At the risk of being Freudian, I suspect my radical ideas stem from early childhood experiences of growing up in a dysfunctional family that relied on religious shaming, arbitrary punishment, and abuse both physical and emotional to keep us kids in line. It’s a mystery to me that my younger brother has chosen to quite enthusiastically embrace the Pentecostal subculture that I find so often toxic. My little sister has also embraced the religion, but as we are 12 years apart I can understand that her experience of parenting was quite different from mine. The phrase, “daddy’s little girl” may capture a significant part of the reason for her differing perception of my father and the family religion.
One crucial element of my childhood was that early on I drew a sharp line between my father and Jesus. Dad preached Jesus as the divine savior of humanity from its sinful destiny in an eternal hell. My angle on Jesus perceived him as a healer and rebel who sought to upend the oppressive social (and familial) order. I took activists like Dr. King and even Gandhi as modern reflections of Jesus’ care for suffering humanity.
This divide between my father’s religion and my view of Jesus crystallized into an adult identification with far left visions of a world revolution against racism, capitalism, sexism, and authoritarianism. No matter how far I’ve traveled from supernatural savior theology, my fundamental gestalt is still premised on those early projections of Jesus as the incarnation of perfect eternal love. While I can accept that much of that idealization of Jesus is flawed, I’d rather discard Jesus himself than give up on the fundamental importance of love. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to de-center the place love has in my politics. I no longer believe that “God is Love” as John’s first epistle declares. I’ve ceased to understand love as the personal character of an omnipotent God who loves me more perfectly than I or anyone else could ever love me. Yet, such a grand cosmic theology still tugs at my wounded soul.
I know that love didn’t exist as an element of the Big Bang. The universe was once full of cosmic fire that only cooled slowly to precipitate galaxies and solar systems. One star among trillions may give birth to a living planet, and maybe only very few living planets give birth to creatures capable of love. However, that potential for love, for reciprocal nurture and empowerment, seems to me to be the grandest of all evolutionary accomplishments.
And so, my rejection of capitalism, conservatism, racism, sexism, and the whole panoply of suffering that I call the “death-systems” is based on what seems to be a bottomless yearning within myself for love to become omnipotent, to radically transform our oppression into soaring emancipation. What I once viewed as cosmology – “God is Love” – has been turned into futurology – “Love must become the Divine Reality.”