Christianity and Coercion

December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

I still love Christianity, but let’s face it – something went wrong.  Somewhere between say Jesus and Constantine things got jumbled, the message of radical love got appropriated back into a violent and imperialist control mechanism.  The message of Jesus started to sound just like everything else.  It’s the same today, when Jesus, American nationalism, capitalist consumerism, sexism, and other seeming incompatibles overlap and tangle until nothing distinct or compelling is left about the message of Jesus.  It seems like just noise.  Noise that somehow makes many of us feel particularly angry and sad.  I think that’s because we still catch a glimpse that there’s something else there, or should be.

I find confusing messages and images of God, of Divine Love, even in my own psyche.  I imagine most of us do.  How do we get back to sorting out what’s what?  How do we learn how to let our intuition guide us away from coercive rhetoric that feels wrong but wins our allegiance because it sounds right?  A big help for me has been adding the principles of radical feminism to the mix – that is clarifying the whole business through the lens of applying an ethic of consent.

Love cannot be love without beginning with consent.

The whole image of a Christian God has turned into the figure of the Great Coercer, the one who will come with power and punish you and the fear of whom should dictate your actions.  Or turning the coin, God is a benevolent coercer who will reward and privilege and protect you from His wrath if you do what he wants.  Extrapolate that into a romantic partner, and God is a stereotypical abuser.  Transpose that onto a parent, and you have the very norm that disturbs me in our current, unconsciously abusive manner of parenting.  Implant that into a person’s psyche and you have perhaps the deepest-set and damaging intimate terrorism to be had.

People keep threatening and touting a coercive God, and yet, what do we find?  No such God ever arrives.  No deity makes us do good or stops us from doing bad.  Let’s face it, as much as it sounds convenient, God isn’t going to make us do anything.  Whether we see it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we understand it or not, God is consensual.  It is only people who harm and torture and reject and punish, claiming to be representatives of the Divine.  My theory is, if God is good, and God refuses to coerce us, we have no right to be coercive ourselves, especially in God’s name.  And if to be good is to be like God, and that means practicing a consent ethic no matter how strong our feelings are or how much we think we are right.

I feel that sorting the still, small voice of conscience, my own intuitive sense of right from the voice of shame in myself has been my journey towards sorting a false image of God, a fear-mongering and restricting force, from an authentic one.  It’s the duality present in the rhetoric of Christianity that used to tangle me up and put me at odds with myself.  I am grateful now to have the touchstone of consent, radical love articulated through another lens, to reorient me.



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