Thursday, December 18, 2003

I was really feeling good about posting this quote from Phillip Yancey's Reaching for the Invisible God, but after reading this on Dan's site, I was not so sure. At first look I thought that this quote reflected the kind of "generalized christianization" that Dan was talking about. But on second thought, maybe this quote pinpoints what should be the foundation of "Christianity as a subset of the way of Christ". Anyway, here it is:

In recent years a French philosopher and anthropologist named Rene Girard has explored that very question, explored it so deeply, in fact, that to the consternation of his secular colleagues he converted to Christianity. It struck Girard that Jesus' story cuts against the grain of every heroic story from its time. The myths from Babylon, Greece, and elsewhere celebrated strong heroes, not weak victims. In contrast, from the very beginning Jesus took the side of the underdog: the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the "marginalized." Indeed, Jesus chose to be born in poverty and disgrace, spent his infancy as a refugee, lived in a minority race under a harsh regime, and died as a prisoner, unjustly accused.

Jesus admired people like a Roman soldier who cared for his dying slave; a tax collector who gave away his fortune to the poor; a member of a minority race who stopped to help a man accosted by thieves; a sinner who prayed a simple "Help!" prayer; a shamed woman who reached out in desperation to touch his clothing; a beggar who ate crumbs from a rich man's table. He disapproved of religious professionals who refused to help the wounded for fear of soiling themselves; a proud clergymen who looked down on sinners; the rich who offered only crumbs to the hungry; a responsible son who shunned his prodigal brother; the powerful who lived on the backs of the poor.

When Jesus himself died ignominiously as an innocent victim it introduced what one of Girard's disciples has called "the most sweeping historical revolution in die world, namely, the emergence of an empathy for victims." Nowhere but in the Bible can you find an ancient story of an innocent yet heroic victim dragged to his death. To the ancients, heroes were heroic and victims were pitiable.

According to Girard, societies have traditionally reinforced their power through "sacred violence." The larger group (say, German Nazis or Serbian nationalists) picks a scapegoat minority to direct its self-righteous violence against, which in turn bonds and emboldens the majority. The Jewish and Roman powers tried that technique against Jesus and it backfired. Instead, the cross shattered the longstanding categories of weak victims and strong heroes, for the victim emerged as the hero.

The apostle Paul touched on a deep truth about Jesus' paradoxical contribution in his claim to the Colossians. A public spectacle it was when Jesus exposed as false gods the very powers and authorities that men and women take such pride in. The most refined religion of the day accused an innocent man, and the most renowned justice system carried out the sentence.

As one of Flannery O'Connor's Soudiern characters commented, "Jesus throws everything off balance." The gospel centered on the cross ushered in a stunning reversal of values that went on to affect the entire world. Today the victim occupies the moral high ground: witness recent Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to a black South African clergyman, a Polish union leader, a Holocaust survivor, a Guatemalan peasant woman, a bishop in persecuted East Timor. That the world honors and cares for the marginalized and disenfranchised, concluded Girard, is a direct result of the cross of Jesus Christ.

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