In a few of my recent posts I have attempted to elucidate my understanding on what it means to ‘die with Christ’ and why I believe that this ‘death’ is an essential part of the Christian faith. If I have been right in my previous posts it follows that part of the church’s mission is to be a community of believers within which people can be led to experience Christ’s words of forgiveness. I claim that many churches fail in doing this and for that reason I am going to use two posts to critically discuss this apparent impotence. On a preliminary note I would like to say that I am going to keep the discussion on a general level and not talk in detail about possible differences between various denominations or specific congregations. Hence, I make no claims that the issue I will raise are equally problematic all over the spectrum of different churches or that it is even noticeable in all congregations.
The actual problem I would like to address is that our churches often are ruled by a corrupted structure that privileges certain people while it take advantage of the large masses and lead them astray. This structure, I claim, prevent people from hearing Christ’s words of forgiveness uttered from the cross and thus also prevent them from dying with Christ. As has been pointed out by others, this structure functions as a way for the normal churchgoer to experience a level of certainty in what they believe and it therefore helps them to cope with their existential torments and the ambiguities of life. The most common problem in this regard seems to be that of the existence of evil and its apparent randomness. The structure says not to worry because God has a plan for everything and eventually it will all have been worth it for those who are chosen. The underlying message being that this is too problematic to comprehend but we know that God is with us, and that is enough for us to believe even though we do not understand. Consequently the structure tells you that what is important is not that people believe in God but that they have faith in the structure. From where I am standing, this structure is the worst kind of idol since it includes into its own system the illusion of existing in the service of God while in truth it carries the power to actually imitate the role of God in the life of the worshipper.
The consequence of allowing for the structure to believe on our behalf is that every set of questions or doubts we might have will be answered with the structure as the framework of thought. The structure is like an evil genius in that sense since it dictates the terms even for the critique against itself. In this way it functions very much like global capitalism since you need to partake in its economy to be able to struggle against it and eventually a protest is doomed to become an integral part of what it fights against. As a result the structure can deem all doubts to be false since it is either ‘the devil tempting you’ or ‘God testing you’ and subsequently the act of doubting eventually strengthens the structure. In this regard I am positive to those scholars of comparative religions who use economic analyses to describe how religions functions. However, the claim I want to make is that the Christian narrative implies a critique against any such systems, be they religious, economic or whatever.
I will not discuss this in further detail since I have already written several posts on how I interpret the cross as a symbol of critique against these kinds of hierarchical structures of power that feeds off the mechanism of exploitation and exclusion. Instead I would like to turn towards the faces that represents this structure and I do not think that it comes as a surprise that these faces are the faces of the powerful. This claim is hard to speak against for anyone who has ever seen Jesus portrayed since his looks constantly has been altered to resemble those in power and it does not take a genius to understand that the same modification has been done with Jesus’ teaching. So, rather than living with the purpose of getting their own lives shaped by the image of Jesus, these powerful people has attempted to transformed Jesus into their own image. Unfortunately I believe that they have been rather successful. The consequence of this altering of the image of Jesus is that many people have been led to walk into a social structure that privilege its own leadership while dominating the congregation and excluding ‘the other’. This structure does not function on an intellectual level; rather the structure is in essence the framework within which intellectual processes can take place. This is why it is impossible to use reason to break down the structure from within since, as already mentioned, any critique eventually becomes part of what it critiques.
The fact that there are certain powerful people that functions as ‘God’s representatives’ within the structure is that which keeps it in place and creates a space in which people can be led to believe. The seemingly normal trick these powerful church leaders are using is to present themselves as humble and well-balanced people who got their lives under control, who are strong in their faith and chosen by God. The reasons for why people are drawn to these types of leaders can obviously differ but I believe that we can be sure to say that they all feel the need for the security and certainty that the leaders both represents and preach. Thus, the structure depends on the appearance of its leaders and the ability they have to help people believe.
This is, to give an example, the true reason why the Catholic Church has protected the sex criminals among their own leadership. It is not that the pope and his cardinals protect their powerful friends because they do not think of paedophilia as a severe crime, rather they know that the existential experience of witnessing the powerful fall will lead the believers to subconsciously lose their faith in the structure which the leaders represents. Hence, I believe that the cover up within the Catholic Church had very little to do with the protection of friends, sympathy for the offenders or anything like it, instead I think it has been about protecting the faces of the structure to maintain the power of the structure and thus the positions for all who benefits from it.