Jesus Christ: Jewish radical or bathrobe Republican? The “reason for the season” remains an enigma after 2,000 years

Andrew O'Hehir in Salon:

Jesus-paintings-620x412We know very little about the real Jesus — although most historians are inclined to agree there was such a person — and virtually all of it is open to interpretation. No one is likely to agree in total with anyone else’s take on Jesus, who has been variously depicted as an egalitarian Jewish radical, an apocalyptic cult leader, a puritanical scold and a proto-Republican who left the house in his bathrobe. (Plenty of modern-day Christians will tell you Jesus didn’t really mean to say that a rich man couldn’t easily enter the Kingdom of Heaven; surely Donald Trump could find a way to get that camel through that needle.)

…It’s outrageous that Donald Trump is permitted to depict himself, in some nominal way, as a follower of Jesus Christ without provoking widespread howling and vomiting. It’s an outrage that a majority of white Americans who consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ twisted themselves into voting for a man who has promised to persecute the powerless, shun the strangers, drive away the hungry and the vulnerable. None of this is anything new, of course. Ever since the real Jesus, whoever he was, disappeared behind his symbolic death, his messianic promise of the Kingdom of Heaven has been used to build kingdoms here on earth. Christmas is barely even an allusion to Jesus Christ. It’s a pagan celebration of the winter solstice, presided over by a red-suited elf-god. At some point it got reverse-engineered into a birthday party for a half-mythological baby whose more important accomplishment was his death. If the church asks us to keep Christ in Christmas, we might respond that he was never there in the first place. But as I stood looking at the empty cradle in the St. Patrick’s crèche, I reflected that the incoherent innocence of the Christmas story — the way it gives us Jesus as an infant, stripped of history and his tangled and contradictory afterlife — is the source of its power.

In the Christmas season we seek reassurance, repetition and ritual; we watch movies we’ve seen dozens of times before, and football teams we don’t care about. We embrace that strange sense of “Christmas Carol” suspended time that makes childhood and adulthood, past and future, seem to merge. If Christmas has nothing to do with the real Jesus, it allows us to connect, briefly and vaguely, to the idea of Jesus and to the possibility of human redemption he seemed to embody. It’s only a moment, a shared shimmering dream, and then it’s gone. But it’s a gift.

More here.