|Was not the kingdom of god that Jesus held up but the forerunner to socialism, social justice, secularism and democracy? He was a raging egalitarian, an invisible socialist, and an economic democrat.|
Jesus, born of humble parents in Bethlehem, rose as a glorious phenomenon. He became a world wonder of spiritual-temporal revolution against an imperial establishment and a corrupt priestly order. Judas Iscariot betrayed his master for a few pieces of silver. Every barbarity from those treacherous days still exists, indeed in magnified malignancy, to victimise the have-not humanity and slay the radical humanist and activist.
Lofty testamentFor all of humankind, Jesus’ magnificent, yet militant, teaching was a lofty testament of egalitarian liberation from obscurantist faith, authoritarian politics, theological orthodoxy and big business freebooting. Similarly, the ring of his message constituted a de facto revolt against Roman imperialism, absolutist injustice and priest-proud godism. He stood for a higher culture marked by a sacred, sublime, compassionate ethos, and a divinity of humanity that is free from crass, class-mired materialism and gross, greedy, grabbing riches. This rare man of Nazareth resisted Jewish ecclesiastical domination, opposed discrimination among brothers and demanded, in God’s name, socio-economic justice. This is the essence of the Jesus jurisprudence of human dignity, inner divinity and fraternal obligation to help every brother in distress.
Born into a carpenter’s family, Jesus lived a sage and simple life and chose his disciples from a weaker section of society — indigent fishermen. He symbolised a revolutionary change in the theological-temporal establishment and advocated social justice and divinity, dignity and equity in the social order. Such a transformation was the truth of the kingdom of heaven, which was a challenge to the Roman Empire, the Jewish priestocracy and the arbitrary justice system that then prevailed. H.G Wells wrote: “This doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven, which was the main teaching of Jesus, is certainly one of the most revolutionary doctrines that ever stirred and changed human thought. It is small wonder if, the world of that time [and of our time, if this writer may add] failed to grasp its full significance, and recoiled in dismay from even a half apprehension of its tremendous challenges to the established habits and institutions of mankind.”
Rare daringJesus, the glorious rebel, proclaimed the reality of a universal moral order. He called it the kingdom of heaven and told the people that the kingdom of god was indeed within them. He outraged the hypocrites who did their commerce inside the temples and the shrines. He drove them out with rare daring. Now, right before our eyes, our temples and churches are again centres of big business.
Jesus, to the anger of the proprietariat, resisted the commercialisation of god and the commoditisation of man. Big temples, great churches, god-men, bishops, mullahs and acharyas are a mundane part of the capitalist establishment and are anti-Jesus in spirit. India’s Constitution mandates equality, secularism and economic democracy. What a marvel it was that Jesus preached ages ago — that God was equal in granting his favours to all, as was the sun. Jesus was a raging egalitarian, an invisible socialist, an economic democrat. Proof of this lies in his parables and preaching.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus cast scorn upon that natural tendency we all obey, to glorify our own people and to minimise the righteousness of other creeds and races. In the parable of the labourers he thrust aside the obstinate claim of the Jewish people to have a sort of first mortgage upon God. All whom God takes into the kingdom, he taught, he serves alike. There is no distinction in his treatment, because there is no measure to his bounty. There are no privileges, no rebates, and no excuses. H.G. Wells has presented these propositions in The Outline of History.
Barabbas jurisprudenceThe abolition of poverty is a socialist feature of the societal structure. In order to wipe every tear of grief from every eye, you need a social transformation and an economic regeneration, a special concern for women and children, and a rage against those who rob the people’s resources. This is the majesty and humanity of true spirituality that was absent during the era of Emperor Tiberius. It was his administration and justice delivery system, presided over in the region by Pontius Pilate, which decreed, with perverse judicial power and under pressure from the priestly class and in exercise of state authority that Jesus, who argued for the kingdom of heaven, be put to the cross. When treason was the charge and the priestly order was exposed by the accused, there was terrific pressure on the Governor-judge to sentence him. The same judge set free Barabbas. Even today innocence suffers state punishment and robbery rides state power. Barabbas jurisprudence is in currency even today.
Jesus spoke for all time and all mankind when he, bed-rocked on the spiritual philosophy of the kingdom of god, told that court this truth of human rights and social justice. His advocacy of the humanist culture as the ultimate value, as against obscurantist godism, is evident from the admonition that sabbath is for man, not man for sabbath.
Advocate of unity and fraternityJesus advocated the unity and fraternity of humanity, like the doctrine of Advaita that Adi Sankara propagated as an upanishadic fundamental. Not only did he strike at patriotism and the bonds of family loyalty in the name of God’s universal fatherhood and the brotherhood of all mankind, his teaching condemned all the gradations of the economic system, all private wealth, and personal advantage. He said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”
To my mind, this glorious dimension of the kingdom of god is the forerunner to socialism, social justice, secularism and democracy. The life of Jesus was absolute simplicity, matchless humility, compassionate humanity, gender reverence and pro-poor egalite. He washed the feet of his disciples, he defined godist superstition. To share and care for your neighbour, even your enemy, were the fundamentals he taught. He was thus a pioneer of world brotherhood, who advocated freedom from dogmas and obscurantist cults. Such a universalism is the testament of Jesus. This is the Christianity to be practised daily — not the Christianity for a Sunday ritual, or for an alibi to hold the world under imperial might and big business power. Not showy charity coupled with mighty rapacity. The Buddha was a predecessor of Jesus. The Mahatma whom Churchill called “the half-naked fakir” was his successor.
Yet, Jesus if born today will meet Pilate’s justice yet again. Barabbas is in power everywhere again. Judas the pretentious disciple and arch-betrayer is a subtle and slight presence practising diplomacy — the Cross in one hand and nuke bomb in the other. The terrorist incarnation today masquerades as the ruler of the earth.
The resurrection of the world and the elimination of the sufferings and slavery of millions are desiderata for many a million honest disciples of Jesus. Even so, the finest teachings of Jesus have perished, and the world today suffers a grave decline in the values of humanism, compassion, morality and divinity. Greed, vulgarity and the collapse of the public good have been a shock and a shame, a terror and a horror.
Structural splendourResurrection, not in the lexical or biblical sense, but in the grand moral dimension of the term conveying the spirit of trans-material mutation, is the structural splendour of the world order. Peace, not war; stability, not subservience; high morality, not any grab-based acquisitive success, is the new ethic. Exploitation has become the rule of law, and equity and justice have become the vanishing point of international jurisprudence.
The hidden agenda after a unipolar world is the malignant methodology of insatiable accumulation of wealth. This terrible trend must be trampled under the foot by a triumphant and dynamic generation. This should be done with socialist convictions and a profound prognosis — of work, wealth and happiness for every human being. This should be the ‘developmental drama’ of the New World Order.
(The author, 93 years old, is a retired Supreme Court Judge of distinction, a former Cabinet Minister in the Kerala government, a great humanist, and a regular contributor to The Hindu.)
Corrections and Clarifications
A sentence in the ninth paragraph of an article “Remembering a glorious rebel” (Editorial page, December 24, 2008) was “He washed the feet of his disciples, he defined godist superstition.” It should have been “defied”.