The Old Cross and the New
This term we have been looking at myths about scripture – myths perpetuated by Christians and gobbled up by atheists. Myths we have yet to address include the claim that the Bible condones slavery. In reality there are biblical texts that explicitly condemn slave traders, and the entire ideology promoted by Jesus – if followed – makes slavery as an institution utterly impossible.
Then there is the myth that the earth is at the centre of the cosmos. I heard this myth peddled by an atheist philosopher on Radio 4 this week, and debated it this term with eminent figures in Cambridge who have perpetuated this myth in their lectures. And yet – not once does the Bible claim that the sun revolves around the earth. Although the geocentric worldview was defended by Aristotle, the claims of scripture are very different.
However – the myth I want to reflect on this evening, concerns crucifixion. There is a whole mythology built up around the cross, that is defended and promoted by well meaning Christians attempting to make Christianity palatable for contemporary society. Who was it who said that whoever marries the spirit of this age will be a widower in the next?
Because it seems to me that in every generation, there is an old cross and a new. For many centuries, the Cross has been so enmeshed in western culture, that it starts to seem normal, unremarkable.
We see a cross without batting an eye lid. But the old cross would unnerve you, it would send a shiver down your spine, you may be compelled to hide your eyes in fear, or disgust, or shame.
The new cross is one that is reasonable, it leaves precious parts of your life intact.
The new cross does not make any demand of you that is inconsistent with your hopes and dreams. It won’t affect your income or your outgoings, or your wardrobe. The new cross does not melt a snowflake, or impinge upon your safe space. It won’t interfere with everyday life, apart from a bit of social embarrassment – the kind that usually arises from a bit of pseudo Christian social ineptitude. The new cross is reasonable.
The old cross is utterly unreasonable.
The old cross kills you, every part of you.
The old cross ends life as you know it, there is no part of you beyond its reach.
The old cross is unforgiving, excruciating, tragic, utterly unreasonable.
The old cross extends is deathly grip through all of our values and ethics and assumptions and relationships. The new cross will not create unnecessary demands for us, or ask too much of us.
The new cross will make sense, to us and to others. It will offer a sensible
approach to dealing with the stresses and strains of modern life.
The old cross casts the shadow of death over every avenue of our life, and steals from us the life we always wanted.
The old cross will demand us, every bit of us, it will bring us more pain that we can bear, more suffering that we can endure, more hardship than we can tolerate.
The old cross hurts, it is bitter and cold and horrific and senseless.
The old cross shatters people, the new cross creates pagans with fish badges.
Unfortunately, and confusingly, the new cross shares all the language of the old.
The new cross can talk of sacrifice, of pain, of suffering. The new cross can move us to tears, can make us feel broken, can convince us we have been remade, renewed. But sentimental experiences are simply part of the package of a happy life! We can be moved to tears without being moved to action, we can feel broken without our lifestyle taking any kind of a hit.