Saturday, March 26, 2011

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST: God is not an American.

The carpenter Jesus of Nazareth, tormented by the temptations of demons, the guilt of making crosses for the Romans, pity for men and the world, and the constant call of God, sets out to find what God wills for him. But as his mission nears fulfillment, he must face the greatest temptation: the normal life of a good man. Based, not on the Gospels, but on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same name. (summary by Nick Lopez <>)
"You think God belongs only to you? He doesn't. God is an immortal spirit who belongs to everybody, to the whole world. You think you're special? God is not an Israelite!" - Jesus.
In the film The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus is going to the temple to pray and finds something disturbing. A market place filled with buying and selling, transferring of wages, and a monumental statue of Caesar. The pharisees speak out to him, questioning him, challenging him. He shouts out the statement above, "You think you're special? God is not an Israelite!" 

This film by Martin Scorsese is famously controversial for it's fictional outlook on the life and struggles of Jesus. For many Christians, who I doubt have viewed the film, they find the fact that Jesus goes to Mary Magdalene in her brothel (though he does not sleep with her) disturbing and wrong; that Jesus is shown completely naked on the cross (though his genitalia is not in view) sacrilegious; and that the very concept that Jesus would want a normal life with a wife and children, evil. 

Yet there are those who disagree. Roger Ebert, the famous film critic, states that Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader "paid Christ the compliment of taking him and his message seriously, and they have made a film that does not turn him into a garish, emasculated image from a religious postcard. Here he is flesh and blood, struggling, questioning, asking himself and his father which is the right way, and finally, after great suffering, earning the right to say, on the cross, 'It is accomplished.'" Ebert, is absolutely correct. For Christians, if Jesus did not struggle with temptations, both the ones of grandeur that the devil brought about in the desert, and normal bodily ones such as lust for women, fear, and violence; how hard would it be for him to sacrifice life? If Jesus had no struggle with everyday life than he could not be man and God, just simply God. We are defined by the pain and suffering that all humans endure. If Jesus did not suffer along with us, than his sacrifice means next to nothing. 

Now, as an a nonbeliever there is more to delve into here. We must remember that though Jesus is the center piece of Christianity, he was also a practicing Jew, a Muslim Prophet, as well as looked at historically as a social revolutionary against the Roman Empire. You think Jesus belongs to you? He doesn't. He belongs to everybody, to the whole world. 

Dr. Cornel West, a philosopher and Christian, often calls us to look at Jesus' life, not his death. To see how he acting in the oppression of Imperial Rome. How did he lead the suffering people against the Romans in his Imperial Age, and how can that be an example for us to live in our Imperial Age? We must be highly critical of our empire, to focus on the oppression that the workers suffer on the underbelly of the American Empire, just as Jesus was critical of the Jews who suffered on the underbelly of the Roman Empire. The parallels between all empires are uncountable, yet many of the people who do not do anything have the greatest example of an anti-imperial revolutionary living with them in their hearts. 

The Last Temptation... also deals with Jesus struggle with using love as our guide, that we must save through loving and using the axe. "Any tree that fails to provide good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire", will Jesus continue practicing love? Or will he take up the axe and cut down the tree? Is it possible to do both? These questions continually face us today. 

In Libya a tyrannous dictator is oppressing his people. They're dying of lack of resources or brute violent force. How are we to help? Can we help? Do we take up the axe, or leave that for the people of Libya? Can the people of Libya do anything?  How must we love them in this situation?

In the film, as well as in the Bible, Jesus puts forth, what I feel, is his most important idea. The Roman guards are taking him away, and Peter draws his sword, slicing off a guard's ear. "Put down your sword, Peter!" says Jesus, "those who live by the sword, die by the sword!" With this strong pacifistic statement, overwhelming full of truth, how do we then look at Libya? Should we start another war (or pre-emptive war strike) with a country, making the spreading of our troops thinner than now, risking more American lives to only recognize that the same actions will eventually bring us down? Or are we the violent effect that will justly strike down Gaddafi for his violent deeds? 

Jesus also said to turn the other cheek, no longer to view justice as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. With that in mind, based on his teachings, are we really in the place to make the right call? As a pacifist, I have a hard time accepting more violent action coming from this country onto the rest of the world. But at the same time I have a hard time accepting that Gaddafi is literally insane and can be allowed to kill more people because he won't accept that his time has come. Should we take an Utilitarian outlook? Is the killing of some lives acceptable so that we can stop a man from killing millions? 

I can't answer these questions, as usual there are too many variables. But one thing is for certain, we as Americans, can not call God ours. We are not chosen people. The concepts, ideas, teachings, and life of Jesus is not ours to own, because we, as a nation don't live up to those standards. But, does any nation? 

President Bush was able to gain a large amount of supporters for the Iraqi war (or pre-emptive war strike) because of (one) the fear people had after September Eleventh, and (two) because he said he was doing what God told him to do. Many Americans seem to have a sinful fixation on God, rather than a pursuit to follow Christian ethics and teachings. Many like to claim God for America. God isn't for our possession though. For the sake of progress we must admit that God is an immortal spirit, an idea, a concept, who belongs to everyone, to the world.

Do we think we're special? God is not an American. 

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