Jesus Was A Radical
In “Jesus Lived in a Police State” John W. Whitehead writes:
Jesus—the revolutionary, the political dissident, and the nonviolent activist—lived and died in a police state. Any reflection on Jesus’ life and death within a police state must take into account several factors: Jesus spoke out strongly against such things as empires, controlling people, state violence and power politics. Jesus challenged the political and religious belief systems of his day. And worldly powers feared Jesus, not because he challenged them for control of thrones or government but because he undercut their claims of supremacy, and he dared to speak truth to power in a time when doing so could—and often did—cost a person his life.
Unfortunately, the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics. Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire.
As Professor Taylor notes, “The power of Jesus is one that enables us to critique the nation and the empire. Unfortunately, that gospel is being sacrificed and squandered by Christians who have cozied up to power and wealth.” Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus—the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be—is to be an example for our modern age.
In his book “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State” Whitehead reduces the “characteristics of a police state and its reasons for being” into three words, “control, power and money.”
Police states have had their challengers throughout history Whitehead declares. Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenged Nazi Germany. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn challenged “the gulags of the Soviet Union.” Martin Luther King took on US racial segregation, corporate profiteering and war mongering.
The Roman Empire had Jesus Christ, whom Whitehead describes as “an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist.”
There was a wide chasm in the Roman Empire between the ruling and wealthy class and the lower classes. The Empire used its military, claims Whitehead, as “investigators, enforcers, torturers, policemen, executioners and jailers.” This police state reached into “all aspects of a person’s life.” Think of today’s NSA massive surveillance. Think of America's massive prison system, inhabited by members of the lower classes overwhelmingly.
Personal freedom and independence steadily disappeared from those under the yoke of the Roman Empire. Personal freedom and independence are steadily disappearing from us citizens under the yoke of the US Empire.
The framework of the Roman Empire, Whitehead continues, was based on “an over-arching militarist ethos” ... “wars were waged against inchoate, unstructured and socially inferior foes.” Consider the US and its international gangster coalition of NATO. Think of the blood-soaked nation states destroyed by US and NATO faux-humanitarian-intervening corporate militarism.
Whitehead points out how a Roman soldier had “the exercise of lethal force at his fingertips” “with the potential of wreaking havoc on normal citizens’ lives. Consider the overzealous, legally immune, shoot to kill police and soldiers of today.
The Roman Empire, as does the US Empire today, regarded “insurrectionists”, political activists, as criminals. Dangerous criminal challengers of empire. In both eras such a “revolutionist” was “guilty and deserving of the most savage penalties, including capital punishment.” Whitehead discloses that bandits were often punished “publicly and cruelly” to deter others from daring to challenge the state during the Roman Empire.
Jesus’s execution was one such public punishment.
The Jewish temple Jesus committed civil disobedience in, Whitehead explains, was the site of the administrative headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council. Whitehead declares that there Jesus became a POLITICAL REVOLUTIONARY.
When Jesus “with the help of his disciples, blocks the entrance to the courtyard” and forbids “anyone carrying goods for sale or trade from entering the Temple,” he committed a blatantly criminal and seditious act, an act “that undoubtedly precipitated his arrest and execution.” Because the commercial events were sponsored by the religious hierarchy, which in turn was operated by consent of the Roman government, Jesus’ attack on the money chargers and traders can be seen as an attack on Rome itself, an unmistakable declaration of political and social independence from the Roman oppression.
Jesus endured a “military-style arrest” in the middle of the night. Whitehead:
Eerily similar to today’s SWAT team raids, Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night, in secret, by a large, heavily armed fleet of soldiers...
...government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that appeared to threaten the Roman Empire. The charges leveled against Jesus—that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King—were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion, which was usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals.
Jesus was presented to Pontius Pilate “as a disturber of the political peace,” a leader of a rebellion, a political threat, and most gravely—a claimant to kingship, a “king of the revolutionary type.” After Jesus is formally condemned by Pilate, he is sentenced to death by crucifixion, “the Roman means of executing criminals convicted of high treason.”
The purpose of crucifixion was not so much to kill the criminal, as it was an immensely public statement intended to visually warn all those who would challenge the power of the Roman Empire. Hence, it was reserved solely for the most extreme political crimes: treason, rebellion, sedition, and banditry. After being ruthlessly whipped and mocked, Jesus was nailed to a cross.
We should all take a serious lesson from the courage and fate of Jesus in this dark spiritual age of American Empire wit the ever-hardening line that our government is taking against foreign countries, non-American immigrants as well as its own politically proactive citizens of conscience. Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have been demonized and their lives dramatically and permanently constricted as two examples.
John Kiriakou is one, lesser known whistleblower who took a stand and has been punished by Empire. He was a CIA analyst and an investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He revealed in an interview in 2007 with ABC News that the CIA was torturing prisoners, that torture was “official US government policy” and that waterboarding was being used against suspects detained at Gitmo and other prisons maintained by the US government.
In “The US Has Become a Police State” Kourosh Ziabari writes:
On January 25, 2013, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison, and his term began on February 28. There are conflicting reports that John Kiriakou, himself a former CIA employee, was tortured while being kept in jail.
On this Easter, when some of us reflect on the life and death of Jesus Christ, we might also consider these sober comparisons between the Roman Empire that so brutally tortured and killed Jesus, among others, for political activism and our own American Empire that continually, increasingly, and shamelessly defies moral law and abuses and condemns brave messengers of truth, reality, principle and conscience.
[cross-posted on open salon]