It tells you something about the times that when you Google “Jesus Christ,” the first suggestion that pops up in the drop-down menu is “Jesus Christ Superstar.” As a ubiquitous phenomenon of popular modern culture, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical has been one of the most effective forces for the infantilization of the Western mind of the past half-century, and it is entirely typical that, after “Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Lloyd Webber’s second blockbuster hit amounted to a vocalized version of The Idiot’s Guide to Christology.
In “Jesus Christ Superstar” Lloyd Webber essayed to cash in on the newly fashionable Seventies image of Jesus as a revolutionary hero, along the lines of those other revolutionary heroes—Mao, Che, Fidel—on whom so many of the leftist intellectuals of the period were developing their incurable schoolgirl crushes. But then an “intellectual,” as has often been observed, is someone who is so lacking in intelligence as to credit what everyone else knows to be preposterous nonsense.
To be sure, Jesus was an audacious revolutionary—a revolutionary revolutionary—in that he refused to be a run-of-the-mill political one. The greatest threat he posed to the state was that, unlike other revolutionaries before or since, he insouciantly ignored it.
When the Pharisees scoffed at Jesus’s claims to be the Messiah, asking “When will the Kingdom of God arrive,” he replied, “The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Jesus, we should remember, promised only to redeem the individual from sin, not the socio-political order from inequality and injustice. He said nothing about raising the minimum wage, making the rich pay, guaranteeing the equality of women, promoting diversity at the Sanhedrin, making abortion and contraception universally accessible, or recognizing the demand of the non-binary gendered to be called by pronouns of their own invention. (He wasn’t even interested in criticizing Roman colonial “hegemonism.”) On these and all the other serial obsessions of progressives, Jesus remained a radical and contented conservative.
It must be astounding to a modern politician that Jesus promised to redress not a single instance of political injustice, economic inequality, or racial prejudice. In his teachings, he nowhere champions nor even identifies any interest group smaller than the totality of mankind, or larger than the family. Among the blessed, he names the poor in spirit, not the poor; those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, not those who hunger and thirst. His predicatorial categories are invariably ethical rather than ethnological; he condemns sexual vices but never talks about the sexes; he extols the engendering of virtues in the soul and children in the home but has no theory of gender.
Note that he drove the money-changers out of the temple, not because he had anything against wealth or commercial exchange, but because they violated the sanctity of the House of God. (Again, he was more indignant about theological “occupations” than merely political ones.) Wherever he encountered individual moral wrongs, he was unapologetically judgmental in condemning them, while saying not a word about collective rights or entitlements.
In the Aquarian Sixties, when Jesus was inducted into the hippie hall of fame, the inference of a shared metaphysical consciousness was drawn on the slender evidence that he had long hair and wore sandals. It can be due only to opacity (or mendacity) that Jesus has been appropriated as a prophet avant le mot by the adherents of practically every progressive movement—socialism, pacifism, liberation theology, feminism, free love, flower power, Black Power, Occupy Wall Street—of the past two centuries, to all of whom, were he in the flesh today, he would simply say, “Go and sin no more.”
The only group that is not permitted to invoke the teachings of Jesus in the service of political or social change is the community of Christians themselves who, when they do so, are denounced as “bigots,” “theocrats,” or gap-toothed rubes who “cling to their guns and religion,” and lectured gravely on the separation of church and state.
As Chesterton observed nearly a century ago, “Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.”
Since then the foundational democratic right of freedom of religion has devolved into a fastidious freedom from religion. In Canada, the major federal parties either explicitly forbid their members from raising questions about sensitive topics such as abortion or are content to collude with one another in a conspiracy of silence.
Over the past decade in Canada, the state’s assaults on religious liberty and incursions into the private sphere of religious life have begun to reach Diocletian proportions: Christian parents in Ontario compelled to submit their charges to the tender mercies of the Wynne-Ford sex and gender re-education curriculum; anti-abortion protestors excluded—as opposed, that is, to “anti-fa,” anti-Big Oil, anti-Wall Street, anti-G10, or Black Lives Matter protesters—from ever-expanding abortion clinic “bubble zones.” (As I suggested recently, if abortion protestors would only put down their rosaries and take up signs reading Black Lives Matter, don balaclavas and hoodies, smash a few windows, and torch a few police cars, the bubble zones would quickly disappear.)
We are all grateful, of course, that the state no longer establishes an official religion and that all religious creeds are now recognized as equal. But we should be less than completely grateful that all religious creeds are equal only in that legislators and citizens are permitted to profess and live their lives in accordance with none of them.
On the other hand, when the current laws on issues such as abortion have achieved such sacrosanctity that no one in government may question them; when citizens who do so are subject to public shaming and judicial penalty; and when the state demands that parents and teachers, in violation of their own religious conscience, evangelize its dogmas on sexuality, gender, and the family to captive children at home and in school, we have regressed to what can only be described as the Establishment of Religion. We have allowed the state to impose upon its citizens a single and exclusive orthodoxy, dissent from which is proscribed, just as heresy was once proscribed in the Christian Middle Ages and is now proscribed by the mullahs in Iran.
I much prefer Jesus’s approach.
Harley Price has taught courses in religion, philosophy, literature, and history at the University of Toronto, U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, and Tyndale University College. He blogs at Priceton.org.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.