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APRIL 2011




By  Alfred de Zayas

Forwarded by Eduard Grünwald


          Does our ostensibly Christian society understand the message of Jesus Christ, or do we just pay lip service to it?


          Let us imagine, just for a moment, that we were to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Would we still consider ourselves Christians?

          Quite frankly, we do not practice Christianity, which is based on love and forgiveness. That's what the New Testament is all about. What we practice is a modified form of the Old Testament, flattering ourselves with the illusion that we are, after all, the "good guys", the chosen people of God, that we shall be saved and that all others are doomed (and probably deserve to be doomed) -- the Muslims, the Bahais, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the agnostics, the atheists.


          Every time we read the Old Testament and accept with self-righteous contentment the idea that our God sent ten plagues to the Egyptians, ordered the Israelites to smite the women and children of Canaan, to kill everything living in Jericho, to slaughter the city of Hai ... everytime we read such stories without reflecting on what they ultimately entail, without realizing the cruelty and profound unreligiousity of it all -- we are not behaving as New Testament Christians, but as Old Testament patriarchs equipped with divine legitimacy and justification to take our promised Lebensraum by force. (Exodus, Chapters 8 to 15, Deuteronomy Chapter VII, verses 1-6, Chapter XX, verses 16-18, and Joshua Chapter VI, verse 21, Chapter VIII, verses 18-29). In the Old Testament Jaweh is defined as the Lord of Armies, Lord of Sebaoth (from Hebrew ṣəbā’ôt, pl. of ṣābā’, army, from ṣābā’, to wage war). This concept of a warrior God is common to many other religions -- but does it satisfy our sense of religion, our sense of goodness, our sense of morality, our sense of justice?

          Apparently it does. And many evangelical churches project this image of divinity. Somehow it seems that the majority of Christians do not even try to understand the message, much less llive according to the Sermon on the Mount, because they think it is an allegory, a metaphor, too tough, because we reject the fundamental premise of the equality of human beings. We want to be the privileged class, even if we would not admit it to ourselves. It is not equality that we want, but privilege!


          We know the Beatitudes only in name -- not in practice -- for in essence we still live according to Old Testament rules, considering ourselves the good chosen people and judging all others as heathen and worthy of destruction. We adhere to the myth of the "clash of civilizations" instead of looking for an alliance of civilizations, for a rehabilitation and reconciliation of cultures.

          When I go to Catholic Mass on Holy Thursday to celebrate the founding of the New Alliance and the concelebration of the Eucharist feast, when I go with my wife to the reformed Protestant Good Friday service to meditate on the overwhelming symbolism of the crucifixion, when we go to the oecumenical Easter Sunday service, I like to focus on the mystery of our existence.

          How ineffable the very fact that we exist, that one day we all shall die, and that above all we believe in Life and have faith in the Resurrection.

          As Rilke said: "Das Leben ist eine Herrlichkeit".


          And again, Hiersein ist Herrlich (7. Duino Elegy)

          I like to reflect on the overwhelming mystery that a GOD CREATOR would so love his Creation that he would send his SON to die in the Cross to redeem us. Admittedly, a mystery of faith. Impossible to grasp. Too anthropomorphic to be transcendental, and yet it has that subconscious metaphysical quality to it. Either you believe it, or you don't. Credo quia absudum!

          If you do emotionally and physically feel faith, if you believe, you would agree that we can be saved only by GRACE, i.e. by the same transcendental force, by the same incomprehensible generosity -- that gratuitous act of creation. We ought to endeavour to do the right thing, to be good to our families, to our neighbours, to our colleagues, to be just, but our good works can hardly be enough to deserve eternal salvation. We are only the vessels into which Divine Grace is poured, like wine is poured into a chalice, and yet it is the wine that matters, the wine that still tastes of its grapes (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese, 6).

          If we practiced Christianity, we would at least make an effort not to hate our neighbours, not to lie to and double-cross our acquaintances and even our friends. Maybe we could even persuade ourselves to love some more of them, in principle, not just our spouses and buddies, but also the people who work with us, our colleagues in the office, our secretaries, even our bosses! We should endeavour to hate only evil, but not the persons who deliberately or by error do evil. Maybe they are thoroughly confused and subjectively think that they are doing the "right" thing. Maybe they, too, think they are Christians and acting honourably.


          Instead of creating at atmosphere of confidence around us, we project a sense of being threatened, the suspicion that we consider our neighbour to be a competitor, a potential enemy instead of a potential friend. Thus we provoke the dislike of our neighbours, committing that first and gravest of the seven capital sins – the sin of arrogance.

          Christ tried to teach us humility, not arrogance.

          And yet,. listen to John Cotton of the first Church of Boston in the 17th century, listen to Increase and Cotton Mather (1663-1728) of the Second Church of Boston in puritan Massachusetts. They considered themselves the New Canaan, the New Chosen People of God, entitled to smite the indigenous population of the New World, who had first welcomed them, given them food and taught them how to survive in the wilderness.

          Sixty-five years ago the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials were in progress. The Prosecutors condemned the vanquished and prostrate Germans, both the Nazi leaders and the common folk. It was an exercise in arrogance, because the crimes of the British, American and Soviet leaders were not less in the eyes of God. Who were we to cast the first stone against the adulteress? For we were guilty of the nuclear annihilation of the civilian populations of Hiroshimaa and Nagasaki, the carpet bombing of Tokyo, the fire-bombing of population centres Dresden, Hamburg, Kassel, the massacres of Katyn, Nemmersdorf, Methgethen, Marienburg, Postelberg, Lamsdorf, Swientochlowice, Aussig and Brno, the expulsion of 15 million human beings from their 700-year old homelands, the deportation of nearly two million ethnic Germans to slave labour for many years after the war, etc.


          Not without reason Christ asks us, “But why dost thy see the speck in your brother’s eye and yet does not consider the beam in your own eye”? Matthew Chapter VII, verse 3. Nuremberg was not a Christian court. It was an Old Testament tribunal, in the spirit of revenge, not reconciliation. When I think of Nuremberg I cannot help but be reminded of Luke, Chapter XI, Verse 52

          "Woe to you lawyers! Because you have taken away the key of knowledge"

          Nuremberg was an exercise in hypocrisy. A continuation of hate and war by the instrumentalization of the administration of justice, a corruption of legal norms and procedures, a pollution of philosophy, a truly Pharisee tribunal.

          George W. Bush and Tony Blair too are Pharisees. Certainly no Christians (new-born or newly-made Catholic), even if they masquerade as Christians and misuse the name of Christ. When they do, I have a sense of blasphemy. I think of so many politicians before (and no doubt) after them. Alas, they are but two in a long list of politicians who have abused religion as a justification for crime, who instrumentalize the transcendental, the sense of awe, to lead the gullible masses to their doom. Just as the fanatical Islamists misuse the Koran. Thus can good books like the New Testament be transformed into evil deeds. For indeed our God is a God of Peace, not a god of war like Mars or Wotan.


          The New Testament is a "plan of action" for peace and reconciliation, but in AD 312 Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity his personal religion and in AD 380 Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity to be the only State religion. This transformed the New/Old Testament into a programme of war and conquest, instrumentalizing it into a weapon of mass destruction, an instrument of asserting power -- and keeping it.


          It is appropriate in Holy Week to be reminded of the core of Christian faith, of the mode d'emploi -- the Beatitudes:


          "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.

          "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

          "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

          "Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

(Matthew, Chapter V, verses 1-10)

          And I would turn to that passage of the Sermon of the Mount

          “If thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee, leave thy gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matthew V, 23-24. This is a cardinal principle of the Beatitudes -- charity, forgiveness, reconciliation ahead of ritual. For what is the use of the ritual, if we persist in doing injustice to our neighbour?

          We should reconcile ourselves with our families, with our neighbours, with the indigenous people of the Americas, of Australia and Tasmania against whom our European ancestors committed genocide, with the Africans, whom our ancestors enslaved for hundreds of years, with the Palestinians, whom we have ravaged and murdered since 1947, with the Vietnamese and Cambodians, whom we napalmed for no reason, with the Iraqis whom we aggressed and despoiled of their riches, with the Iranians, whom we are preparing to shock and awe.

          The Sermon on the Mount is the New Law, replacing the Old Law of the Old Testament.

          Moses proclaimed the Old Law from Mount Sinai

          Christ proclaimed the New Law from the Mount near Capharnaum.


          Let us hail the golden rule: “Therefore all that you wish men to do to you, even so do you also to them” Matthew VII, 12.


          The New Law has replaced the old, as a new Alliance with all of humanity (Matthew Chapter 26, verse 28, Luke Chapter 22, verse 20) has replaced the Old Covenant with its exclusivist principle of a chosen people. Christ's Language at the Last Suppler upon the Consecration of the Wine says it all: hic est enim Calix Sanguinis mei, novi et aeterni testamenti qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.


          And this new Alliance rests on two principles, that of love, and that of forgiveness, which Christ so clearly stated in the Lord's Prayer, et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.

          Let us thus intone the Benedictus of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini

and the Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi
dona nobis pacem

          And now let us meditate for a moment. What would we do with the Lamb of God if He were to visit us today? We probably would not recognize Him. Bearing in mind that the establishment in the Roman province of Palestine in the time of Emperor Tiberius considered Him to be a seditious person, a kind of intellectual terrorist, who knows, maybe He would find Himself today a "disappeared person" in some incommunicado cell somewhere, awaiting interrogation. But maybe he would turn the tables on the interrogator and tell him a parable of an Animal Farm with sheeps and goats and postulate a different World where human beings could unabashedly show compassion to other human beings, where needs would be addressed "for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; naked and you covered me; sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me..." (Matthew XXV, 35-36). Yes, he would be in prison for us and his message would reach the world as the message of Nelson Mandela escaped the walls of Robben Island and touched the world. What would Wikileaks reveal to us about prison conditions and about the justifications of the Pharisees?


          Easter is the name of the pagan goddess of spring. It commemorates the rebirth of nature, thus the resurrection of Christ. True enough, the foundation of the Eucharist coincides with the celebration of the Jewish Pass-over. It is worth pausing for a moment and reflecting on what is being celebrated there: "For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgement. I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt." Wow! Is this an allegory? It seems a pretty ghastly one, and hardly a good example to follow! Talk of love of neighbour! What kind of a good God would send his agents to murder the first born of Egypt. This is certainly not my idea of Divinity, not my idea of Perfection, but the caricature of a very misanthropic God. Just as misanthropic and hateful as the unhistorical and aggressive "ten plagues" of Egypt. Indeed, there is not a speck of historical evidence to back them up, and the period when the plagues are supposed to have occurred coincides with the years of great prosperity and cultural brilliance under Pharaon Ramses II. Why so much hate in the Old Testament? I would have to say with the Taino Chief Hatuey, burned at the stake by his Spanish victimizers 1512 in Yara, Cuba: "if that's your God, I don't want to be there."


          Meanwhile historians have come to understand that Moses was not a Jewish slave found as a baby in a basket floating in the Nile (Exodus, Chapter 2). Moses was an Egyptian follower of the monothesistic Pharaon Akhenaton (1380-1362 BC), husband of Nefertiti, who anticipated monotheism by several centuries. As part of my Easter meditation I recommend reading Akhenaton's Hymn to the Aton. I cannot help thinking that Akhenaton was a soul brother and that Ramses II too was a child of God's manificent creation. We are all one family and there simply cannot be any "chosen people" of God. It would be a contradictio in adjecto. We are all his children. Indeed, it would be outrageous if we Christians were to celebrate the blood of the Egyptian first-born, the "Pass-over" when the angel of Death passed and "slew every first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharao on the throne to the first-born of the prisoner in the dungeon, as well as all the first-born of the animals" (Exodus, Chapter 12, verse 29) sparing only the Israelites. Everytime I reread that I can hardly believe my eyes!


          I think we do well to celebrate the Spring of the Resurrection.


          I think we do well to reflect on Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas est", for indeed this is the new Covenant, God is Charity and enjoins us to love one another. "A new commandement I give you, that you love one another" (John Chapter 13, verse 34), "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you" (John, Chapter 14, verse 27), and to reflect on his more recent encyclicals Spe Salvi and Caritas in Veritate.


          And let us imagine ourselves back in that high room of the cenaculum in Jerusalem where Christ invited his 12 disciples for the Last Supper. He invited them all -- even Judas Iscariot, even Peter who would deny him three times that very evening! We are all invited -- we sinners, and all the world is invited to the table of our Lord the Creator. It is not only the "elect" or the "pure" who are invited. In fact, we sinners are those who most need God's grace and Christ's blessing to acquire the strength necessary to carry us through the vicisitudes of every day. We are all invited to share the bread and the wine.


          Let us be thankful for this invitation and sing Psalm 136, Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus. Confitemini Domino Alleluia.

When we celebrate Easter -- let us celebrate life, not death. It is the resurrection that gives us hope and meaning. If Christ had died on the cross and that had been it, the perspectives would be different. The cross is a much more powerful symbol when it is just the cross, without the lifeless, martyred body hanging on it. The cross is the symbol of the resurrection, the symbol of reconciliation, the promise of boundless Caritas. That is what gives us strength. That is what we have chosen to believe in!


          When we celebrate Easter -- let us celebrate the brotherhood of all men and women. Indeed, we are all children of God, for, as Saint Paul writes in his Epistel to the Romans: "For there is no distinction between Jew an Greek, for there is the same Lord of all, rich towards all who call upon him. 'For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'" (Romans, Chapter X, 12-13).


Pax vobiscum.  

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