by Rasta Keith
With the spate of crimes committed in the Caribbean nations of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana and, to a lesser extent, even in Grenada during the past year, it comes as no surprise that every Tom, Dick and Harry is now stepping forward as having the panacea for the situation.
One of the most interesting reactions to date has been expressed in the Grenadian weekly, NOW Grenada, in which a local religious leader postulates that all of the social evils plaguing such countries stem from an obvious cultural decadence gripping most of the world.
And the gentleman makes no bones about the fact that manifestations of this trend are clearly evident in “the perverse lyrics in popular songs hitting the airwaves … [which] are all products of the human hearts that are blackened and tainted with sin and which are heavily influenced by external evil spiritual forces all around us. In other words, the real problem is mostly spiritual.”
And he concludes that: “What [everyone truly needs] in a time as this is a true supernatural heart transformation. One that comes through us believing in God and accepting His Son Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Deliverer…”
A major weakness in that assertion, however, is the obvious conflation of spirituality with religiosity. For whether it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism, all of the established religions seem to have strayed from the calling of guiding their flocks along the path of spiritual development, and are mostly engulfed in the business-like enterprise of keeping their “customers” alienated from themselves and their fellowmen as the religious leaders engage in the acquisition of as much earthly treasures as is humanly possible. And it is that kind of tomfoolery which has given rise to the existential crisis strangulating the entire world.
But Christianity seems to hold a unique position in terms of fostering the “us versus them” mentality. For although all of the established religions seem to thrive on the fragmentation of humanity into warring camps of believers, Christianity stands out as the only institution which venerates its central figure, Jesus, as a Deity or God. John 14: 6; for example, records Jesus as declaring that he is the only way in which mankind could have a truly meaningful relationship with God. And the point of Jesus’s acclaimed deity is further reiterated in John 10: 30 to the effect that his identity is concomitant with God’s identity.
One could hardly help wondering, however, whether other utterances by Jesus might not be taken as suggesting that he might have been a master at soliloquy. For when Peter had rushed to Jesus’s defence by slicing off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus had reacted by assuring his friends that such violence was not necessary since he was confident that the Father (GOD) would not have denied his request for angelic intervention if push should have come to shove (John 18: 10). And Jesus’s individuality becomes even more pronounced as we see him fast asleep in Luke 8: 22-24; in contrast to the specific attribute of God given in Psalm 121: 1- 4.
The distinct personhood of Jesus and God is further evident in Jesus’s plea for God to spare him from the pain of the imminent confrontation with the Roman authorities (Matthew 26: 36-56). And during his final moments on the cross, Jesus cried out in a loud voice: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Thus, although such biblical verses might be subjected to every manner of exegetical analyses, the seeker after truth would hardly be able to help regarding those references as clear indications that Jesus was just as dependent on the mercies and intercession of God as any other human being.
Furthermore, notwithstanding the vogue of biblical scholars to invoke John 1: 1- 14 as the biblical source for the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, it seems (reservedly) plausible to conclude with Paul that the term “the word” as used in the bible must be understood as always referring to the creative power by which God spoke the world into existence (Hebrews 11: 3). Thus, any other interpretation of the term should be taken as a clear case of allegorical hermeneutics; according to which interpreters of scripture, with certain vested interests, attempt to impose their own meaning on a text rather than deriving the meaning from the text itself.
But the facts regarding the origin of the belief in Jesus as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity should be allowed to speak for themselves. For as History records, it was in AD 325 that the Roman Emperor Constantine 1 imposed the Christological Doctrine on a council of Catholic bishops meeting in the city of Nicaea. And despite the heated debate which had preceded the final vote on the issue, the Nicene Creed had become an unquestionable pillar of Christianity solely because most of the delegates had feared been banished or having to suffer an even worse fate at the hands of the ill-tempered Constantine for opposing his edict.
Even so, no one should feel justified in taking issue with followers of Christianity for bestowing faith in the Nicene Creed or other religious doctrines. For as one of the many modes of cognition, faith distinguishes itself from knowledge by its very subjective and privileged nature. And since faith is primarily about what a person believes, and since without giving public expression to the contents of his belief, no one else but the believer can have access to such beliefs, everyone should be entitled to an inalienable right to his beliefs.
Moreover, nothing that is written herein should be taken as alluding to the inauthenticity of Christianity. The fascinating thing about Christianity, though, is that folks like Paul and Constantine have succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of millions of well-meaning spiritual aspirants for the last 2000 years. For although Christians are mistakenly led to believe that Jesus was instrumental in the institutionalization of Christendom, the fact remains that Jesus was born a Jew, brought up as a Jew, died as a Jew and was buried as a Jew after what was perceived by Jews as his dismal failure to liberate them from Roman oppression.
Accordingly, it was some 40 years after Jesus’s death that Paul, a former state operative, had eventually decided to return his sword to its scabbard and, being the accomplished writer that he was, instead effect his machinations of controlling the newly emerging Jesus Movement with his pen. But, save for the uncorroborated account of his epiphany on the road to Damascus, Paul had never been in Jesus’s company. Thus, it should come as no surprise that everything that Paul wrote was the very antithesis of what Jesus had represented.
For whereas Jesus’s mission was all about his message of righteous living (Matthew 19: 16- 22), Paul’s mission was essentially about portraying Jesus’s personality as the saviour of Gentiles. Hence, as far as Paul was concerned what was paramount for finding favor with God was faith in Jesus rather than doing good deeds (Romans 3: 28).
And the variance between the two men could be further deduced from their pronouncements on the subjects of the status of women (Luke 10: 38- 42 vs. 1 Timothy 2- 12); the authority of the state (Matthew 26: 14- 16 vs. Romans 13: 1- 7); the inalienability of human rights (Matthew 19: 19 vs. Ephesians 6: 5- 9); life in the here-and-now as opposed to life in the hereafter (John 11: 11- 46 vs. Romans 6: 21-23), and so on and so on.
Hence, any attempt to associate Jesus with Pauline Christianity must be construed as utterly disingenuous, and might suggest why people of the Jewish faith have stuck to their guns by continuing to worship in synagogues rather than in churches. And why Jews are steadfast in regarding scripture as the “words of the prophets” rather than as the “Word of God.”
Not that there is anything inherently repugnant about religion per se. For just as a duckling, unlike a chicken, knows that it has been equipped by nature to follow its mother into the nearest pond, so too, human beings are born with an innate longing for a deeper knowledge of God (the Cosmic One), and a closer oneness with their fellowmen.
It is that very noetic capacity of man which continues to drive human beings along the spiritual path and which, over the millennia, has found expression in religious institutions. For as the Catholic catechism used to teach: “God made me [not to believe in Him, or to believe in Jesus or in anything else, but] to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
Thus, since scripture maintains that God is a spirit and that those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John: 4- 24), and since Christianity is premised on the belief that Jesus (a man who had lived among men for about thirty-three years) is God, and since scripture reminds us of God’s jealous defence of his sovereignty (Exodus 20: 1- 5), and since scripture provides us with a telling example of the dire consequences of any attempt by anyone to usurp God’s sovereignty (Revelation 12: 7- 9), it should come as no surprise that the more churches spring up in countries and neighbourhoods which are predominantly inhabited by Black People, the greater the extent of the social problems facing such demographics.
Black People should, therefore, cease and desist from allowing themselves to be seen as “gluttons for punishments” by blindly allowing their “acquired” religious beliefs to cloud their minds about the true import and purport of spiritual development.
For any conflation of religiosity with spirituality might only serve to make the task of attaining societal transformation a far more onerous task than it might otherwise have been.