Story behind the Book Choice
Easter is not just some occasion for Christians — Easter is the highest point of the year. The holidays mark the foundation of what Christians believe in, i.e., the crucification and resurrection of Jesus. Whether you believe in all this or not. Obviously, our country’s order and structure is still very much based on Christian theology. Otherwise, we would not be celebrating these days as national holidays. Even though we had Enligthenment and the separation of church and state, we still see how much the political order depends on Christian roots. Not only does this refer to the fact that our chancellor is from the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), it also comes up in the daily debates about Covid measures and the limitations of personal liberties in church congregations. Like it or not, Germany is still very much the ‘Occident,’ the place where Christian values stand in contras to those of the East, the ‘Orient.’
I am saying all this by means of introducing today’s book choice. I do so without any judgement. I am aware that there are many other religions and probably dozens of denominations in Germany and Europe now that are not Christian, above all, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. But for all those who deal with theology and spirituality in a way that is not “militant,” like party politics often are, we know that there are so many crossovers and commonalities connecting the world’s largest religions. In other words, the story of Jesus is not completely incompatible with the stories of Muhammad or Buddha. There is much literature around by real experts on the matter who trace these interconnections despite all differences.
Heiner Geißler once was a member of a Jesuit Order, philosopher, and lawyer by training. He gained prominence in Germany as a politician in the CDU. I found this book in a garbage box about a year ago. As you might know by now, I hardly ever pass by a box with books that people give away! The title immediately caught my attention. What Would Jesus Say Today? is a question I often ask myself. Even though I quit my very short church membership a few years ago, I never quit my faith. Yes, I also talk about Buddhism quite often, as you know, but I was baptized as a Christian in the Holy Land and I never cut that tie. I simply have a problem with “organized” faith. And, if you read what Heiner Geißler writes about Jesus and his political teachings, you might come to the conclusion that by being a rebel, I actually walk in Jesus’ footsteps.
Geißler does a great job in revealing some of the “myths” that accompany common narratives about the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel is a narrative in and of itself — one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful one, in human history. And Geißler sets out to link the most striking stories from the Evangelists with the present political situation; i.e., the situation when the book was written at the beginning of the new millennium. As you can imagine, many of the social problems that Geißler is concerned about in the book have not disappeared almost two decades later. Poverty, war, injustice — these are global human problems that do not disappear overnight. After all, there is a reason why the United Nations and the Global Development Goals exist, right?
I very much like how Geißler approaches the crucial narratives about Jesus’ deeds and how he does not just follow a chronological order. He proceeds by topics and one thing he really pays attention to is language. The first passage above is so decisive for me not only because it reveals a translation mistake (and there are many). Instead of “to repent,” metanoeite means “to rethink,” as Geißler explains. Jesus does not use this term in some everyday situation, he says it when John is in prison. But if there is one thing that I personally value most about Jesus, not just in this context, it is exactly the social and political far-sightedness he displayed. After all, this turned him into a hero but I also know that present-day church members like to deny this because they want to keep politics out of the church.
For me, Jesus was a rebel and the fact that he told people to not continue thinking the way they had always thought is the basic precondition for this. Of course, this brings you lots of enemies; it even brings you death. But he could not do otherwise. I think, everyone of us who follows this principle always runs the risk of ending up as the outcast, the enemy, the troublemaker. It is always nicer to team up with the mainstream. Jesus never did, even though the “masses” helped him escape by giving him cover in several instances. What I simply want to get at, however, is that the call to “rethink” could not be more pressing — not when Geißler wrote, and not today. When I look at today’s political decision makers and people in civic society, I really do miss one thing that we all learned in school at some point (hopefully): moral courage. And this does not refer to words only.
Yes, someone who “preaches” naturally talks (a lot). In Buddhism, this aspect is a little less important. But in any religion or faith, even in any philosophy, the spoken and written word has all the power in the world. What Geißler is talking about in this passage is Jesus’ integrity, you might also call it ‘authenticity’ today. As he writes:
“Jesus did not only inspire the people with his message, he actually convinced them. His personality was in line with what he was saying. And he acted upon this. There was unity between his actions, talks, and life.”
Is this not such a powerful statement? Is this not exactly so powerful because we miss it so much? Geißler was a politician who fought a lot against social injustice and discrimination — in Germany and in the world. Of course, he was human and made mistakes, just like any human being. But he is definitely right in pointing to the many examples of today’s leaders in politics and other social realms in which Jesus would help as a role model — if people actually listened to him. He did not just bow to the majority. Instead, he had one single decision-making criterion: the welfare of the human being — his/her mental and physical health. Not money, not fame. How wonderful would it be if people really started acting upon this! But the most frustrating thing is to find out that even people who go to church do not really get this. Their ego is in the way. It is so much blinding them that they even harrass non-Christians who do act according to Jesus’ message. Geißler also mentions this double standard in many instances. But as Jesus also preached:
“Love your enemies.” Matthew 5:44
3. Democratic cowards
Geißler devotes an entire chapter to Jesus’ relationship with women and he also mentions the topic in many other passages throughout the book. When I say “relationship,” I again refer to Jesus’s far-sighted idea of equality. This did not just refer to women, of course. Today, you would summarize his pleas for equal rights and equal opportunities as ‘diversity.’ But it does not matter what you call it, actually. Again, his ethos can be decoded based on his actions. And action in the context of Jesus and anyone following his example means: help. You help other human beings, it is that simple. But it seems to be very difficult to do for many people, I guess. Even worse, those who help others are left behind. Everything is a market nowadays and if you follow Geißler’s arguments, it was not different when he wrote, neither was it different in Jesus’ times. Money has been ruling the world as long as we can trace human history. But it is up to you to decide what is more VALUABLE in your life. History is made by people. If you break a pattern, like Jesus did, you can make history.
The passage above refers to the fact that women in several countries around the world still become the victims of state suppression and cruelty. The practice of stoning women to death is only one example. Unfortunately, some nations have not stepped out of the Biblical order from 2,000 years ago. This is what Geißler explains in detail. He, of course, mentions the scene in John when Jesus is asked to execute the order of stoning a woman. Instead, he appeals to the morale of all the spectators around him:
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” — John 8:7
This line has always left a huge impression on me because it almost chokes me. There are so many situations when you sit in front of some people who hold power (in business, universities, politics…) and they make you feel their power. But you simply know that they are not walking the talk — they are not doing what they are asking, demanding or even pushing others to do. This drives me nuts because they usually also put a sadistic smile on their face. This is what Jesus makes the bystanders aware of in the story and they all turn around and leave because they feel caught. Jesus himself, not to forget about this, refuses to act as he is told — which is what many other people do. In other words, to use Geißler’s technique of putting things into the present-day context, Jesus had balls, and many decision makers today lack them. And to make this clear: This does not only refer to men, women equally abuse power.
The claim that Geißler ends with is that Germany and other democratic societies need to put severe pressure on the countries who still follow these barbaric rites. But we all know why they do not punish the authoritarian regimes, right? MONEY! Yes, money rules the world and if Germany depends on oil from country x, country x is not going to be held accountable for or even isolated from the international ‘community’ for stoning women (and men) and throwing them into jail without any trial. In these cases, German politicans usually appear on television, they put a very sad look on their face, and then the say something like “we will do everything in our power to put pressure on country x.” You know what I mean? And you also know what happens then, right?
This is one of the most outrageous things for me to witness. I cannot understand how we can simply watch. That is it. We see that people get killed in the 21st century and we do NOTHING. This is the complete antidote of solidarity, of humanism. Yes, I studied political science and international relations. I know what national sovereignty means. But if you follow the message and legacy of Jesus, there is only one law that stands above everything else — everything. This is: human dignity. It is the first and forever most important article in the German Basic Law. I wish that every single human being will somehow get this at some point and act accordingly.
Above all, states do not run themselves. States are run by people. Even if you know nothing about Jesus and/or you do not care about him, just remember that from one minute to the next, you can become one of the weak parts of society, one of the outcasts, the lepers. Just imagine this for a second. And then ask yourself what kind of human being you would like to meet in this situation. Is it someone who would share bread and love with you or someone who kicks you in the face, smiles nicely and walks away while you are lying in the mud? If you choose the former option, you have an idea of Jesus, without ever having to read the Bible. It is up to you to choose which path to follow. It does not take a baptism, some congregation or a church building to go to on Sundays. It just takes humility and the courage to open your eyes to the wrongs of the world — near and far.
1) Does Easter matter to you in any way? How?
2) Did you ever think of Jesus as a political character?
3) When did you last help someone without expecting anything in return?