Thursday, January 7, 2010

Brit Hume on Theological Autopilot


On the Sunday morning FoxNews show, Brit Hume proposed that Tiger Woods convert to Christianity because Buddhism 'doesn't offer the forgiveness and redemption offered by the Christian faith.'

On a Tuesday radio show, Hume added:

Christianity is uniquely and especially about redemption and forgiveness. That is what the cornerstone of what the faith is about. Now other faiths aren't hostile to the idea, but think of what the message of Christ and Christianity is. It is that the God of the universe sent His only begotten Son, who died a hideous death on the cross, to atone for all of our sins.

Besides the fact that Hume's Christian triumphalism is, to put it kindly, a bit awkward in our diverse society, two things are largely missing from voices that have dominated the 'national conversation' in the aftermath of Hume's not-so-surprising-words. First of all, Hume's brand of Christianity represents one strand of Christian faith that (over)emphasizes the individual notions of forgiveness through a penal-substitutionary reading of Christ's death. These Christians have always made faith out to be an individual affair focusing on our personal relationship with God (piety) and eternal salvation (heaven). Of course, there are other, well-traveled interpretations of the primary signficance of Jesus of Nazareth that counter Hume's version.

My own Anabaptist brand of Christianity, rooted in the Radical Reformation of the 16th century and the original prophetic vision of Paul and the other New Testament writers, emphasizes 'the kingdom of God' inaugurated by Jesus whose interpretation of the Hebrew Bible offered a radical way-of-life that rejected violent solutions, hoarding of resources, lust-filled desire and dominating leadership models. Jesus attracted disciples from various walks of life, generating a movement whose primary message was announcing that the 'kingdom of God' was at hand and it was time to repent (metanoia), or change teams. If God's kingdom came in the King named Jesus, then that meant Caesar's kingdom was put on notice. Jesus died a 'hideous death,' not to make me sin-free, but because the powers-that-be were threatened by his alternative economic, political and social theories and practices. His crucifixion unveiled the power-drunk motives of the Roman and Jewish political coalition. Hume's comment simply unveils the myth that Christianity is a religion that uniquely deals with the self or soul, competing with other 'religions' like Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, etc. Instead, Christianity is a way-of-life or Story that beckons others to participate in the outcome of the world.

Second, Hume's statement assumes individualistic notions of forgiveness and redemption which would be unknown to Jesus and his followers. NT Wright has written recently that we have learned more about 1st century Judaism in the last 50 years that we did in the first 1950 years of Christianity combined. However, popular ideas of what life was like on the ground with Jesus have failed to catch up with our scholarship. The words forgivenes and redemption come from the lutrosis family of Greek words in the New Testament that refer to a 'release' or 'liberation' from slavery. Redemption specifically refers to a 'buying out of slavery.' For Jews, the ultimate redemption came in the exodus story when their god, Yahweh, bought them out of slavery, eventually bestowing on them life in the promised land. What Wright has communicated so clearly in the last two decades is that 'forgiveness' Israel during the time of Jesus was a concept rooted in the prophets (especially Jeremiah) who promised that Yahweh would one day forgive the sins of the nation and be liberated out of exile. On that Day, the spirit of Yahweh would be unleashed on the people and Gentiles would flock to Jerusalem to learn Torah. The various brands of 1st century Palestinian Judaisms all believed that they were still living in exile as second-class citizens of the Roman Empire. As long as Caesar (and Herod and Pilate) was still ruling over them, then Yahweh's kingdom had not arrived.

What Jesus announced was that God's Kingdom was arriving (and with it, forgiveness and redemption of the Jewish nation) as he gathered a renewal (or revolutionary) movement together that anticipated this someday-soon event in their lives together. While Caesar's world dominated, the Jesus people served. While Caesar's world took revenge, the Jesus people forgave. While Caesar's world focused on identity markers like race/ethnicity and free/slave, the Jesus people loved their enemies and dissolved their differences 'in Christ.' Forgiveness and redemption were primary cosmic and communal concepts. An individual would only find these as they joined the people of God, working with God for the redemption of the entire world. This had always been the vocation of the people of God since the days of Abraham: to be a blessing to the world. After Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles (including Tiger Woods!) were fully included in the adventure and challenge of pledging allegiance to peace, justice and compassion for the world.

Woods can seek (and find) his 'atonement,' not necessarily by 'accepting Jesus into his heart,' but by following the advice of prophets like Dave Zirin who called on him to stand up to his corporate sponsors, like Chevron, who helped build his $100 million golf course and is spreading injustices (forced labor, rape, torture) in faraway places like Burma, while Woods cashes in without saying a word. Woods apolitical' stances over the years have fit his own power agenda nicely. His silence led him to be the first athlete ever to gross over $1 billion in his career. No doubt, Woods will be 'saved' if he follows the advice of Jesus (and perhaps Buddha?) to the rich man in the Gospels: give up your possessions and power and follow his way of love, peace, compassion and, yes, forgiveness. Power got him into this adulterous mess in the first place and he should go to the root of the problem. Not sure about his wife, but I'd bet that a true 'repentance' would lead the rest-of-the-world to forgive him, would they not?

--Theological Autopilot

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