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The lost political significance of the Easter story

by bherbert Saturday, Apr. 19, 2003 at 12:23 AM

Before the Christian age, crucifixion was a political statement being made by Caesar. 'I am Caesar. Screw with me and be tortured to death.' The Roman economy was dependant on slaves, who were kept in line using the threat of crucifixion (torture). The Easter symbol became an insult to Caesar, and the political content of this new subversive message could be described using the phrase, 'Caesar crucifies slaves, but God raises his victims from the dead.' A revolutionary interpretation of the white washed Easter story...

Crucifixion was a political statement.
The message was 'you screw with Caesar and rebel against the power of the social order, and you get tortured to death in a grisly manner while everyone watches.' To those who were watching the political message was 'I am Caesar, screw me with me and this is what you will get.'

Now the crucifixion story which is the Easter story is also a political message. The message in this case was subversive, in that the political symbol chosen by Caesar and its political message were subverted, and the message became 'Caesar crucifies slaves, but God raises slaves from the dead,' or again the message could be articulated as 'Caesar, you are a good for nothing a-hole' or 'Caesar, you are a ruthless and evil prick' and so on...

You might have heard the bit about how 'I should have died on the cross but Jesus was a substitute and took my place.' Or 'I deserve to be crucified, but Jesus saved me by being crucified on my behalf.' Or 'God's wrath was poured out on Jesus as he was crucified on the cross, and thus he paid the price for me.' Now let us examine these superstitions for their political content. You will notice that when Caesar crucified someone and tortured them to death (for his political purposes) he wasn't doing anything wrong. They deserved to be crucified, and were getting just what they deserved. The ideology of these doctrines, which are at the very core of the reactionary Easter message preached by so many ministers and evangelists, has the effect of white washing the role of Caesar (and this is how we recognize in these so called dogmas of 'salvation' the workings of reactionary political forces on the far right wing of society). You deserve to be crucified and the fact that you have not been is due to the great generosity of Caesar's good heart. Caesar is an instrument of the wrath of God. When Caesar tortured people to death it was simply Caesar doing the work of God. Later on, according to reactionary theology, that God will also torture them a lot worse in the flames of hell. Caesar's role is cleansed, purified, and white washed using this doctrine, and the political content of the meaning of the crucifixion is drained. The white wash is so complete that using the corpse that is left behind it is possible to grind it to powder and make some of that pablum that can then be fed to the people leaving them unaware of the political content of the meaning of the crucifixion. In fact once they have swallowed the 'substitution dogma' they will become supporters of Caesar and his wrathful nature, they will become supporters of torturers, both here and in the after life, and thus will become suitable right wing reactionaries, which is the kind of people the substitution doctrine was designed to produce. This doctrine celebrates the abuse of the weak by the powerful and thus you can see how its ideology is the exact opposite of the political message that was originally carried in the meaning of the Easter Symbol (which was subversive, and clearly targetted at Caesar).

We find interesting traces of this early revolutionary doctrine in the church that wound up in the Bible. For example, the following passage from the first chapters of Corinthians encapsulates this early revolutionary point of view rather nicely...

"For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power ... I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the subtle debater of this present age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God has chosen things without rank or standing in the world , mere nothings, to overthrow the existing order ... I came to you without pretensions to eloquence...The gospel I preached did not sway you with clever arguments, but rather carried with it the conviction of spiritual power..I was determined to know nothing among you except Christ crucified, so that your faith might not be based on the wisdom of men, but rather on the power of God...Among the mature I do speak words of wisdom, though certainly not the wisdom belonging to this world, or to the powerful who govern it...None of the powerful who rule the world has ever known this wisdom. If they had understood then they never would have crucified the Lord of Glory ...If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are. Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise by the standards of this age, let him become a fool like me so that he may become truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For He catches the wise in their craftiness and knows that the arguments of the wise are futile."

In some passages, frequently quoted by the forces of right wing Christianity, Caesar is praised for dishing out the death penalty, and everyone is urged to obey Caesar.

"For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience .... Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord ... Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls ... A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses ... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God ... Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient."

Passages like this are typical of the ideology that was introduced into the church during the time of conservative reaction and backlash, and are consistent with the white washing of Caesar's role in the crucifixion described above (Caesar did good in meting out the death penalty, Caesar was the wrathful arm of God in the world). However there was also this other 'revolutionary' element in the early church, and in this case the rulers of the world (described as ignorant forces to be resisted in the passage quoted above) are equated with the devils.

"For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."

Now as for that nonsense about 'Jesus died to pay the price of going to hell forever for the original sin' well that is what is called conservative reaction. Notice how no one notices the revolutionary political content of the Easter Message, since the Message of Easter has now become all about how sinful and tainted everyone is, how desperately in need of a good washing. No one thinks of the political content of this message, and that was the point...this so called gospel of 'originally defective sinners' disguises and hides the political content of the meaning of the Easter Symbol. In doing so it became a religion that even Caesar could live with, as history proves. Such a gospel did not challenge the social order but rather propped up the social order, and even today the most reactionary and right wing forces in society can live with that gospel that teaches 'original sin' and 'Jesus died to bleed away the sin from sinful peasants.'

Caesar could not live with a gospel which taught the message that those whom Caesar murdered were rescued, since it made Caesar look like a disgusting prick. A Liberation Gospel could not be tolerated and so we are left with that other reactionary, right wing perverted gospel everyone is so familiar with, a gospel which Caesar and the rest of those reactionary priests could live with, since it was drained of its offensive political content.

That this stategy was effective can be seen even today. After all, it is once again Easter is it not, and is not everyone thinking about their own sinfulness, and is not religion focusing on the way Jesus died to save them from going to hell for their naturally sinful degraded defective condition? Is anyone recognizing the fact, even today, that Easter is actually an ancient revolutionary holiday, and the celebration of the sarcastic symbol that was the banner of slaves in the Roman Empire, the banner they lifted up against their crucifiers, their persecutors, as they sought to 'overthrow the established order'? That no one recognizes this political content is proof enough that the conservative backlash was successful, in that this other offensive gospel passing itself off as Christianity has effectively rendered the political message of the symbol of Easter invisible, and thus made it null and void.

When Easter rolls around, try to forget about the rabbit with the eggs, and forget about that pile of rubbish about the original sin and the bleeding Jesus bleeding all over those sins to 'wash them off' and take a second to remember what a jackass the Easter Symbol made of Caesar, and maybe take a moment to celebrate those revolutionary slaves, plotting, in futile hope it turned out, but plotting none the less, to lift their sarcastic upside down crucifixion banner and to 'over throw the existing order', before their blossoming movement was hijacked and purged of all its insulting elements, and with that done, finally that a-hole Caesar could become a Christian himself, without worrying about being humiliated by that Cross.

Have a nice (revolutionary) Easter...

The full discussion of this story can be found on the following page ... The lost political message of the Easter Gospel story

On each religious occasion it has become a ‘tradition' with me to write dissenting pieces during the holiday season...

The following piece was written in dissent during the Christmas season (2002). How did we wind up with the story of fatherless God baby who was born of a Virgin as the official Christmas legend? It turns out that the people who invented this story were extremely conservative and believed in the infallibility of the Jewish Torah, and thus it turned out to be the case that the babies father was cursed in the Torah as 'a nigger' (thus it became a requirement that he have a mother, but no father)... The Racist origins of the Christmas myth

This piece was written in protest as the Iraq war was about to begin, and conservative Christianity, as one would expect, began using the Bible as a tool to further the war effort...Why do war gods never fight there own wars, but always order people to do their dirty work for them. Atheistic War propaganda as a tool to supportn the military...

Atheism in the Church, and the Pro-war position

Above I quoted some of the 'revolutionary language' that demonstrates that the political message embedded in the Easter symbol was recognized in the early days of the church (how could they not recognize it?) I also wrote a satirical piece that assembles a large number of these sorts of verses and blends them into one seamless whole to tell the story of 'Manuel the Columbian Peasant' who was murdered by the death squads. Each line in this piece consists of fragments of these 'revolutionary' passages which have been spun together into a whole (and this is the source of the satire, which might not be readily apparent to those who are not familiar with the Bible, thus recognizing the source material that has been spun together to create this piece...)

The Liberation Gospel

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