To the extent that I attend church these days, I go to the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham. One of the benefits of that participation is the chance to read the excellent UU magazine, which is also available online. A recent issue featured a provocative article about the political power play behind the emergence of aggressive Christianity around 1000 AD.
Images of Jesus’s Crucifixion did not appear in churches until the tenth century. Why not? This question set us off on a five-year pilgrimage. Initially, we didn’t believe it could be true. Surely the art historians were wrong. The crucified Christ was too important to Western Christianity. How could it be that images of Jesus’ suffering and death were absent from early churches?
As the paradise of early Christianity entered our vision and seeped into our consciousness, Crucifixion-centered Christianity seemed increasingly strange to us. We wondered what had happened to the understanding of this world as paradise. When and why did Christianity shift to an obsession with atoning death and redemption through violence? What led Western Christianity to replace resurrection and life with a Crucifixion-centered salvation and to relegate paradise to a distant afterlife? In short, the needs of empire—and theologies that justified and then sanctified violence and war—transformed Christianity and alienated Western Christians from a world they had once perceived as paradise.
It's not simply the case that Congress, Contractors and the Media all tilt in the favor of "war is good business." It's also the case that Big Religion (not just Christianity) is wholly complicit in the celebration of agonizing death. Their institutional purposes are best served when the sheep are afraid and willing to spend money to secure their safety from Osama and Satan alike.
And naturally, the authors put in a plug for Plan B.
Universalism tells us that we can come to know the world as paradise when our hearts and souls are reborn through the arduous and tender task of living rightly with one another and the earth. Generosity, nonviolence, and care for one another are the pathways into transformed awareness. Knowing that paradise is here and now is a gift that comes to those who practice the ethics of paradise. This way of living is not Utopian. It does not spring simply from the imagination of a better world but from a profound embrace of this world. It does not begin with knowledge or hope. It begins with love.