My great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut wrote, for example, “If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?” I myself have written, “If it weren’t for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.” Kurt Vonnegut, in God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999)
[This posting was initially published Jan. 8, 2014 on “We Occupy Jesus,” a now defunct blog that began during the Occupy Wall Street era for Christians rethinking their faith.]
One of the responses to my earlier posting, “5 Reasons Why All Followers of Jesus Should be Communists,” was to assert that I seemed to still be a Christian. Well, I will try to put that misunderstanding to rest in this blog, knowing that one cannot entirely change all minds. This posting will also summarize some of what I understand to be my basic perspective for WOJ.
1) Communism, Universal Love, and Jesus
I embrace Communism as the non-religious fulfillment of the teachings of Jesus. Those teachings emphasize universal love. Love your neighbor, your enemies, and yourself. In our ecologically critical times, we also must love the earth and all species. Communism has a simple principle: to all, give according to their authentic needs; from all, receive according to their authentic ability. If we give and receive with this sort of mutual reciprocity in an emotional sense, then we are describing love–universal love.
2) I don’t believe Jesus was the Christ.
“Christ” is a Greek term that means “anointed (one).” In the era when the Gospels were being written, Christ had become a common term for the Jewish Messiah. Even that concept has some critical problems. Did the Hebrew Scriptures actually predict a coming King and Liberator of the people, or just a future fulfillment of the covenantal promises?
The specific Christian idea is that Jesus was a sacrificial atonement for the curse of original sin all humanity inherited from Adam. I find that entire line of doctrine unbelievable. I do think there is some meaningful metaphor and symbolism wrapped up in the theology of Christ as atoning sacrifice, but it seems to me that the interpretation was overlaid onto an event that has multiple meanings: the crucifixion of Jesus.
That crucifixion, if it did happen as a real event, was the product of Jesus’ political agitation of the ruling powers of his society. He was arrested and executed as a blasphemer and rebel. Whether his death has more meaning than that is unimportant to me, though I do understand the allure of the theologies that have been constructed to elevate that event into something metaphysical. Such elevation is often done with historical events, though close examination reveals such constructs to have tenuous connection to the plain facts.
3) I don’t believe Jesus intended to found a religion, especially one called Christianity.
This disbelief operates on a couple of levels. If Jesus was not a real historical person, then this is actually true because Jesus didn’t exist. However, if he did, I also believe it to be true that he didn’t understand his life’s task to be creating a new religion. In fact, religion as we know it now didn’t really exist. Societies in the first century had traditions, rituals, and practices, but they didn’t see them as subcultural entities the way we view the different religions of our time.
The story of Jesus narrates the formation of a movement opposed not only to religious oppression, but to political and economic domination. Jesus may not have directly called for the destruction of the Roman Empire and the existing Jewish establishment, but he did predict that both of them would destroyed by history and he welcomed that as fulfilling his mission.
4) Christianity will be both fulfilled and abolished by the triumph of Communism.
My earlier post claimed that communism was a Christian heresy. I maintain that Communism is the emergent truth hidden within the texts and stories of the Christian Bible. If Christians turn to follow Jesus in his radical confrontation with wealth, oppression, and bondage, they will transform their religion into something else, with greater importance. That power comes, in my view, not from an invisible realm called heaven, but from the true potential that exists within our earthly existence.
5) Every single human being’s fate is tied to the realization of communism.
Though I am not a Marxist, my understanding of Communism includes important Marxist elements. My Communism began with my Pentecostal faith in Jesus as a child and my adult decisions to live communally and identify with the poor and exploited classes. Communism is more than a political ideology, it is the emergent fulfillment of our earthly existence, our desire to live in a world free of poverty and warfare.
Neither Christians nor Marxists alone can bring about the global fulfillment of Love’s Communism. Only a worldwide movement among all religions and cultures and societies can do so.