“So happy you were born!” I sometimes say in the Facebook birthday comment section, especially if it’s someone I feel particularly close to or had done worthy work in this world— or both! And that makes me wonder who in history I would say, “I’m so sorry you were born” because multitudes of innocent people were ravished, raped or killed because of this person’s unfortunate incarnation.
You can imagine my list. People like Genghis Khan, King Leopold, Adolph Hitler, Papa Doc, Idi Amin, Pol Pot. Note that just about every continent is represented— tyranny, brutality, evil, knows no geographical limits. And this is the short list!
But if I had to pick one person who’s birth caused more havoc, more hatred, more horror done in his name, I think you might be surprised. (Who could be worse than Hitler?!) Let’s just say that his life started off promising, in humble beginnings surrounded by mystery, with a destiny connected to the stars, with kings making a pilgrimage to encircle him with awe and love. Angels descended to announce him in song, shepherds kept a protective watch over him, his mother sang a beautiful lullaby and the whole scene was awash in the height of human glory— humility, mystery, beauty and love.
And yet. The innocent babe was named Jesus and in his name (I refuse to capitalize the H assuming a divinity, for what divine presence would excuse the crimes to come?), more people have been killed than in the combined total of all the tyrants listed above. Please read that sentence again.
I’m talking about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch burnings, the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africa-Americans, the Holocaust and weirdest of all, “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland where one Christian denomination (the Protestants) sworn to Jesus’ teaching of “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” unapologetically killed another Christian denomination (the Catholics), who then rose up (the IRA) and retaliated with terrorist bombings killing innocent people (somehow missing the “turn the other cheek” invitation Jesus made). And in each and every case above, the masses came to accept it all as “normal” and refused to see the extreme disconnect between that babe in the Manger and his subsequent revolutionary teachings of love, had the nerve to still call themselves “Christians.”
Of course, this is not yesterday’s story, but still is found every day in the news. When a state passes a law designed to keep one group oppressed, downtrodden, voiceless, people shrug their shoulders and say “Well, of course. That’s Bible belt territory.” HELLO?!! Shouldn’t that mean that the message of the New Testament to serve the poor, comfort the afflicted, feel the divine connection between all neighbors without choosing who gets to be your neighbor, is more alive in the Bible Belt, that the belt is meant to hold up the pants of the Scripture rather than be tied so loosely that they fall down or so tightly that a person can’t breathe?
And don’t think that it’s lost on me that had I written this outrageous sentence— “I wish that Jesus had never been born”— in many time periods and places, I would be summarily executed without a moment’s hesitation. And in more modern times, raked over the coals by outraged “Christians” who supported the January 6thinsurrection and would trample me with their heavy sound-byte boots on Fox News. All of which excuses them from thinking about the havoc done in his name and what would need to happen to stop it, to be a true Christian.
Of course, none of this is to blame Jesus. I imagine he himself would agree that he never should have been born had he seen the aftermath of his time on Earth. But it’s not his fault. Some defect in the human psyche insists that it’s too hard to do the work to uplift oneself spiritually and much easier to believe what others tell you, do your Church time and never consider the discrepancy between the way they live and think and the message gifted to them. If it hadn’t been Jesus, it would have been someone else. Maybe Fred. Or Ernie. (And noting how none of the mass murderers above was a woman, it probably wouldn’t have been Sylvia.)
Well, I don’t want to ruin your Christmas. It’s lovely to sing “What Child Is This?” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and imagine that the birth of this child brought hope and peace and love into the world. That faith is worth sustaining, but might we all pay a bit more attention to the rap lyric?
“I said it, I meant it, I’m here to represent it!”
Jesus, I am so sorry for what we have done and continue to do. I know you didn’t mean it to turn out like this. And yes, you’ve also brought hope and comfort and happiness to those who understood you, so let’s keep that in the mix. But people, whether you prefer Jesus or Buddha or Krishna or Moses or Zoraster or Yemaya or the Great Spirit, don’t use their name to weaponize, to shut down thinking and feeling, to shut out others. If you want “heaven and nature to sing,” you have to learn the words, play the notes, dance while you sing, sing like you mean it and clasp hands with your fellow singers, no matter who appears at your side.