By the Rev. Howard Bess, Consortium News, December 24, 2010
(Originally published December 5, 2009)
Editor’s Note: In a modern era when ancient religious myths continue to set nations at war against one another at the cost of untold human suffering, it is no longer possible to look benignly even at some of the innocent myths like those that surround the birth of Jesus.
Anything that suggests the superiority of one religion over another carries with it the risk of justifying yet more killing. Indeed, one of the bitter ironies of this season’s joyful praise for the “prince of peace” is that his gentle teachings have been twisted into possibly the most violent and warlike religion in history.
If Christians don’t like to hear that – if they wish to think of, say, Islam as a particularly violent religion and Christianity as one of peace and human kindness – they should recall the endless bloodletting done in Jesus’s name, from the days since Christianity was adopted as Rome’s official religion through the Middle Ages to today.
For instance, think of:
–The “heretics” tortured and burned alive for transgressions such as disagreeing over interpretations of the transubstantiation of Christ in the communion or for deviating from Christian doctrine that clashed with scientific discoveries;
–The Crusaders who slaughtered the Muslim and Jewish populations of Jerusalem in 1099, hailed in Europe as a great victory;
–The interminable religious wars that ravaged Europe for centuries and the suffering that kings inflicted on their subjects after claiming a divine right under Christianity.
–The Christian-led genocides against and enslavements of indigenous “heathens” of the Western Hemisphere, Africa and Australia as well as brutal imperial incursions into Asia;
–The European pogroms against the Jews based on an anti-Semitism rationalized by labeling Jews collectively as “Christ killers,” laying the groundwork for the Nazi Holocaust as the Vatican and many Protestant religious leaders stood by silently.
–The religious justification for even more torture and butchery against “godless” leftists during the Cold War, again aided and abetted by the Vatican and fundamentalist Christians;
–Today’s “war on terror” or “clash of civilizations” directed against Muslims with the strong support of many deeply religious Christians (and Jews) who decry Islam as a violent religion bent on conquest.
So, given that grim history – and in the hope that Christians might pause in their celebrations to reflect on how far Christianity has strayed from the peaceful teachings of Jesus – we are republishing the Rev. Howard Bess’s article from 2009 about some of the cherished myths about Jesus’s birth: