Monday, April 22, 2024
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What does being Christian mean

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By Yona M. Nonglang

Kudos to Albert Thyrniang for his thought-provoking article “Is the VPP the Christian Version of the BJP?” (March 14, 2014). Indeed, it’s time for thinking people in our community, “Christian” and “non-Christian” alike, to seriously start a conversation on what being “Christian” is really about. Especially in the face of disturbing and divisive ideological and religious extremism in our social and political discourse.
If one were to take a more serious look at the indigenous Jewish Jesus narrative from our own indigenous perspective, one would, indeed, get the general idea that if “God” were to live among humans, we would be witnessing love in action in its purest form. Instead of the polarising and hateful politically motivated religious rhetoric we’re hearing these days. The kind of extremist religious rhetoric that parrots western imperial Christian fundamentalism with its insane penchant for holier-than-thou Bible-thumping and proof-texting tactics to silence its critics and political rivals.
Because that kind of “Christianity” champions western white supremacy—with its simplistic one-dimensional literalist-inerrantist reading of ancient Jewish narratives—the kind of politically weaponised top-down “authoritative” reading that justifies genocide, culturicide and displacement of indigenous peoples wherever it has managed to spread its hegemonic tentacles (https://www.worldhistory.org/Doctrine_of_Discovery and https://www.gilderlehrman.org/sites/default/files/inline-pdfs/04093_FPS.pdf).
Whereas, the thing that moves readers the most about the indigenous Jewish Jesus narrative is the embodiment of love in action in a life courageously and exemplarily lived by a certain Rabbi Yeshua. Indeed, it’s a narrative that puts God and humanity at the centre.
When the Jewish Rabbi Hillel the Elder (50 BCE – 10 CE) was asked what the greatest commandment was, he responded with “that which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary — [and now] go study.”
Yeshua (anglicised “Jesus” from Greek “Iésous)” comes from that golden rule tradition too. “Do unto others what you would them do unto you…” Furthermore, “Love God, yes. But love your neighbour as yourself too.” And when asked who a neighbour was, he famously responded with the story about a compassionate man who belonged to a community that was the object of racial discrimination among the racist “pure” Jews of the day!
And how does Jewish tradition speak of the Creator, the universal life force? “G-d” is simply beyond human language and comprehension to describe—our human problem not God’s. Because there’s just no human mind that can fathom and no human vocabulary adequate enough to sufficiently speak about such divine mystery—so inadequate that only figurative language could be used by those who spoke about the mystery. Hence the metaphor/analogy “light” (shining glory) when ancient Jewish storytellers mentioned YHVH. How did they come up with such powerful imagery? Were they eye-witnesses to some striking rare appearance of some spectacular celestial body (like the Hale-Bopp comet of 1997, perhaps) that inspired their awe-inspiring imagination of the divine?
The Jewish Jesus narratives also talks of Jesus as “the son of G-D,” a “light bearer.” The very term he also used for his fellow Jews who flocked around him. Is “you are the light” the equivalent of today’s universally used “you’re a child of God?”
At a time when Palestine lived in a perpetual state of fear, insecurity, exploitation and deprivation because of the ruthlessness of Rome’s colonial occupation of their land, the storytellers among Jews imagined what it would be like if G-D were to live among his people. G-D, indeed, would send his “child” who would grow up to comfort his people. Yes, the kind of divine embodiment who would be the superlative manifestation of all that was truly human and humane—a visible embodiment of love, compassion and self-sacrifice in the midst of self-interest, cruelty, exploitation, suffering and hopelessness.
Indeed, in the empire’s predatory capitalist system of “plenty” for the exploitative wealthy elite ruling class and “scarcity” for the exploited, “disinherited”* and “wretched of the earth,”** God’s embodiment of love and compassion would feed the hungry poor, provide free health care for the underprivileged sick (lame, blind, paralytic, comatose, etc), provide respite to the psychologically traumatised (woman with persistent menstrual issue), and restore the sanity of the mentally unstable (demon possessed). He would also help the poor celebrate life in all its joy and beauty (turn water into wine at weddings). He would also be a storyteller of hope and emotional healing to his care-laden audience with his soul-enriching metaphor-packed stories that would inspire the moral imagination and moral conscience of every generation even to this day.
He would refuse to submit himself to the rigidity of self-righteous institutionalised religion that spiritually majored in minors (filter a gnat but swallow a camel), with its judgmental, discriminatory and intrusive habit of “sin” categorisation, where “morality” was no longer about how kindly and compassionately people treated one another, among other things, but about being ridiculously reduced to that unhealthy focus on people’s private life and the endless gossiping and public shaming of those considered “fallen short.”
“Lady, where are your accusers?” “Go and ‘sin’ no more…” Imagine the knowing look of understanding he gave her as he spoke the words.
Indeed, in a toxic misogynistic chauvinist world where women were made public examples while men escaped scot-free even when “caught in adultery,” if God were to be among his people, he would be a champion of women’s rights. By that logic, he would also be a champion of the rights of the rest of the discriminated categories of “sinners” too, wouldn’t he?
Neither would he condone divisive politically motivated hateful rhetorics of any kind. Instead, he would be a courageous bridge builder across all sorts of petty divisions and he would erase any existing ugly supremacist discriminatory labels of “othering.” He would reach out to the “dogs” or “ksew pohjait” (victims of animalistic dehumanisation), socialise with “Samaritans” or “khar iap” (victims of pejorative, racist epithets) and so on. He would therefore be accused of being a friend of sinners/outcasts, and therefore labeled a “hell-bound liberal!”
And because what happened then was much like what’s happening to Palestinians now, if God were to be among his people, he would do exactly what Jesus did. He would be among the suffering Palestinians, magically heal their heartbreak, their physical and psychological trauma, reset their broken bones, restore their shattered limbs, provide life-giving water to their parched tongues and comfort their dejected souls by telling them stories of hope that would make them feel as if God is indeed among them in spite of their living-hell situation at the hands of another ruthless colonising force.
Above all, he would tell those European Zionists among Jews to “put their swords back in their sheaths.” Yes, those Israeli supremacists who have no qualms about proof-texting controversial ancient Jewish texts with hegemonic language of domination and ruthlessness to justify their violent settler-colonialism on Palestinian land, thereby completely ignoring the language of the golden rule of Judaism altogether.
“Get rid of the war machines,” he would be admonishing them. “This is not our way! And you, Mr. PM, Amalek? Really? You know there were bloodlusting extremists then just as there are bloodlusting extremists now, who dare put words in God’s mouth in order to win political arguments and silence critics.’
‘Hmph, G-D said!’ How dare they, and how dare you! So you, Mr. PM, you’d better find a better way to peacefully coexist with your neighbours. And stop the nonsense about who gave ‘the land’ to you because of that myth from donkey’s years ago. You know, and I know too, that we Jews don’t read the Book the way those folks who stole our identity do!’
‘Look at how they stole my identity and put words in my mouth too. Look at how they’ve whitewashed me to the point that I can no longer recognise myself! They’ve turned an Arab Jew like me into some blond, blue-eyed so-and-so who’s now on the side of the ruthless white supremacists of this world! My, the unspeakably terrible things they do in my name too! Can you imagine me taking sides with the very people who have been crushing indigenous people everywhere for centuries, including us, right here, right now?”
He wouldn’t be party to lip service religion either, with all its super-spiritual pious-sounding platitudes. “Don’t tell the starving Palestinian refugees you’ll be ‘praying’ for them. Send them food, for heaven’s sake!” (I was hungry, you gave me food. I was naked, you clothed me!). “Here’s the thing about the golden rule of our religion—it’s about manifesting love in action. Love God, love neighbour.”
Indeed, our state too would be a kinder and less polarised, less hateful, less violent and less corrupt place if only we would respect the language of the golden rule—the universality of which we the children of Hynñiew Trep, along with all other indigenous people, also acknowledge. Because we believe in the same golden rule of tipbriew tipblei, shong suk shong sain, kamai ia ka hok kamai ia ka akor, too.
Citations: Howard Thurman: “Jesus and the Disinherited;” Franz Fanon: “The Wretched of the Earth.”

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