Posted by: Trisha Leigh | December 15, 2010

The Spirit of the Season

So I know religion is a taboo topic, and believe me, I have no desire to argue with anyone. If you read this post and think it’s a comment on any specific set of beliefs, please know that it is not my intention – I have no official horse in this race.

As someone who studies history, specifically ancient history, ascribing to any faith has been a difficult task. My brain is trained to poke holes in sources, to analyze the veracity in ancient writings, and to come to terms with how little can be truly known about daily life during the formative years of our collective past. This time of year, however, always gets to me. My parents raised me as a Christian, so I suppose the general warmth of the Christmas season makes me feel fuzzy and affectionate for humanity in general.

I sat in my last class of the semester a few weeks ago, which happened to be the History of Ancient Israel, as one of my favorite professors lectured on the development and influence of the early Church. We’re talking early early – less than 400 years after the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. We examined several pieces of source material, including the sermons of one of the first influential bishops, Saint John Chrysostom. In one of his surviving sermons, he preached from the pulpit and advised his flock “God always hated the Jews. It is incumbent upon all Christians to hate the Jews.” (Adversos Judaeous, c.347-407C.E.)

Hate.

I may not be the most devoted churchgoer, but every child brought up in Sunday school learns at least two things Jesus preached during his life, and both feature the word love – the opposite of hate. Love your lord God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.

How did Saint John Chrysostom (and he wasn’t alone) manage to get the message so completely wrong in such a short period of time? The Jews and Christians were literally neighbors. It’s not rocket science. Love. Your. Neighbor.

Aside: As a student of history, I intellectually understand the political motivations behind these sermons. I’m speaking purely from the spiritual piece of my brain.

I’m certainly not picking on the Church, early or otherwise. I did a little research, and the same central tenets exist in all the world’s major religions. Recognize God (whatever you call him) as the one true deity, love your family, do right by your community, strive to be righteous in all that you do.

And yet, every major world religion has spawned leaders who missed this message or chose to warp it, twist it, for their own personal or political gain. They use it to encourage people to fight wars, abuse the weak, hate their neighbor enough to steal from or even murder them. It makes me wonder what Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, or whoever you believe is the ultimate speaker of truth thinks as they examine our existence. I can’t help but imagine they’re heartbroken when acts of prejudice and hatred are perpetrated in their names.

This holiday season, whatever your belief, consider what you would want people to think of you if, two thousand years from now, they read something you wrote or said. Think long and hard about what the men who founded your faith strove to be, struggled to communicate, hoped to change.

It’s not hate.

It is, without exception, acceptance, tolerance, understanding, community.

And love. That too.

To quote Wesley from The Princess Bride, “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

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Responses

  1. The defiling of God’s Word, Jesus, is a consequence of sin. It is man’s sinful nature to manipulate everything for personal gain, including the Word of God.

    Christians must be careful not to fall under the spiritual influence of anyone other than Jesus Himself. And that includes priests, pastors, and other clergy. Jesus was the only perfect man, and that is because He was God Himself. All the rest of us are under the curse of imperfection, and the desire to be like God.

    The people who put Jesus on trial were the church leaders of His days, the Pharisees. There is no reason to trust our spiritual leaders of today any further than those that existed 2000 years ago. That being said, there is also no reason to hate all church leaders of today because of the actions of those 2000 years ago. Every man and woman is an individual, and a soul that matters to God.

    Church is fellowship. Find a priest or a pastor and a congregation that work for you. Enjoy the company of others. Find fellowship and happiness among the people with whom you worship.

    But how you live, what you think, what you dream, what you pray for, and where you’re going when it’s all over, that’s between you and Jesus.

    • Thank you for the very well phrased comment. I appreciate it 🙂

  2. So very well spoken…I’ve thought that all my life, but never had the words to get it out. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, J. Figuring this out doesn’t really get easier, huh?

  3. Amen. 🙂

    It’s so simple, really. To not hate. And yet, apparently, hopelessly difficult.

    • “hopelessly difficult” Sad but true.

  4. I have been thinking a lot about this lately (well, the last few years really… but it has come back into my mind the last few days). I was raised apathetic Catholic and ended up in Evangelicalism as a college student. It amazes me how over the course of my life, particularly the Evangelical phase, I was taught to hate. With subtlety and a positive spin on it, but hate nonetheless. And the part that disgusts me the most is it was always backed up with ridiculous spins on Scripture and the unspoken order to never ever question it.

    During my seminary work and through several other means I finally started learning how to approach my faith in a different, open, and actual thinking way, and it is so incredibly clear how opposite the teachings of Christ hate is. Jesus was all about love. God, as I understand Him, is all about love.

    • Too many people choose not to think for themselves, leaving themselves open to hateful influences. Glad things are clearer for you now.


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