Tuesday, May 1, 2018
I've been meditating the opening in Montgomery, Alabama of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice otherwise known as the Lynch Museum. Bernie and I are resolved to make a pilgrimage to what I feel is America's Golgotha Shrine.
Here are 4,308 stories of black men, women, and children tortured and hung. Stories that affect thousands more of their friends, neighbors, relatives, and descendants. And hundreds of thousands of white people and their descendants up to this very day.
The myth is that the white people who perpetrated these acts were ignorant, red necked, white trash. But the truth is that whole towns would participate in the burnings, torture, and hangings including the mayors, the bankers, businessmen, the educated elite with their wives and children. Most were church-going, born-again Christians as were the black victims of their sadism.
I meditate on the cruelty in my race that makes this possible. I do not mean the white, Aryan, or Nordic race for those are just fictions of a pre-historic, pre-scientific white-supremacist imagination. I mean the human race. I mean us, me.
There are lots of theories. Some are rooted in religious doctrines of evil--original sin, fallen angels, Satan, Pandora's Box, hubris against the gods, the absence of the sacred. Some explanations are from science: genetic struggle for life, the formation of tribes with fear of strangers, competition for mates and territory, dread of the unknown. Black people and their liberation were considered a threat to a very insecure white population who desired to keep their dominance by keeping black people "in their place." But does this explain the hatred and the cruelty? Of slavery, torture, and genocide.
Many of our contemporaries want to avoid the questions that the memorial experience raises. Let "sleeping dogs lie." they say. Bringing all this up will just cause more resentment by revealing the resentment that is already there. Let's just learn to get along.
The role of Christianity and religion in general is on trial in the memorial. Religion in its summit is in the golden rule of compassion, the teaching of the universality of humankind, the understanding that all humanity has a common source that bestows dignity on every person. The prophets and luminaries of all the great religions taught this, including Jesus of Nazareth. But those who proclaimed him the Christ and Son of God, e.g. the Christians, were perpetrators of Jim Crow and lynching.
Christianity has been a rationalization for horrendous acts against humanity both by its celebration of victimhood and by its doctrine of forgiveness and reconciliation. It makes Jesus, its priest, prophet, and king, the exemplar of acceptance of the passive role of Victim in order to provide forgiveness to the perpetrators of gross injustice. "Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do!" The drama is between an angry Father Yahweh and an equal-in-power Son who can be sacrificed to appease God. This interpretation, based in metaphysics, came later as Christianity was becoming Christendom replacing Roman domination to sustain the new order.
Relying on documents of the times, historians conjecture that Jesus was killed at the delicate time of the Jewish Passover that celebrated the liberation of slaves from Egypt. Roman soldiers crucified hundreds of dissidents who broke the rules of Rome and littered the road with hung bodies in order to confirm the rule of the Romans and their patronized priests. Jesus hung with the multitudes of criminals who were left to be stripped and eaten by animals as a warning to others.
Early followers of Jesus using the symbols of their culture considered him a messenger from the God who had led the ancient Israelites from the hands of Pharaoh and made him a god in competition to the god, Caesar. The early gatherings would make him present by reciting memories that were as they broke bread together. In their story, they placed his death with others on the hill of Golgotha, a shrine to his death and resurrection.
Only later would the doctrine of the Triune God make Jesus into a supernatural entity in a supernatural place. A myth embracing numerous superstitions that would vindicate Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire with its hierarchical patronage system. This marked the passage of Christianity into Christendom from which it would never recover except in small renewal moments.
My account is considered heresy today. In medieval times, I would be anathematized or rejected from the official Church and turned over to the Inquisition for correction, punishment, or death. I reject the Christianity that has become Christendom, that protects and even rationalizes the practice of torture and murder of those who critique and thus threaten the established way of life, thinking, and behavior. As were those black men and women, tortured and murdered, because they were seen as thinking and acting in ways, that threated dominant white morality.
I reject Christianity as thought and practiced by triumphalist Catholics, Protestant fundamentalists, and Christian evangelicals who have embraced white supremacy, American exceptionalism, and narrow nationalism. I reject any religion that puts itself above criticism, as ultimate word, and promoting peace and stability without equity and power.
Although I reject Christianity, I remain a companion of Jesus before they anointed him as a god. I stand with him who is elevated with all who were lynched. Our pilgrimage to the American Golgotha in Montgomery will be our way to remember the thousands of victims, perpetrators, and descendants who sanctify this land in the hopes for a resurrection of equity, justice, and power for our human race