The Christianized Jesus -- the turning of a radical into a conservative shadow of his former self -- explains our problem of establishing and celebrating freedom fighters today. It is important that our progressive heroes be given their deserved fame, an accurately reported fame, and this is crucial in ways that impact our own activism.
Jesus of Nazareth was not a Peak Performance Strategist as the prosperity preachers would have it. Nor was he a foreigner-hating patriot as the tea party would argue. Obviously American politicians and their lobbyists pursue so many policies that are against the teachings of Jesus but are supported by mainstream Christian opinion. In fact, Jesus' parables and sayings push the spiritual revolution of gift economies, and of justice through radical forgiveness.
The Hallmark-carding of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life is what gave Glenn Beck the opening to disrespect his speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King's basic differences with our present corporate economy needs to be a presence in our lives, especially in the educational materials and media of the young. Malcolm X's spirited defense against the violence of entrenched power -- this would help us now, as the security state begins to define 1st Amendment-protected protest as a form of terrorism. Cesar Chavez's creativity and steady hand in unionizing the California farmworkers could be useful now as state employees face labor busting by governors and their wealthy tax-dodging sponsors. These three progressive heroes must be known for what they actually were.
It was believed that Jesus could be saved from the distortions of right-wing apocalyptic Christianity by researching the historical man. That hasn't worked, despite the Newsweek ("Jesus -- who was he really?") cover story every Easter. I am writing from the Mayan region of southern Mexico, in the city of Chiapas, where another defense against the predations of the Christianized Jesus has been a success. Here, some of the people subjugated by the brutal conquistadors undermined the Spaniard's god by concentrating their prayers on San Juan Bautista -- John the Baptist.
San Juan stood in the flowing spirit of the River Jordan as he repeated again and again, "I am not He. I am not the One." The Holy Spirit flowed through him as he baptized new believers in the water. John was in the river, in motion, always becoming. He offered his blessing to the act of belief, the creative power of the individual who approached him. As a result his personality is not so easily used to enforce hardened, violent fundamentalism. The Mayans have outmaneuvered fundamentalism to free themselves from those who rode toward them with the swords of Christ. Chiapas and Chamula, Mexico are far healthier and less consumerized than your average American suburb. This brilliant adjustment on their religion forced on them by the Spanish has a lot to do with it. What the Mayan did to the Spanish God is what we all need to do to the Bank of America.
Better approaches to the figures that we revere (and worship) are needed in this time of permanent war, economic piracy, and most of all the Earth's crisis. Let's find ways to be honest about radicals' lives -- so that we have clearer courage for our own activism.
Reverend Billy Talen has spent the last decade toggling between community activism and theatrical spectacle. He even became the subject of Supersize Me director Morgan Spurlock's sophomore documentary, What Would Jesus Buy? Reverend Billy now tackles the growing environmental crisis with The Church of Earthalujah. Backed by a 35-voice gospel choir, Reverend Billy and The Church of Earthalujah transcends parody in favor of a passionate humanism that speaks to growing public anxiety in the face of the ever-growing climate emergency and impotent leadership from politicians, NGOs and corporate CEOs.