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Is Jesus Becoming Post-Imperial?

Posted on: February 13, 2022

Category: Theology

Is Jesus Becoming Post-Imperial?

Many things happened to the historical Jesus between the time of his life around 30 CE and the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. These “things” were both philosophical and political in nature. The move away from the historic person to the council involved magnifying a post-Jesus and discarding a historical Jesus. Let’s look at a few big things that happened.

The very first thing was the resurrection. The human Jesus died as an offender of the Roman civilis or proper order (the Pax Romana). The “resurrection” or (literally) “standing up again” of Jesus is the first step away from history into a credo or theological confession. The first “thing” that happened to Jesus on the way to Nicaea was the addition of a confession about his post-humanity.

I do have sympathy for the first confession because it was about living (or re-living) in the memory of Jesus as God’s anointed. To live in the risen Jesus was to commit to a resistance of the empire one must also live in. The confession involved living differently, but it was still the first step beyond the historical person.

The Logos of philosophy was probably not the very next thing to happen to Jesus, but it was certainly the next big thing. The Logos is used in the Gospel of John translating the Hebrew Hokmah or wisdom. Sometimes the Septuagint writers used Sophia for wisdom and sometimes they used Logos. John used Logos. It was a fateful choice.

Logos is to philosophy what water is to fish. Any philosophically-minded member of a Christ community would likely have danced at the thought of Jesus being the Logos, and indeed this dance happened very quickly. Jesus as Logos is not just the Word of God. Jesus as Logos incarnate means that Jesus is the organizing principle of creation; he is the incarnation of what turned chaos into order. This thought easily complements the idea that Jesus is the new Adam, the restored or true humanity.

Jesus being true humanity, though, is only the first step in this new happening. The second step follows from the Logos also being with God in the beginning. This is important philosophically even if it does not make sense initially. In the philosophical understanding of the Logos, God cannot be God without the Logos. Since the Logos is the principle of order, God cannot act to order chaos without the Logos being present. No Logos, no God (or at least no God that we would ever know). We can see how the Logos quickly became the greatest thing that ever happened to Jesus in his post-humanity. Because Jesus was the Logos, he was the principle of order that was with God from the beginning. In fact, there could not be a beginning without him. With philosophy adding the Logos to Jesus, we can hear the Christian Trinity under construction in the background.

These happenings sound very abstract: first a confession (resurrection), and then the principle of being (Logos). With these abstract nouns in place, perhaps we might say, “no wonder Jesus started to be worshipped!” But that’s not all that happened. Gods are not worshipped without politics being involved. It’s human nature. Politics and gods represent our values, and in as much as we do not like other people questioning our values, we also have a hard time when people question our gods. Theology, when done well, is the task of questioning our gods. Theology, when done well, is something people do not like.

Let’s move to the third thing that happened to Jesus, which is a political thing. Jesus became the Logos, but this led to the association of Jesus with empire. After all, the Logos is the principle of order in heaven, and the empire is the principle of order on earth. The propaganda of an empire consists of promoting itself as heaven on earth. The two realities complement each other just like values and gods complement each other. When Jesus arrives at Nicaea in 325, the confession of Jesus as the risen one who is with God from the beginning is the very same thing as confessing the truth of the Roman empire and its values. We can see this plainly in the way Rome, like other empires before and since, used and abused history. Empires use history to demonstrate how their new order is what God wants. The empire is the Logos on earth.

If we fast-forward to our time, it is easy to see how things that happened to Jesus also happened to us. The history of Western culture has been a story about the assumed entitlements of empire. The empires that we know, or have known, like the British and the American, confess their identities as a Logos or principle, but they do not use the word Logos. They use Jesus instead. The British thought they were spreading Enlightenment (Logos) around the world in the name of Jesus, but indigenous people who experienced “enlightenment” in residential or boarding schools have a different story. Americans thought they were “settling” an untamed world with the use of slave labor and their expropriation of native lands. The images were exciting to the European mind, attracting more and more naïve settlers, but the inspiration was the Logos again disguised as the post-human Jesus. The Logos is about ordering chaos, and that is what the American settlers thought they were doing. No one who experienced “getting ordered” agreed.

It is possible we are living in the throes of moving to a post-imperial age. Our Western empires that descended from European Enlightenment are adjusting to being or becoming pluralistic nations well aware of the need to repent their past. Movements of reconciliation are present. Resistance to systemic racism is active. Equality of sexes is common. The inclusion of diverse gender identities is important. Empires, in their histories, are more often about privileged orders that exclude. It’s possible that we are moving toward post-imperial realities where inclusion is a higher value.

However, we must remember the two things that happened to Jesus. He became a continuing reality (resurrection), and he became associated with proper order (Logos). Moving to a post-imperial reality involves moving to a post-confessional Jesus where he is not the continuing reality and not the proper order. The first task is one of de-confessing Jesus. Of course, this is difficult because we remember people who have died, and their memory often inspires us to do something with our lives out of respect for their lives. Resurrection is still important in this sense, but, in a post-imperial world, it is not or should not be a confession. It is and must be a call to action.

Stating that Jesus is not the Logos sounds easy, except that we must remember the Logos is God. Effectively, to disconnect Jesus from the Logos is to deny his divinity. This denial ends up being the hardest act because it is the most political act. Denying the status of the Logos to Jesus is a post-imperial act because it means the most important “happening” to Jesus is not his post-humanity but his humanity proper. A Jesus who is not the Logos does not support an empire. In his humanity, he was a victim of an empire, a Logos, and in his memory, he is a call beyond empire.

What we see today in White supremacy, in Christian nationalism, and in various forms of racism, sexism, and authoritarianism are expressions of a death, that is, of a fear that our cultural Logos is passing away. Death invades our life personally, and that is devastating, but death also invades our cultural life when times change. Theologians name change, and they are often disliked for it. But we are in a time of change, which is unfortunately a time to be bothered by theologians.

© David Galston

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