood-money to redeem our sinfulness, that of course if we actually feel that way.
Our author is ready to burn on the altar of world peace and universal understanding truths and stories that he seems to believe in. Faith aside, this sacrifice would at least mean falsifying an account that tries to tell a different story. If we are to believe it or to take it seriously, then we must draw all consequences and accept its truths, context and details, whatever the cost. That the story of Jesus’ Jewish and Roman trials are in many ways an abridged philosophy of hatred. It does not follow however that this hostility context should have any bearing on the daily life of Christians in history. Whatever the apostolic Church has done over the century and as many wrongs have been carried out in the name of saint Religion, saint Church, saint whatever, it is a crass error to believe that the story is false, only because its renditions have been a shame.
Like any story from this world, the last hours of Christ had a bit of everything in them, including odium. If we want to restore the whole picture, then we must keep everything in place, as much as it goes against our ideas about good and evil, love and hate. I understand and approve Bitó’s grievances, especially those against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but I don’t see how we can cherry pick those bits that fit in with our current view of the world. It’s not about abolishing hatred through “excising from the Liturgy the stories that are still heard by every new generation on Good Friday”, but believing that hatred in the Bible must ineluctably set an example of hatred in the relationships between individuals, groups and societies today. On the other hand, I propose that this hatred be surpassed by a close study of the teachings of Christ and the articulations of a world governed by a loving God.
Besides, Christianity is not about a paradisiacal conclusion to our worldly efforts. Christ did not come as a political preacher but as an ambassador of a Kingdom where love is its constitution and hatred an ontological impossibility. Yet He made it clear that this world we live in, as a projection of our own fallen condition, is simply incompatible with this unfamiliar Kingdom.
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. (Mat 10:34-36)”