Today is “Good Friday”–the day Christians all over the world remember the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
I’m an atheist, as you may know. So I have no interest in the metaphysical stories told about Jesus. But I do have an interest in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The notion of the “historical” Jesus is fraught with difficulty, and I know that. But I think those who argue that Jesus never existed (so-called “mythicists”) are on shaky historical ground. The simplest explanation for the data we have is that there was a historical Jesus, and that the stories told about him got blown out of proportion for very understandable, human reasons.
Jesus was not unique. He has come to be seen as unique for a variety of reasons, but the basic trajectory of his life is one that shows up in memorable characters throughout the cultures of the world and of history. I’m a philosopher, for instance, and we philosophers trace philosophy back to one Socrates–a man executed by the state for his alleged atheism (he dared to question the stories told about the gods) and for being, basically, ‘uppity’ (shaming statesmen and other important people by revealing their supposed ‘expertise’ to be mere pretense). In a different religious context, Socrates might’ve been Jesus.
But he wasn’t. Jesus was Jesus. And Jesus of Nazareth was uppity. He railed against the religious and economic authorities of his day. His message was that God didn’t need the centralized Temple system to interact with his people (we might say he was a religious democratizer). His message was that God was against the religious elites, and on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden. He was murdered by the state for inciting class resentment, for hosting an unauthorized protest in the Temple (the religious and economic heart of Jerusalem), and for blasphemy (he claimed to speak for God).
That is what the crucifixion was about. Another revolutionary murdered by the state because he challenged the oppressive status quo. Yes, it was in a religious context, and yes he appealed to his religious traditions (specifically, the prophets) to make his case. But that’s the fundamental picture.
So what are Christians the world over doing? Most of them (with a few exceptions) are feeling sad that their naughtiness (“sin”) ‘required’ (for some reason) divine suicide. That’s it. It’s a pity party. So they’ll congregate and go on and on about how awful they are–try to feel really really guilty about… whatever. The vast majority of them will never connect the dots. They’ll never see that Jesus of Nazareth was anti-authoritarian. They’ll never realize he would have organized Occupy Wall Street, or the Arab Spring. They’ll never imagine that he would have blown up (empty) bank buildings like Tyler Durdin in Fight Club. That he would have been a striker, a Marxist, and a “divider.”
But the only way you can not realize those things is if you’re more preoccupied with your religion than with economic justice; if you’re more preoccupied with genuflecting before tradition than with questioning it; if you’re more preoccupied with your own goddamn “soul” than with the shitty lives forced upon the global poor and the local poor by our societal striving for profit.
So forget Good Friday. Unless what you’re remembering isn’t that Jesus died for your sins so you could go to heaven, but that Jesus died because he had a clearer moral vision and a stronger political will than most of us today.