By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
In John’s Gospel Advent is about the coming of Jesus as the mystical Logos, or Word of God. Jesus was a light that shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5; 3:19-21) Jesus symbolized God’s light, and at the heart of John’s Gospel is the new command to love one another. (John 13:34) It is John’s version of the greatest commandment that is found in the other three gospel accounts.
Advent is about the light of God’s love coming into a dark world. It represents the power of God’s love to reconcile and redeem humanity in contrast to Satan’s dark power to divide and conquer humanity. But Satan does a convincing imitation of God, and does some of his best work in the church, mosque and in politics—as we have witnessed over the past year.
Judging from the recent election, half of all Americans—most of them claiming to be Christians—have little love for those who do not share their race or religion. Last month they made Donald Trump their President, and through his designated national security advisor he has proclaimed Muslims to be “evil people.” In so doing he has furthered the evil cause of radical Islamists by polarizing our religions and setting the stage for more religious hate and violence.
The election of Donald Trump should be an embarrassment to Christians. He is the antithesis of Christian morality. But then Christianity comes in all flavors these days, from the prosperity gospel that promises health and wealth to believers to Catholic monks and nuns who take a vow of poverty. Ironically, progressive Christians and Muslims have more shared values than do progressives and fundamentalists within the same religion.
The election of Donald Trump was not the first time that Christianity took a dark turn. From crusades, inquisitions and in religious wars up to the Enlightenment in the 17th century, the toxic combination of religion, power and politics corrupted the world. In the 19th century the U.S. defied the moral imperatives of its faith with a terrible Civil War, and in the 20th century Germany and Italy, both Christian nations, took the dark road to fascism and World War II.
Globalization has made religions in America and around the world more pluralistic and contentious. The next four years will be a test for libertarian democracy. A politics of reconciliation is necessary, but it cannot be based on hate and anger for those unlike us. It must be based on shared altruistic values that are absent in our current polarized politics.
The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and it provides the shared altruistic values needed for a politics of reconciliation. A commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves—including our neighbors of other races and religions—can bring the light of God’s love into our dark world of polarized politics.
May the light of God’s love shine on you—and all of us—this Christmas and throughout the New Year, and may God’s light dispel the darkness that threatens to overcome us.
On concepts of Advent that promote a politics of reconciliation, see Michael Gerson at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/where-is-god/2016/12/23/495ebfca-c881-11e6-85b5-76616a33048d_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1 and Kathleen Parker at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-all-a-joke-so-we-may-as-well-laugh/2016/12/23/3ce16b72-c952-11e6-bf4b-2c064d32a4bf_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinionsA&wpmm=1.
On Donald Trump as the antithesis of Christian morality, whose values must be rejected rather than reconciled, see https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/not-time-reconciliation. See also,
In the context of religion and a politics of reconciliation, Anthony T. Kronman has suggested that Walt Whitman’s 19th century American religion be referred to as …born-again paganism: a reaffirmation of the unity of God and the world, enriched by the central teaching of the three creationist religions that insist so vehemently on their separation.
Born-again paganism gives spiritual depth to America’s culture of individualism. It explains our reverence for diversity in a way that avoids the worst excesses of identity politics. And it gives us a God that is magnified, not threatened, by the restless drive to explain all things that is such a striking feature of our national character.
In these respects, born-again paganism suits us well. It is the right religion for America.
No one can be compelled to embrace it, of course, but those who do may find it easier to see that, despite our proud commitment to the separation of church and state, we are one nation under God after all. See http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-kronman-american-religion-20161222-story.html.
Growing up “in the middle” as a colored person (neither white nor black) in South Africa, Trevor Noah has put the concept of a politics of reconciliation in more contemporary terms:
Sadly, given what we’ve seen in this election, Mr. Trump’s victory has only amplified the voices of extremism. It has made their arguments more simplistic and more emotional at a time when they ought to be growing more subtle and more complex. We should give no quarter to intolerance and injustice in this world, but we can be steadfast on the subject of Mr. Trump’s unfitness for office while still reaching out to reason with his supporters. We can be unwavering in our commitment to racial equality while still breaking bread with the same racist people who’ve oppressed us. I know it can be done because I had no choice but to do it, and it is the reason I am where I am today.
When you grow up in the middle, you see that life is more in the middle than it is on the sides. The majority of people are in the middle, the margin of victory is almost always in the middle, and very often the truth is there as well, waiting for us. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/05/opinion/trevor-noah-lets-not-be-divided-divided-people-are-easier-to-rule.html?_r=0.
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, see http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/01/jesus-meets-muhammad-is-there-common.html.
On irreconcilable differences and the demise of democracy, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/irreconcilable-differences-and-demise.html.