Religion and violence: Why?
I have been reflecting a lot on the connection between religion and violence lately, prompted in part by more "why" questions from a reader. These came from Toby Johnson, gay author and Jesus in Love supporter:
"Why is there so much violence in Christian history?
I think it suggests that there's something wrong with the views and values that the Christian stories actually inculcate.
Is it the crucifixion stuff?
Or the "Only Begotten Son of God" stuff?
How does Holy War and Crusade ever evolve out of the teachings of Jesus?"
I am wrestling with these deep questions as I write about the crucifixion for my forthcoming book about "The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision" by artist Douglas Blanchard. I discovered that Christian violence and crucifixion images were much less common for the church's first 1,000 years.
Surprisingly the dead Jesus on the cross was not depicted by artists for a millennium after he died. The mainstream explanation is that early Christians were too ashamed and horrified to show it, but I discovered a much better interpretation in the book "Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire" by progressive theologians Rita Nakashima Brock And Rebecca Ann Parker.
They point out that for a thousand years Christian art celebrated Jesus as a good shepherd or a ruler over God's good creation. The risen Christ brought life and abundance to the earthly paradise. The way he died was not very important to most of them. The early church was also relatively tolerant of homosexuality. It all began to change around the 11th century. More info in this excerpt from Saving Paradise.
(Image credit: "Jesus Before the Priests" by Douglas Blanchard)