In a divided community, could the gruesome death of a Palestinian Jew show us a different way to live together?
One thing you would have to say about Jesus of Nazareth is that he was a victim. But he was a victim with a difference.
Right now, the most effective way to talk in public is to assert your claim to greater victimhood over the claims of others. Being a once-oppressed person bestows a kind of moral sanctity on a person or group, and silences the powerful by drawing attention to their privilege and its oppressive consequences.
This is as it should be. The voices of those who have suffered real evil remind us of the danger we human beings often are to one another. If we now know the human cost of unaccountable institutions and repressive ideologies, then we are a better society for it.
But what we see in the rise of the Right in contemporary politics is a reaction to the use of the ‘I am a victim’ narrative by those who traditionally stand accused by it.
Thus, we have the ungainly spectacle of the Christian churches claiming to be persecuted by gay activists, men claiming to be victimised by feminists, and Anglo-Celtics claiming to be swamped by Asians/Muslims/Indigenous people.
On both Left and Right, we can see the forging of identities that depend on finding a villain. We are a ‘we’ because they are a ‘they’. There’s the good people, and then there’s those others, who are either mad, or bad.
The narrative of victimhood needs an enemy, an ‘Other’. But telling the story of our selves this way perpetuates the cycle.
Could the idea of forgiveness, and its cross-shaped emblem, be the way towards a new kind of common ground? The central message of Easter shows us a better way – one that the Christian church needs to remember as much as anyone, since it is so grievously tempted to join the rush to victimhood.
The death of Jesus Christ is not a story of victimhood. It’s about forgiveness.
It’s not about feeding the resentment of being persecuted which feeds the cycle of aggression and violence in our world. Not at all: the possibility of forgiveness is a different kind of story altogether.
This was the Christ who taught us to ‘love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you’.
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