Contemplating Jesus on the cross it is hard to miss how violent religion really is. For all its talk about the “peace that passeth all understanding” religion, at least in its Western constructs, is one gigantic blood-letting. Before one finds peace and unification with God there must first be blood, destruction and death. This violence occurs at all levels personal, institutional and societal.
Violence can be self imposed suffering on one owns psyche and violence to the body such as fasting and “mortifications of the flesh” done in the name of repentance. The attitude is that what I am is not good enough, at the very least, or evil as the doctrine of Original Sin states. I am corrupt and my old self needs to be destroyed before it can be transformed by God’s grace. I must “die to the self” and “take up my cross daily” in order to accomplish this.
Now my perspective is somewhat limited having been raised in the peculiar form of Christianity known as Roman Catholicism. My understanding is skewed by the indoctrination of my childhood and adolescence. But, as I study other desert religions of the Middle East, Judaism, Islam and that of Zoroaster and the prophet Mani it is hard to not to view them in the same light.
As a Catholic the image of the ever suffering Jesus eternally nailed to his cross was ever before me even as we talked about the resurrection and the promise of eternal life. His passion so gruesomely depicted with the agony in the garden –drops of bloody tears streaming down the messiah’s face, the scourging by the Roman guards at the pillar as they thrust a crown of thorns on his forehead. Ultimately leading us to the fateful march to the mount of skulls where he was brutally crucified, another cruel Roman centurion piercing his side with a spear as blood and water poured forth in rivers. How many visionaries and mystics have followed their beloved messiah into fevered dreams of self delusion?
How many men and women throughout the history of Christendom have sought to experience the same sufferings as their beloved Jesus? St. Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio come to mind immediately. How many devotees of this self-delusion have imposed these attitudes on their children and their congregations?