The season of goodwill consists of Christmas and New Year. In Guyana, Guyanese of all religious persuasions seize the opportunity of participating in the delights that the season has to offer. They undertake religious activities at Christmas and enjoy the fanfare of welcoming the New Year. In this period Christians generally take the opportunity of reaffirming their faith, to give thanks and to celebrate the life and work of Jesus Christ.
Religion plays an important, sometimes a dominant, role in the lives of many people in Guyana and around the world. At this time Christians engage in religious observances and reflect on the lessons that Jesus in His short time on earth left with us.
Different people are moved or motivated by particular aspects of the teachings of Jesus, depending on their special interests.
For myself, I have been particularly impressed by Jesus’s clear, outspoken and uninhibited partisanship to the poor, oppressed, disadvantaged and sick.
Many have criticized the religious philosophy of Jesus as accepting oppression on earth in return for everlasting life in heaven if the praises of the Lord are sounded clearly and loudly enough.
I am not a Christian and, sadly, have no more than a superficial understanding of the teachings of Jesus. But I have a suspicion that if the life of Jesus is suitably examined, it will be discovered that there is enough material to quickly dispense with this false assessment.
It has been pointed out by experts that the pith and substance of Jesus’s work was a revolutionary struggle against Roman oppression. He used the most powerful weapon which was available to him at that time which was the only one capable of uniting the oppressed against Roman rule. He urged that there was a higher power over temporal authority which embraced honesty and integrity and which was against exploitation and oppression. He demonstrated that that power can be exercised right here on earth. He cured the leper. He fed the multitude. He therefore demonstrated that the philosophy of resistance that He adopted was good for the now as well as the hereafter.
The fact of the matter is that Jesus’s life reveals many facets. There is something there for atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus and others. His exemplary life has inspirational lessons, even for those who do not believe that he is the son of God. The enduring power of the Jesus Story has long been recognized.
The agonizing birth of Christianity began to stir during the era of classical slavery. By the time market forces began to grip society as its dominant organizing principle, Christianity had jostled out all other religious beliefs and had become deeply entrenched as one uniting religious force until Islam began to spread. Christianity had become so deeply associated with state power after its induction as the state religion by Emperor Constantine, that it became an apologist for the excesses of ruling groups and provided the justification for oppression. Its own ascendancy was ensured by the spilling of much blood.
This gave way to the justification of slavery in the colonial era and the ‘pacification’ of slaves by promoting that aspect of Jesus’s teaching that emphasized the everlasting life and a glorious existence in Heaven if the authority of God and His chosen servants, the slave owners, are accepted. Many will argue today that much of this continues in less obvious ways.
Many revolutionaries of the left, relying on the famous dictum of Karl Marx that religion is the ‘opium of the people’, and those portions of the appalling history of the Christian churches, threw out Jesus along with Christianity, the baby with the bath water. This was a mistake. The depth of religious feeling among people, who revolutionaries were purporting to liberate, and their strong adherence to their religious teachings, were ignored. Revolutionaries lost a golden opportunity to deploy the life of Jesus, which resonates today as it has for two millennia, in aid of their struggle on behalf of the oppressed.
The life and lessons of Jesus remain today a bright and shining star in the firmament of universal truth, universal values and moral standards.
I take this opportunity of wishing my readers a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.