2 April 2010

So falls Good Friday...

So falls Good Friday, marking the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike the star-haunted cosiness of Christmas, the promise of a child’s life and its bright illumination of the divine archetype of the family – Christian Easter’s ambivalence always struck me as interesting.

The Goodness of this Friday is sometimes hard for those of us without sensitive theological fingertips to feel. We the godless are unlikely to be able to see beyond the stringy Christ-figure, tacked to the ghoulish instrument of his execution. Of the seven sayings on the cross, we are perhaps most likely to hear the merely human personality that cries with his dying cry – “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani” – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Always one of the most fascinating phrases for those who suggest that the New Testament’s accounts of Jesus are more or less conscious fraudulent, for anyone who can’t find the Creator God’s face in the sky, the words are still more bitter.

Others before have questioned the Christian worldview’s capacity to generate real tragedy. In the economy of human suffering, if there is an ultimate and unerring appeal to a higher scale-man, with all the balances, all debts will be repaid, all sufferings meted back with due recompense and merciful intercession. For those of us who foresee no balm in Gilead, the ‘room’ for tragic fate, for wasted life, missteps and misunderstandings encompasses every day’s breath. No divine accountant attends to our sufferings. Loses go uncounted, hopes and fears unscribed. Only the palimpsest of the human memory might recall them to mind, and then imperfectly, until forgetfulness itself forgets all our wounds.

In the Eloi, Eloi, it is always tempting to suppose that we hear from Jesus’ own lips the repentance of his religion, the scales falling from his tear-laden eyes, as the Christ collapses into the naked suffering of the
Man. For the Christian, sure of the Resurrection, this last gasping footstep on the Via Dolorosa hurls the spirit skyward. From the hideous cruelties of material suffering, when hope in the dust lies dead, is the alchemy of divine salvation wrought. The godless, in my experience, rather struggle with this ambivalence, this rootedness of the Christian good in horror. Its all too easy as an atheist to reach for the epithets of sickliness, when surveying this scene where torture is magnified and called holy. It can seem even a human sin to call such a day “Good”. 

While condemnation is undoubtedly satisfying - with the added pleasure of reinforcing the condemner's own good conscience as a judicious soul who'll having none of this Christian mumbo jumbo - I'd suggest a different response. It should remind us that the lamb of God was a man for turning tables. A man for uncertainties, insecurities. Judge not, lest ye be judged? The sort of chap that many Christians, tight with good conscience, wouldn't urinate upon if he was up in flames. This dulcet domestication of Christianity, in part reconciled by this dominant imagery of the daffy-eyed silly lambkin Christ, has managed to make the idea of the cosmology of the world, sacred or profane, boring! A latter-day miracle.

In that spirit, the mystery and the existential challenge posed by this Good Friday should remind us of the potentially radical character of the Christian worldview. It should tutor us to recognise that while many and most Christians may be plain, poor specimens, that the tale is one full of interest, imagination and psychological depth and complexity. In particular, while we're spotting our Holy Willies, we would do well to sharply reflect on those domestic politicians who have taken to touting their dreary, temperamentally judgemental and self-satisfied religiosity, no doubt impelled by the wholly worldly desire to be well-thought of. The lineaments of the type that so prompted Robert Burns' scorn and satire can still be observed clearly, their faith still fundamentally amounting to the shallow service of Mammon and the tickling pleasure of casting the first stone.


  1. It is Good Friday today?

  2. Instead I find the politics surrounding his execution fascinating: the quisling Jewish leaders who wanted to maintain what power the Roman Empire allowed them to have and the officials of the Empire who were doing a balancing act of allowing them the (to the Romans) meaningless power to execute a heretical preacher.

    Politics never change, do they?